Produced by Les Productions 1847, Grosse-Île will be playing October 27 to November 5 at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall at Concordia University. Tickets are available online.
Grosse-Île: The Musical was created by Margaret Forrest, John Halpin and Hubert Radoux. It is about the resilience of the Irish and French-Canadian people during the ‘summer of sorrow’ in 1847. The musical narrative recounts the story of this tragic time, during which five thousand immigrants died at the Grosse Île quarantine station near Quebec City.
Weakened by three years of what became known as the ‘potato famine’, many Irish migrants contracted typhus during their voyages across the Atlantic. While isolated on the island, doctors, nurses, priests, and the immigrants themselves cared heroically for the victims of the disease. In Grosse-Île: The Musical, we witness the triumph of selfless acts of human love over suffering and sorrow.
The production was inspired by the work of Quebec City historian, Marianna O’Gallagher. While working tirelessly to open the quarantine station as a public park, Marianna also co-authored Eyewitness: Grosse Isle 1847 (1995). A friend of the Halpin family, Marianna suggested to John that there might be a musical buried in her book. In the late 1990s, John and Margaret drafted a first version of the musical narrative, but they were not satisfied with its ending.
Many years later, John found the ending to their story in a 1909 book by J. A. Jordan describing the same events. The book is actually the sermon of a priest appealing to the good people of Montmagny to take in the Irish orphans that were left behind.
The priest pleads with his parishioners to draw the children into the fabric of their lives and to give them hope to live anew. John, Margaret and Hubert re-wrote their story, tightening the dark narrative of loss, and strengthening the role of hope and human resilience. It was performed to rave reviews to audiences in Quebec City in 2016.
Grosse-Île: The Musical is a 2-hour narrative musical performance. Original paintings (created by Forrest) are projected onto the stage to depict the setting, while Halpin’s intricate musical score features crisp vocal rhythms and a rich four-part harmonization. The lyrics are performed in four languages (English, French, Irish and Latin). The show is led by 7 soloists supported by a 25-voice choir and a musical trio of piano, guitar and flute.
If you want to get a taste of the show, excerpts from the Quebec City Production can be found on YouTube.
And tickets are available on-line here.