Ann’s newest full-length musical, now in the development stage, is based on an ancient Greek myth. Demeter, the beloved goddess of fertility and the earth, had a daughter named Persephone. When Persephone was abducted to the underworld, her mother’s grief wreaked havoc throughout the land. The myth’s complex themes of male/female power struggles, betrayal, grief, and devastation of the earth are as relevant and threatening in today’s world as they were in ancient times.
Through songs that range from dramatic and poignant to witty and slyly humorous, the musical unfolds the story of the myth through six central characters – Zeus and his wife, Demeter, their daughter Persephone, Zeus’s brother Hades, who is Persephone’s uncle, Hermes the messenger, and Hecate, an old wise woman.
Book by Ann Mortifee in collaboration with David Feinstein
Lyrics by Ann Mortifee
Music by Ann Mortifee
Score by Ann Mortifee in collaboration with Edward Henderson
Into the Heart of the Sangoma
Into the Heart of the Sangoma, A Musical Journey, premiered at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage in Vancouver and played for one month. The 90-minute African-inspired production was based on Ann’s music from an album with the same name. Both the album and the stage show resulted from a remarkable experience.
In a dream, an African Sangoma (healer) told Ann to return to Zululand, South Africa, the place of her birth. Ann made the journey and met with Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, the revered Sangoma and keeper of the ancient wisdoms and traditions of the Zulu nation. Her surprising, insightful conversation with him and other Zulu Sangomas inspired the songs in the album and the storyline of the musical.
Into the Heart of the Sangoma was conceived as a one-woman show, but when Ann met the charismatic entertainer, Jenni Burke, she instinctively felt that Jenni would be perfect for the role of the Sangoma. And she was right!
Written by Ann Mortifee
Performed by Ann Mortifee and Jenni Burke
- “A musical tour de force for Ann Mortifee”
- The show “…exuded a magical realism reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The duets by Mortifee and Burke were perfectly timed.”
- Read the rave reviews of the album:
- “Ann Mortifee has created a masterpiece in this recording. Her years of travel, spiritual searching, performing, writing and a deep desire to touch bases with her roots in Africa, all come to fruition in Into the Heart of the Sangoma. I was deeply moved. You will be too.”
Paul Horn, Jazz Flutist and ‘Father of New Age Music’
- “Ann Mortifee’s CD is more than successful. Listening to it, as I have done repeatedly since I first got a copy, I have felt expanded and awakened in the depths of my soul.
If you want to experience the finest work of a truly great composer and vocal artist at the height of her powers, don’t waste a second before getting Into the Heart Of the Sangoma.” – John Robbins, Author: Healthy at 100, Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and Co-Author with Ann Mortifee, of The Awakened Heart
- Amazon Reviews
- “I admit it — I have a copy that I pulled off a buddy’s computer when I was working on it for him. Most of his stuff was not my taste, and I quickly deleted it. But when I heard this album, I played it over and over for a week straight! It reminded me of my first encounter with Miles Davis (Kind Of Blue), which was so far from my normal experience that I had to listen to it over and over in the pursuit of making sense of it all. I have since paid penance to Mortifee by buying legal copies for my mother and sister!
The album is organized in alternating musical and dramatic spoken tracks (with background music) that set each other up. The opening number (Nomkumbulwana) prepares you for the journey as you realize that this is a cohesive body of work, and not just a collection of songs.
Even after dozens of listenings, I can’t hear “Indlovu” without tears streaming down!”
- “If you like “world music” with an edge, and appreciate vocal virtuosity and wonderful composition and orchestration, this album is for you. Think ‘Ladysmith Black Mambazo meets Yma Sumac.’
- “This probably is the most profound recorded material I have heard.
Although it’s themed in Africa, its messages relate to everyone, everywhere. I can’t describe this work in a way that would do it justice, except to say Ms. Mortifee makes a superb statement, in terms of musicality, poetry and a spiritual message that takes root in the heart.”
