Tomson Highway cabaret preview: Songs in the Key of Cree – Sunday, Dec. 13th, 8:30 p.m.

Order of Canada member and former Corktown Resident Tomson Highway to perform retrospective musical cabaret with special guests this weekend


HIGHWAY MAN: Order of Canada member and former Corktown Resident Tomson Highway. Photo Courtesy Hugh’s Room.

By Dennis Kucherawy

‘(Highway is) a master of the playful pastiche….his work is giddy humour and warmth of spirit, which bathes the audience’ – The Globe and Mail

To call Tomson Highway a Cree playwright, a musician-composer, a librettist and a novelist of both adult and children’s books — though impressive — is an understatement.  He is also a former social worker who has served on reserves throughout Ontario and Canada. He took the knowledge and experience he gleaned and turned them into two of Canada’s best known, multi-award-winning stage plays:  “The Rez Sisters” and “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.”

The former played the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival in 1988.  The latter became the first Canadian play ever to receive a full production at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre.

I was at that performance.  What a night it was, to see so many of our handsome and beautiful native men and women dressed in black tie and evening gowns!  One of the most prominent was federal Member of Parliament Elijah Harper who was renowned for his part in the rejection of the Meech Lake Accord.  It was the Mulroney government attempt at constitutional reform.  Harper opposed it because the Native People were not consulted.

Whenever I think of Tomson, I remember that night and how my wife and I shook his hand to thank him.

That memory reminds me he became the first to integrate native Canadian culture into the mainstream in such a big way.

I was especially proud of him because we were friends.  We had met in the mid-1970s at the University of Western Ontario where he was a music/English student and I was enrolled in the faculties of social science, majoring in political science.

We had met as participants in Canadian poet/playwright James Reaney’s workshop of his play “Wacousta,” based on one of Canada’s earliest novels.  Tomson was “Tom” then and he added a great deal of verisimilitude to the dramatic depiction of the native characters.

Reaney’s teaching and works greatly affected Tomson’s development as a playwright as did that of Quebec dramatist Michel Tremblay.  Many of those influences, especially in characterization and myth, can be seen in “The Rez Sisters.”

Shortly after my wife and I moved onto Corktown’s Sumach Street in 1984, I was delighted to bump into him and to learn we were neighbors.  He lived with his partner Raymond Lalonde around the corner just north of us on Shuter St., a few doors west of where Sumach Espresso stands today.

Soon after, with is increasing success and world travels, he moved.  Today, he splits his time between Noëlville, Ontario and France. (The former is located in Sudbury’s East region, between the French River and the south-west end of Lake Nipissing.)

This Sunday, Highway and a distinguished cast of guest musicians led by the renowned singer John Alcorn as musical director, will celebrate him with “Songs in the Key of Cree – A Retrospective Cabaret Celebrating the Music of Tomson Highway.”  (Stocking stuffer hint – John Alcorn has just released a terrific new CD “Flying Without Wings” with cornettist Warren Vaché.  It features song by great American composers such as the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.)

Hugh’s Room’s publicity calls it “a Highway love-in” featuring “highlights from the musical canon of Higway’s compositional and lyrical accomplishments.”

About the Cast:

Tomson Highway is a Cree playwright, author, storyteller and musician whose work has garnered him international fame, a recent JUNO nomination, membership to the Order of Canada, ten honourary doctorates.  Maclean’s magazine in 1998 named him one of the 100 most important people in Canadian.

After many years working in the Toronto theatre industry, Tomson achieved international recognition with his sixth play the multi-award-winning “The Rez Sisters.” This was followed by its companion play, the even more successful, award-winning “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.” Some other notable plays/shows/cabarets he has written are “The Sage, the Dancer and the Fool”; “Aria,” “New Song, New Dance; “The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito,” “Rose,” “Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout” and “The (Post Mistress.)

He has criss-crossed North America, Europe, and the world, combining his many lectures and readings with performances at the piano, both solo and with singer/musician friends.

A master pianist, composer and songwriter with a repertoire spanning more than three decades, his music ranges from country to classic to a Brazilian samba or tango, swooning ballads à la Cole Porter, French Canadian-style folk songs to the boogie-woogie rhythms of Fats Waller and elegant ballads evoking the Broadway-era Kurt Weill. He writes in Cree, French and English and is a true ‘Trickster’ storyteller.

Under the musical direction of the multi-talented and sophisticated John Alcorn, the stellar line-up includes Highway and Alcorn on piano with Marcus Ali on Sax. Joining the stage throughout the eve will be some of Toronto’s most dynamic artists including Micah Barnes, Laura Hubert, Teresa Castonguay, Jani Lauzon, Patricia Cano, David Restivo, Steve Wallace and Morgan Childs and other special guests to be announced.

Tickets:  $22.50 Advance / $25 at the Door

Phone:  416-531-5504 (between 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.)


Hugh’s Room

2261 Dundas St. West

Toronto, ON

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