Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Abominable Showman, June 20, 2013

Like Mother, Like Daughter
Juno Award-winning soul singer Kim Richardson is the daughter of showbiz legend Jackie Richardson, and proves she’s a chip off the old block with her star-turn as Motormouth Maybelle in the new Just For Laughs-produced revival of the musical comedy Hairspray …
by Richard Burnett  
(Production photos by Guy Lavigeur, courtesy of Just For Laughs/Juste pour rire, except where mentioned)

I have long said Montreal soul singer Kim Richardson and her mom Jackie Richardson are the Whitney and Cissy Houston of Canada because these big-voiced and big-hearted ladies can really sang.
Kim proved it yet again one night in a solo show at Le Balcon, a tiny dinner-theatre cabaret in Old Montreal. Over the course of two 45-minute sets, the three-time Juno Award-winning soul diva belted out such numbers as I Will Survive, Got To Be Real and Ain’t Nobody. But she really shined on her opening number, her signature version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. And she out-sang even Whitney chop-for-chop on I’m Every Woman.
“Can you hear me, Richard!” Kim asked me from the stage mid-song.
“I sure can!” I yelled back at Kim, while I was dancing up a storm at the back of the packed cabaret hall.
Kim Richardson (courtesy Kim Richardson)
The one song Kim did not sing that night was Waiting for your Touch, the terrific clubby dance track she co-wrote with Jean Robitaille and playwright Steve Galluccio for the 2011 Canadian hit film Funkytown. I bring this up because when the 2012 Genie Award nominations were announced, Kim was not credited when Waiting for your Touch was nominated for Best Original Song.
The kicker is, in the movie Funkytown Kim also portrays a singer whose song gets ripped off by a sleazy record producer!
“I double-checked the nominees and went, ‘Holy fuck!’”Galluccio told me at the time. “I immediately called the production company, who contacted the Genies, who corrected the list of nominees. I was horrified because here was life almost imitating art. But I admit I was also a little bit amused.”
If Kim Richardson has witnessed some lows as a black entertainer, she has also experienced some magnificent highs, like her current role as Motormouth Maybelle in the new French-language Montreal version of the Tony-Award winning Broadway musical Hairspray.
“I’m so excited because it is the best possible present I could possibly have at this point in my career,” says Kim. “It’s exhilarating, it’s frightening, it’s my first play I’ve ever done entirely in French. So the pressure’s on. But after two months of heavy-duty rehearsals, I’m ready to roll.”
Kim’s mom Jackie Richardson told me in this column just this past April when she was starring in the musical drama Big Mama! The Willie Mae Thornton Story at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, about the time when she and her only child Kim both joined a local Toronto community theatre group when Kim was just seven years old. “We did that together for three years,” Jackie said.
“Mom and I used to do community theatre plays just for fun, then I started to do professional theatre in Toronto before I moved to Montreal,” Kim – now a married mother with an 11-year-old son – explains. “But when I arrived in Montreal I slacked off a bit on my acting career to focus on music.”
Kim and Jackie Richardson (courtesy Kim Richardson)
When I remind Kim that her Mom also told me ‘I keep asking Kim for [singing] lessons – and I tell her I’m serious,” Kim humbly says, “I’m really at a loss for words because my Mom is a living legend.”
Arguably the most in-demand back-up and session singer in Quebec – she regularly works with everybody from Gregory Charles to Quebec’s Belle et Bum TV show – Kim has also backed up some of the greats, like the time she and soul sister Sylvie Desgrosseilliers memorably sang with pop and gay icon Martha Wash at Montreal’s famed Divers/Cité Festival. “They asked me ‘Do you want to back up Martha?’ and I replied ‘What kind of question is that!’ I was so stoked!”
Kim is also used to performing under pressure. Back in 2004, when the Montreal Expos major-league baseball club called me looking for a great local singer, I suggested Kim for their historic final home game ever at Olympic Stadium on September 29 of that year. 
There was over a century of professional baseball history in Montreal – the very city where Jackie Robinson broke professional baseball’s colour barrier in 1946 (with the Montreal Royals), and the city where such Expos Hall-of-Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson got their starts – and on that final sad day 31,395 fans bid adieu to “Nos Amours” and all that history.
“I was prepared for the booing [of the American anthem] because you knew the fans would be pissed the team was going to the States,” Kim told me the day after the game. “So I was able to sing through it. I didn’t expect [most] fans to start clapping and cheering – that was a classy thing. Then singing the Canadian anthem I started getting choked up.” 
“I remember that day,” Kim says today. “It was pretty intimidating, but you have to be a pro: The show must go on.”
As for Hairspray, the colossal Just For Laughs production features 28 actors and 7 musicians, including the talented Quebecois actors and singers Louis Champagne (Minuit le soir, 30 vies), Vanessa Duchel (Star Académie), Danièle Lorain (Unité 9), Geneviève Charest (Les Misérables), Bryan Audet (Star Académie), Oliver Dion (Star Académie), pop singer Gardy Fury, my all-time fave Montreal DJ, “singjay” Sandy Duperval (who learnt to sing gospel from private lessons with Cissy Houston) and Kim Richardson.
The $3-million show features star director Denise Filiatrault at the helm and opens June 20 at Montreal’s Theatre St-Denis. But when the Montreal run ends on July 14, will a Quebec tour follow? 

“I don’t know,” Kim replies. “This is a really big and expensive show. It costs big bucks to take something like this out on the road.”

Which is why John Waters and Hairspray fans should see this production while they still can.
“With Hairspray I’m back to my first love, really,” Kim says. “I can sing and dance and act all on one stage!”
I tell Kim she’s not just a triple threat, but rather she’s a quadruple threat!
“What’s my fourth threat?” Kim asks rhetorically, laughing out loud. “My big rack?”
Kim knows – even though I am a gay man – that I am a boobiesexual and do appreciate a fine rack. After all, Kim has one of the most fabulous racks in Montreal.
But, I say, “No, girl! It’s your big heart!”
The French-language production of Hairspray opens June 20 at Montreal’s Theatre St-Denis and continues to July 14, as part of the Festival Juste Pour Rire. Click here for tickets and more information.
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