The cherished works of Tomson Highway are returning to Toronto this month in a musical foray that you won’t want to miss. Highway’s retrospective cabaret, Songs in the Key of Cree is a one-time engagement staged in the intimate setting of Hugh’s Room on Dec. 12 and 13 in Roncesvalles. Set to perform in English, French, and Cree, along with some added Spanish, this cabaret will leave you illuminated by the Highway classics that continually add to the Canadian culture.
“Audiences will have a wonderful time,” Highway candescently explains. “They will have memories of beautiful music. If they know the melody, they will certainly remember theses songs.”
Musically directed by John Alcorn, the show will feature a repertoire of songs from Highway’s notable works over three decades, including The Rez Sisters and Rose, in addition to his recently Juno nominated musical, The (Post) Mistress. Originally written as a birthday present for Highway’s partner of over thirty years, Raymond Lalonde, The (Post) Mistress is a series of love songs, which Highway describes as, “all happy and very personal; everyone will be able to connect.”
Many of Highway’s works originate from his childhood experiences. “My plays are a hybrid of dance, drama and poetry in Cree,” he said, while reminiscing on his upbringing in Brochet, Man. “Many of them celebrate the beautiful landscape and culture of my village. No one has seen this paradise.”
Performances by Micah Barnes, Jani Lauzon, Laura Hubert, and Teresa Castonguay will be highlighted throughout the evening with none other than Tomson Highway making the occasional appearance as a pianist. Joining the ensemble after her successful run of The (Post) Mistress in Saskatoon is contemporary jazz artist, Patricia Cano. The band includes Marcus Ali on the saxophone, David Restivo and John Alcorn on the piano, Steve Wallace on bass, and Morgan Childs on percussion.
“The luckiest of musicians is the [flutist],” adds Highway, jokingly. “They have the smallest instrument to carry with them. [Pianists] have no choice. I can’t carry around a large piano, and I hate the electric ones. They’re not the same as a classical piano.”
Of Highway’s performances, he will be taking the stage with a solo piano piece from The Sage, the Dancer and the Fool. Originally choreographed by his brother, René Highway, who died at age 35 during the AIDS crisis, this piece is dedicated solely to him.
“It was never my ambition to become a composer, it was a necessity. René was a dancer and [a] choreographer who needed music, and I couldn’t afford to pay composers. We would put on these shows, not making much money in the beginning, until I learned of my craft. I had to pay out of my own pocket, and it eventually paid off.”
Although this limited engagement is set to close on Dec. 13, Highway will be busy in Rome for the next few months channeling future works. As his work is a celebration of life, love and languages, he was quick to state that, “there will be more music and lots of cabarets. But, Nicholas, you’re so young. Leave the country and go learn a language. It’s the best thing you could do.”