- Partial proceeds from the Into the Heart of the Sangoma stage production were donated to AIDS charities in Africa.
- Link to Album
When the Rains Come
The second full-length musical by Ann Mortifee, When the Rains Come, is a passionate, epic musical set during apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. A modern day Romeo and Juliet story, it brims with the joy of love and the despair and heartbreak encountered by those faced with man’s inhumanity to man.
The show premiered in concert form with limited production elements at the Arts Club MainStage Theatre in Vancouver, BC.
When the Rains Come was also chosen from hundreds of submissions to be presented to producers, agents and industry professionals from all over North America and Europe at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s 13th Annual Festival of New Musicals in New York City. Sadly, the terrible 9/11 twin towers disaster happened 12 days before the festival was to open. The city and the country were in crisis, and festival participants who would have otherwise flown to New York to attend were unable or unwilling to travel. The festival that year was sparsely attended and sombre.
Lyrics by Ann Mortifee
Music by Edward Henderson and Ann Mortifee
Book by David Feinstein and Ann Mortifee
Lead role of Emily – Ann Mortifee
- Apartheid was an institutionalized system of racial separation in South Africa, where Ann was born. Her father, a politician, left South Africa in protest of the apartheid regime and re-located his family to Vancouver, BC.
- Ann’s anti-apartheid play had its premiere 4 years after Nelson Mandela was released from a 27 year imprisonment. Coinciding with the play’s opening was South Africa’s first democratic general election. At last all citizens were free to vote.
- In 2014, some of Ann’s family members visited South Africa and drove to the sugarcane plantation in Zululand that her grandfather built. Although the plantation is still going strong, the family believes that a more important legacy is the tireless work that he put into creating the Hluhluwe and Umflozi Game Reserves (now called Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park) to save the white rhinoceros from extinction.
Reflections on Crooked Walking
Reflections on Crooked Walking is the first full-length musical written by Ann. Aimed at a family audience, it is a fun, fantasy story that premiered at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver. The plot centres on four characters who find themselves the only ones in their town who are still awake, and their adventurous search for a cure for the sleeping sickness.
By Ann Mortifee
Ann played the role of Queen Opia in the premier production and a reprise production.
Ann was the Director of the third run of the play.
- “It’s like a loving, delicate sketch – one where the playwright and lyricist expects her audience to watch and listen for the subtle details, the modest voice, the un-monumental change, all of which will culminate in a story of personal transformation. In short, it’s a daring piece, in that it’s so beautifully quiet and simple.”
- “Mortifee triumphs with magical fantasy, Reflections on Crooked Walking. . .the songs and adventures make the show a fine romp, and the special effects and unusual costumes cast a glamour over every scene—sometimes spooky, sometimes beautiful, but always wonderfully strange.” Marvin Entz, The West Ender
- “Ann Mortifee’s hit musical, Reflections on Crooked Walking. . . Judith Marcuse choreographed the show . . . audiences loved it. We revived it a year later and then we revived it two times after that and it became a Christmas show,” says Millerd, “And I keep threatening to do it yet again.” – National Post interview with Bill Millerd, Artistic Managing Director, Arts Club Theatre
Three separate productions of Reflections on Crooked Walking have delighted Christmas season audiences at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver. The musical also highlighted another member of the Mortifee family, Ann’s sister Jane, a talented singer, actor and performer in her own right, playing the role of Gabby.
- Cast Recording – Album of the original production Link Here
Jacques and Maddly
Through French pop singer Johnny Hallyday’s long-time backup singer and friend, Erik Bamy, Jacques Brel met Bamy’s sister, Maddly. She was a dancer/actress, they fell in love, and Brel spent the last 7 years of his life with her. The Bamy siblings were from French Polynesia, and Jacques and Maddly travelled there and eventually settled on the island of Hiva Oa.
