Friday, September 27, 2013

The Abominable Showman, September 27, 2013

Photo Andrée Lanthier
In Praise of Extraordinary Women
CharPo sits down for a revealing tete-a-tete with theatre legend Roger Peace and Canada’s First Lady of Soul, Kim Richardson, about their collaboration on the iconic Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin' …
By Richard Burnett (all photos by Richard Burnett unless otherwise noted)

Legendary theatre director Roger Peace sailed from London to Montreal in 1957 on the ocean liner SS Columbia at the age of 21 and experienced the tail-end of Montreal’s famed and infamous golden Sin-City era. Montreal theatre scene wasn’t quite London’s West End, where Peace had landed a bit part in the musical Call Me Madam at the London Coliseum in 1952.

Kim Richardson
(courtesy Ms Richardson)
Roger Peace
(courtesy Mr. Peace)
But he has loved the theatre ever since, especially musicals, and has spent much of his professional life as a director and producer casting larger-than-life divas in his productions, notably his longtime muse, Montreal jazz great Ranee Lee, and another of his favourites, soul queen Michelle Sweeney. Lee and Sweeney co- starred in Roger’s first remount of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Montreal’s La Diligence dinner theatre back in the late 1980s.

A quarter-century later, in his upcoming remount of Ain’t Misbehavin which opens at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts on Sept. 29, Peace cast another glorious diva in the role made famous by the late Nell Carter on Broadway, Kim Richardson, the pitch-perfect Juno Award-winning soul singer I have long called Whitney Houston of Canada.

Richardson and Peace

“I do love my larger-than life divas,” says Roger. “I’ve always been attracted to writing for women, and directing women. I just can’t get excited about a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. But Piaf, Dietrich or Judy Garland? It’s so much easier and more fun writing musicals about these extraordinary women.”

Not to mention casting the likes of Ranee Lee, Michelle Sweeney and now Kim Richardson.

“I’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” Roger says.

Photo Andrée Lanthier
Richardson is also delighted to be working with Peace.

 “When my agent called and said, ‘Do you want to audition?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ Roger didn’t have my home number – I’m not offended!” Kim laughs. 

So does Roger, who adds, “She came in to audition, which was totally unnecessary, really.”

Richardson was not only made for this role, but “shared” it with her mom, legendary soul singer Jackie Richardson, “when we did the musical in Toronto back in 2005.”

In April 2013, when she portrayed blues legend Big Mama Thornton in the musical Big Mama! at the NAC, Jackie Richardson told me how important it was for her to portray black women. 

What about Kim? 

Photo Andrée Lanthier
“Any role in a period piece where I’m portraying a black woman is an honour,” Kim replies. “Because this is the humble beginnings, where it all started [for entertainers like me]. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for performers like Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday and my Mom. I am thankful that this is even possible.”

Both Roger and Kim have had banner years in 2013.

The Mahalia Jackson Musical [starring Ranee Lee sold out at the Segal] last winter, my Piaf show opens in London in [October] and my Etta James show [starring Michelle Sweeney] is playing in Russia, so I’m ecstatic because I thought that at my age I would be retired,” says Roger, now 77. “But I’m busier than ever and having a ball.”

Kim is just coming off her three-month run in Hairspray (she played Motormouth Maybelle) at Montreal’s Theatre St-Denis, where she got a standing ovation every night. (Read my June 2013 Hairspray interview with Kim by clicking here.)

“I can’t say no!” Kim says. “That’s the thing! I love to work and I can’t say no to great projects.”

“Because at some point – and it always happens – you stop getting offers,” says Roger. “You have to take the roles when you can.”

Photo Andrée Lanthier
“But the hard work does catch up with you, especially when you feel like you’re moving slower than the other cast members!” says Kim, who these days absolutely glows. “That’s from running after the 20-years-olds on Hairspray! It’s the best gym ever! You wanna lose weight? Do those crazy dance moves with the young 20-year-olds!”

“I’ve worked with some extraordinary people in my career,” says Roger, who back in the 1960s was also a guest on the hugely popular TV variety show of the not-so-nice Ed Sullivan. “And I’ve got to say, Kim is one of the finest. She’s an extraordinary girl.”

Kim blushes. For real.

Then Kim says she plans to slow down after the autumn run of Ain’t Misbehavin' at the Segal. But not too much, evidently: Kim is now a regular on Friday nights on Gregory Charles’ new TV show Choc des générations on Radio-Canada.

Roger has a lot on his plate too. In addition to Piaf in London, Etta James in Russia and Ain’t Misbehavin' at the Segal, he says, “My Judy Garland musical opens at The Rialto [Theatre in Montreal] in April 2014.”

“Oh my God, every queen in Montreal will be there!” I tell Roger.

Kim laughs her head off and Roger smiles. “Oh, I hope so!” he says.

Incidentally, the music in the Garland show will be done by the hugely talented and drop-dead gorgeous Montreal piano player Chris Barillaro, who not only plays the piano onstage and is musical director of Ain’t Misbehavin', but also accompanied pop icon Joan Rivers onstage at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival this past summer. I bust a gut laughing at Barillaro’s brilliant routine with Ms. Rivers (read my latest interview with Ms Rivers by clicking here).

“And he’s so quiet about it,” Roger says.

“So humble,” Kim adds. 

“We have an amazing all-star cast for Ain’t Misbehavin', says Roger. “They’ve had to learn five-part harmonies, all the dance steps, and I can’t wait for opening night because it’s all coming together.”

Just don’t call Roger Peace a living legend.

“I’m just lucky to be alive!” he says. ‘The accolades are nice, but I don’t pay them too much attention.”

Kim nods knowingly. “It is a nice compliment but you have to have a humble approach to it because if it goes to your head, you’re going to have a problem. I learnt that from my Mom: Thank you, and next.”

Ain’t Misbehavin'  at The Segal centre for Performing Arts, Sept 29 to oct. 20. Click here for tickets and more info. 

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.