Peterbrough Examiner
Friday, February 6, 2009

Story of Métis singer who made it big captivates audience

"Familiar faces of friends and family in the crowd..." said the Velvet Devil to the packed house at cabaret tables at Market Hall last night. The singer stepped on stage, struck a pose and with a wave of her arm had the room captivated for the rest of the night. The gown. The gloves. The glamour. That voice. What a performance!

The Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company's presentation of The Velvet Devil was brought to us by Peterborough's Public Energy, affiliated with Peterborough New Dance, and Indigenous Performance Initiatives, supporting indigenous artists telling their own stories, bridging traditional cultural practices and contemporary expression.

Not the musical number you thought you signed up for, this devil had the audience fooled that they were in the Town Hall in Batoche, Saskatchewan in 1941, taking in the homecoming performance of the Métis singer who made it big in Toronto.

She came home after the death of her mother to give a concert for her family and community, her grandmother's idea. Intertwined was the story of her big-dream runaway life to the big-city jazz scene in Toronto.

The musical numbers were sensational and fun. "Blame it on the Devil", "I'm an Angel," "Call My Name" and "If I Were a Man," to name a few, were all in the spirit of the time. But the simple beauty of the traditional song that Velvet sang in the voice of her Métis mother was a cherished moment that one wished could last a bit longer.

"The boys," bandleader Nate Renner on guitar, Teegan Jeffers on bass and Alan Long on drums, played the back up band beautifully. Supporting the singer and drawing focus at the appropriate times, their fun characters weaved in and out of the story effortlessly.

This play about a concert is a delightful, seamless deceit, written and performed by Andrea Menard who also wrote the songs with Robert Walsh. The story is about a woman jazz singer who reckons the traditional Métis voice of her mother with that of her own, in a clash of cultures across generations.

The graceful and deliberate gestures in Velvet's entrance and exit framed the minimal staging with class. The audience was captured by the story. Technically speaking, sound and lighting were taken for granted, which is great. The shadows thrown up the back wall by the low-angle front lighting gave the feel of the devil in the room, along with silhouettes against a red velvet curtain.

Not a moment was wasted in the perfectly-paced performance directed by Alanis King. Quick, slow, in and out of songs and stories, laughs, cries and easy transitions were all hit bang on by the velvet vixen. Andrea Menard's gift is in the giving of her performance and her grace lies in the thanks she seems to give it with, a truly generous artist.

If you missed it, you should be sorry, but you can still catch it in Vancouver on Feb 10. Worth the plane fare.


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