A theatre colleague of Ann’s from her days in Cleveland, David O. Frazier, read a book by Maddly about her relationship with Brel and was fascinated. Knowing that Ann adored Brel’s music, he suggested to Ann that they create a play about the romance. David and Ann decided to tie the Brel/Bamy story to the story of the French painter, Gauguin, who had lived on Hiva Oa.
Eventually Maddly herself become involved in the project, and to Ann’s delight, joined the cast. The collaborative play, Jacques and Maddly, premiered at the Cleveland Play House in Ohio.
Music and Lyrics by Ann Mortifee and Madly Bamy (with the guidance of Jacques Brel)
Conceived and Adapted by David O. Frazier and Ann Mortifee
Woman, Maddly’s Inner Voice – Ann Mortifee
Maddly Bamy – Herself
Man (Maddly’s memory of Jacques) – Joe Neal
Gauguin – David O. Frazier
The Arabian Knight
The Arabian Knight is a play/pop operetta about the brilliant-but-troubled British explorer and writer, Sir Richard Francis Burton. One of Burton’s many accomplishments, which scandalized Victorian England, was translating the epic story, One Thousand and One Nights (also called The Arabian Nights) into English.
The play premiered at the Cleveland Play House Drury Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.
Conceived and adapted by Joseph J. Garry Jr and David Frazier
Based on the Music, Lyrics and Poetry of Ann Mortifee
Ann Mortifee played the role of Scheherazade
- “Strong acting, powerful vocals and elaborate spectacle create a visual feast.” Michael O’Malley
- The primary performers are excellent. Most notable … the powerhouse Mortifee who creates a fascinating and sensual Scheherazade for Frazier’s tortured Burton.” Reviewer Teddi Gibson-Bianchi
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
This revue featured songs by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, which were translated from French to English by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman. The original Blau/Sherman production premiered in NYC, at the legendary Village Gate Nightclub.
Brel’s dramatic and insightful songs continue to inspire other theatres to stage the show. Ann joined the cast of an Ontario production of ‘Brel’ that toured to Chicago, Milwaukee and New York City, where it played at the Village Gate Nightclub, where the original production had played.
Two years after Ann’s performance in a touring version of ‘Brel’, she was cast with Leon Bibb, Ruth Nichol and Pat Rose in a Vancouver production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. The show played for seven months, broke all attendance records at the Arts Club Theatre, and launched a long friendship between Ann Mortifee and Leon Bibb. To this day, people who attended this legendary production of ‘Brel’ are still raving about the experience!
By Eric Blau and Mort Shuman
Ann’s role: member of ensemble cast of four performers, Arts Club Theatre, Vancouver
- “On that night four extraordinary performers stepped onto the tiny stage . . . Leon Bibb, Ann Mortifee, Ruth Nichol and Pat Rose electrified the audience of 200 and created a sensation that was to run for seven months.” Bill Millerd, Arts Club Theatre
- “IF WE ONLY HAVE LOVE, which ends the show, tells all. This is what we have to do, love each other. And after people have seen the show, they do.” Leon Bibb
- “Even if it is the only piece of theatre you see this entire summer, do so. It could change your life. At the very least it will make you laugh and it will make you sad and it will speak to you very directly about parts of yourself that you thought no one else understood. … While it’s unfair and unnecessary to pick favourites, because they are all quite magnificent, there is no way any man who spends an evening with Jacques Brel is going to avoid falling in love with Ann Mortifee. She came close to stopping the show at least twice on Thursday; she will no doubt do it for the entire run. She is breathtaking and heart-stopping: quintessential woman, gentle and laughing.” Max Wyman Vancouver Sun, 1972
