Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen gave an elegant performance with the 60-piece Toronto Symphony Orchestra Saturday night (June 17) at Roy Thomson Hall that always threatened to bring the sold-out crowd of 2,600 to its feet, which it did eventually, for “Boy Problems,” “Call Me Maybe” and encore “I Really Like You.”
Until then, her fans sat still and poised, as one is expected to do at such a sophisticated outing, letting out the occasional whoops and hollers and cheers. Many grooved in their seats as if they were about to burst out of it.
Jepsen, at times, seemed like she wanted to just let loose and dance. “I can’t believe this. This is incredible,” she said. “I have my family here and you are my extended family.”
Wearing a floor-length, gold sparkling dress with a small train, Jepsen opened the program with “Run Away With Me.”
The conductor for the evening was Lucas Waldin, young, hip and funny, whose banter included references to Bella and Edward in Twilight, obviously to provide a more modern context for the audience that went beyond TSO subscribers to families, young females and groups of young men (Jepsen is a vocal gay rights activist).
Lee Scott — there with her husband, Brian, and daughters Samantha, 15, and Sydney, 13, — told Billboard, “My eldest daughter plays cello and my youngest daughter is a Carly Rae Jepsen fan, so this is a great opportunity to mix the two. My husband and I haven’t come to the TSO in a long time. It’s a nice outing.”
Part of the TSO’s Canada Mosaic signature project to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation (basically when Canada became Canada), the concert also celebrated another milestone which was never mentioned: it was 10 years ago that a 21-year-old unknown hopeful from Mission, British Columbia, first appeared on Canadian Idol.
She would take third place and launch a career in Canada with her 2008 independent debut album, Tug of War. By 2012, she had signed to Chad Kroeger’s 604 Records and released Kiss, containing “Call Me Maybe.” Justin Bieber heard the song when he was home one Christmas, and his support would change her life. The song became the ubiquitous hit of 2013-2014, a No. 1 single in 18 countries.
Jepsen then added Broadway star to her resume, starring in the title role of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2014, then released her third studio album, E•MO•TION, in 2015.
The album was short-listed for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize in 2016 for Canada’s best album of the year. It was at the gala that Jepsen first performed with members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, where she reworked “Your Type” with a string quartet and her long-time musical director/guitarist Tavish Crowe on acoustic.
That December, the TSO called her about performing her hits with the venerable institution, and there were no maybes.
Arranged by Christopher Mayo, she performed 14 songs, starting “Run Away With Me,” “Making the Most of the Night” and “Gimmie Love,” before she left the stage so that the TSO could perform Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” which is when Waldin referenced its use in a Twilight scene, and mentioned the Ocean’s Eleven soundtrack.
Jepsen returned to sing with just the string quartet and Tavish on guitar — as she had at Polaris — doing “Emotion,” “Your Type,” then got some impressive vocal accompaniment for “Tug of War” from Waldin, who comically strutted up next to her with his microphone and removed his jacket to take on the challenge.
When Jepsen came back after intermission, she had changed into a black and gold gown, and went into “When I Needed You” with the full orchestra, getting the crowd to sing back some “you ooohs.” Yes, you could just feel the crowd was about to break classical music protocol. And then it happened, for “Boy Problems.” Everyone got on their feet, even the sections behind the stage on every level.
And if it wasn’t for Jepsen leaving the stage again for the orchestra to perform Tchaikovsy’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture: Love Theme,” Roy Thomson Hall would have remained a dance party.
She closed out the night with “All That,” “Let’s Get Lost” and, of course, “Call Me Maybe.” Then the 60 members of the TSO stood and Jepsen enjoyed prolonged loud and furious applause, taking the hand of Waldin and bowing.
She returned for a single encore, saying, “This is a song to say that I not only love you — but like you,” and everyone sang and clapped along to “I Really Like You.” She and Waldin bowed again, then she came out one more time and curtsied — something she no doubt doesn’t do at her pop shows.