- “If tonight is your first meeting with Jacques Brel, I can only ask you to simply let it happen to you. Brel and our four beautiful cast members are leaving themselves totally open to you. For this I love them deeply. I only ask you to be open to them. Perhaps no more than one song will touch you at all . . . and that will be enough. But if you’ve seen Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris before, I don’t have to explain anything to you. You know; you’ve already been there. Welcome home.” Richard Ouzounian, Director
- “The people who dig Jacques Brel are not only fans, but members of a cult. A Victoria couple phoned to ask if they could possibly, please, attend the preview, because they would be out of province during the run of the play. So they were told yes, they arrived gratefully and joined the rest of the preview audience. When Ann Mortifee sang the haunting “Sons of ___” ballad, it was followed by an awed hush broken simultaneously by the applause of the crowd and the rush of the man from Victoria, who moved on stage and kissed Ann’s hand.” Lorne Parton, The Province
- “Ann Mortifee to my mind is not a role-playing woman. She is a rather liberated woman and she came to me and said, “Richard I can’t do this earth-mother trip. I can’t say, ‘Oh love, it’s going to be all right, come let me hold you!” I just can’t do it. So in the new version, it is almost as if woman is trying to play this old role that man expects of her, but it breaks down. She’s tired of it. So maybe we turned the song into something more meaningful. This earth-mother trip is something I don’t like either.” Richard Ouzounian
- “Miss Mortifee stole the show. Her singing of Marieke had a heart-catching, goose-flesh quality that was merely a foretaste of what she was to do with Sons of. . . and Carousel. She projects so – lives the music, lives the words, and brings it all across, the essence of Brel, the pain and the vulnerability and the human bruise and softness of it all, so that, ultimately, we can perhaps learn a little from it, gain a little succor by recognizing a hurt we might have thought was solitary. I said it before, and it applies equally in these shortened circumstances: she somehow becomes the quintessential woman, the embodiment of frailty and indomitable courage. On a purely instinctive, gut-communication level, it is impossible not to respond to what she and Brel have to say.” Max Wyman, Sun Music Critic
- “Even the critics, masters of public indifference, stood up and clapped. It is a beautiful, emotional, completely involving evening, a musical which is not just a few songs connected by the thin spiderweb of a plot, not a collection of dancers ornamenting that spiderweb, and not really a musical at all in the general sense. It is an experience for an audience and a group of four actors, all of whom should preferably have lived, loved, sat back after their tears and signed a little, and then, much later, thought about it all and smiled.” James Barber, The Province
- Second Run – Several years after its first run at the Arts Club, the Vancouver cast of ‘Brel’ was reunited for a limited second run.
- 25th Reunion and Cast Recording – The Vancouver cast of ‘Brel’ came together again for a popular limited run to mark the 25th anniversary of the original production and a cast recording was released. (Link to album)
- In Memory of Jacques Brel – To commemorate the life of Jacques Brel, and his love affair with the French dancer/singer, Maddly Bamy, Ann co-wrote with David O. Frazier and Maddly Bamy, a play called Jacques and Maddly. It was workshopped at the Playhouse Square Centre in Cleveland, Ohio.
- In Memory of Leon Bibb – Three months after Leon’s Bibb’s death in October 2015, Ann Mortifee, Ruth Nichol and two other performers sang a Brel song at the Celebration of Life Concert in Leon’s memory, held at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver.
Love and Maple Syrup Revue
The Love and Maple Syrup Revue took its name from a song that Gordon Lightfoot wrote for the production. Along with Lightfoot’s music, the show featured songs by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and other Canadian songwriters. The production originated in Ontario, then toured in the USA, landing at the Mercer-Hansberry Theatre in NYC.
Devised and compiled by Louis Negin
Ann was a member of the ensemble cast of seven performers
- This revue marked Ann Mortifee’s first appearance in New York City. Although theatre critic Clive Barnes was lukewarm on the show, he raved about Ann’s performance:
“ANN MORTIFEE has a voice like a dark lark and a faraway look of mischief in her eyes…”
- “Love and Maple Syrup is an eclectic affair . . . Louis Negin leads the show’s cast of six as they sing, mime and declaim their way through a mixture of prose and poetry chosen mainly for its brightness and obvious appeal. Ann Mortifee, a clean-limbed, clear-voiced Vancouverite, rehearses some of the better songs of Gordon Lightfoot . . . Beautifully paced and ingeniously staged in front of a stylized tepee, Love and Maple Syrup proves that poetry is best when it is both seen and heard.” – Time Magazine
- “Two openings off Broadway this week pitted one group of young performers emoting feverishly about some personalities in 19th century America against another group commenting coolly on life in 20th century Canada. The Canadians won handily. In song, poetry and prose, all aspects of love and life in Canada are disarmingly explored, sentimentally, erotically (but not obscenely), lyrically, occasionally vulgarly . . . The songs are by some of the best contemporary composers in any country: Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell . . . The whole is on the order of a cabaret revue, and the cast of seven performers has the good sense not to pretend to anything more. They are each individually charming entertainers, but perhaps Ann Mortifee and Bill Schustik, the two main singers cum guitars, stand out most prominently . . . Love and Maple Syrup is not aiming to sweep anyone off his feet. It is, however, beguiling and entertaining. Beautiful people, beautiful sounds.” John J. O’Connor, Wall Street Journal
- “. . . singer-actress Ann Mortifee appears to have a bright future.” Ken Pritchard, Associated Press
When a young performer catches the attention of a major critic, and the critic writes something positive about them, it can be a dream come true. Clive Barnes was the pre-eminent dance and theatre critic of his day. He was powerful in London, before he came to New York. In New York, he was at the top. Although underwhelmed with the show, he was impressed with Ann. And when he raved about her performance in his influential New York Times column, thousands and thousands of people took notice – agents, producers, theatre-lovers, other newspapers, and the entire theatre community – in New York and beyond. What a heady moment it must have been for Ann when she, or a friend or colleague, opened the New York Times to Clive Barnes’ column and read these words:
“Ann Mortifee . . .could be quite a discovery . . . Miss Mortifee has a voice like a dark lark and a faraway look of mischief in her eyes, and she plays a guitar with more than common expertise.”
What a legacy!
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is a two-act play, written by George Ryga, about the a young aboriginal woman who moves from her reservation to the city. The world premiere took place at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre.
Ryga’s ground-breaking play was the first stage production to highlight the plight of Canada’s First Nations peoples. Audiences realized that they would be experiencing something very different from standard theatre-fare when they opened the program and read, on page 5, a hard-hitting soliloquy by one of the stars of the production, Chief Dan George, called A Lament for Confederation. As the play unfolds, instead of living happily ever after in her new city life, Rita tragically loses her life.
The play drew huge crowds in Vancouver, and two years later, the Vancouver cast and crew were invited to Ottawa to perform The Ecstasy of Rita Joe at the opening of the new National Arts Centre. Noted columnist, Allan Fotheringham, discussed the Ottawa performances in his Vancouver Sun column:
“The Playhouse cast, to the puzzlement of wildly-applauding Ottawa audiences, refuses to return to the stage for curtain calls. “The play – it’s more important than people. If we come back onstage, the audience is going to think, ‘There, it’s just play-acting after all. They’re smiling now.’ We want them to sit there and think a bit. Think about the message – not us.”
The stubborn refusal to acknowledge the fervent applause was particularly admirable that night, since the Playhouse company – which came down here a bit frightened of venturing into the big leagues – had the final stamp of approval slapped on. The papers have been unanimous in their praise. The Montreal Star critic advises his readers that they owe it to themselves to drive down from Montreal to see George Ryga’s play. The Montreal Gazette critic, in probably the most accurate review, states that Rita Joe is not really a play (probably true), that it is pure corn in parts (true), but finishes by admitting that he has seldom been so moved by two hours of theatre and promises that everyone else will be too (true, true).”
Written By George Ryga
Music by Ann Mortifee and Willie Dunn
Ann was also in the cast, playing the role of the Singer
- I don’t know if it is a great play. But if the role of the stage is to communicate . . . Ryga and Bloomfield have accomplished their purpose. – Jack Richards, Vancouver Sun
- George Ryga has taken the human experience, which in this case is Canadian only by the accident of destiny, distilled it through his fine sense of compassion and given it to us . . . as an act of communion in which our own participation is inescapable. – CBC
- Rita Joe was a landmark in more ways than one. It was—and remains—a play for all seasons and for all peoples. – The Province
- “ A beautifully integrated work . . . excellent artistry, obvious emotional involvement and tasteful production . . . IT IS A REMARKABLE AND MOVING CREATION.” Jeani Read, The Province
- “ Captures the atmosphere of the Indians’ existence in Canada.” Doug Sagi, Canadian Magazine
- The Ecstasy of Rita Joe has been performed numerous times since the first production was staged. Two years after its world premiere in Vancouver, the cast and crew were invited to Ottawa to perform the play as one of the inaugural productions at the opening of the new National Arts Centre. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was in the audience and he came backstage after the show to meet and congratulate the cast.
- Two years after the play’s National Arts Centre performance, Ann Mortifee was commissioned by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to compose the dance score for a full-length dance version of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, by the renowned Canadian choreographer, Norbert Vesak. Ann performed as the Singer. Read more
- The musical score from the ballet was recorded as The Ecstasy of Rita Joe LP. Link
- The Ecstasy of Rita Joe play was the first play ever published by Talonbooks in Vancouver. The company’s website states that the book “proudly bears the inaugural “000” ISBN for the press, and is Talon’s longest continually in-print book … now in its twenty-seventh printing.”
- One of the revivals of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, produced in 1976, prompted Jamie Portland to write in The Province newspaper, “…the play still worked. Rita Joe was a landmark in more ways than one. It was – and remains – a play for all seasons and for all peoples.”
- In 2004, Okanagan College instituted The George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, which is given annually to a British Columbia author who has achieved a high level of social awareness in a book published anywhere in the world.
- Malcolm Page, professor emeritus of English, Simon Fraser University, in The Literary Review of Canada‘s List of the Top 100 Canadian Books (2007) describes the play‘s style as “…an unusual blend of realism, lyricism and expressionism.”
- In its 2008-2009 season, the National Arts Centre English Theatre Program for Student Audiences published a Study Guide, which states: [Rita Joe] … prompted an awareness of the existence of other plays potentially worthy of production. It provided resounding evidence that it was not necessary for any Canadian theatre to rely solely on imported fare… [as] Canadian plays ceased to be a rarity in English-speaking Canada. Companies dedicated to the production of new Canadian drama sprung up, and in so doing nurtured the further growth of playwriting activity. Canada’s regional theatres—some of them grudgingly—found themselves forced to take the Canadian playwright seriously for the first time.
- In 2016, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet produced an original full-length dance called The Going Home Star, which was inspired by The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. Read more
- Later in 2016, the Marginal Arts Festival Inspired by George Ryga was launched in Summerland, BC, where George Ryga resided until his death. The festival website states: “The festival commemorates playwright and author George Ryga, who lived in Summerland from 1963 until his death in 1987. Considered by many as Canada’s most important English-language playwright, most of Ryga’s creative output originated from his home in Summerland BC, including his ground-breaking play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, which was published to critical acclaim in 1967 and remains the best-selling Canadian play of all time.”
- Artslandia, Vancouver’s Performing Arts Annual, in its 2016-2017 edition, asked music, dance and theatre leaders to share their memories of shows that were influential in shaping Vancouver. Bill Millard, Managing Director of the Arts Club Theatre, singles out The Ecstasy of Rita Joe:
“There was such richness in the piece. It was amazing that theatre could be like that. And it was very much a BC play, with Chief Dan George and his son, and with Ann Mortifee and her music … There was so much pride in our being invited to open the National Arts Centre. It just galvanized the city. It was transformative.”