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Composer hopes cabaret will keep audience laughing

Tomson Highway, renowned aboriginal playwright, composer and pianist, chose Greater Sudbury to launch one of his new works because he loves the city. He will be on stage the Theatre du Nouvel-Ontario Aug. 7 to launch Kisageetin: A Cabaret.
Thomson Highway will perform a world premiere of his new show Kisageetin: A Cabaret, Friday Aug. 7, 8 p.m., at Theatre du Nouvel Ontario, 21 Lasalle Blvd. With Tomson Highway is his long time collaborator, vocalist Patricia Cano. Photo by Wendy Bird.

Tomson Highway, renowned aboriginal playwright, composer and pianist, chose Greater Sudbury to launch one of his new works because he loves the city.

He will be on stage the Theatre du Nouvel-Ontario Aug. 7 to launch Kisageetin: A Cabaret.

Highway is known for his plays The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing.

“This (the Sudbury area) is my hometown, my community. I live in Noelville and Patricia Cano, my vocalist, lives here. It is a nice place to try things out. My partner and I really love Sudbury. We have nothing but good feelings about this town,” said Highway on a visit to Northern Life.

Kisageetin means “I love you” in Cree, said Highway.

The work is comprised of 16 songs all related to love. Highway says it is more of a comedy than anything else.

“We (native people) laugh a lot. We may not be good at making computers and jumbo jets but we are good at laughing. We laugh hard. We are good laughers. So we like to spread that. I like to make people laugh. My favourite sound, I figured out one day, is the sound of human laughter. I like it so much I will do anything in my power to hear it often.”

People can expect to laugh at the cabaret performance.

“If they don't laugh they will be thrown out of the theatre. We have body guards to enforce that,” he joked.

Highway praised his vocalist in the show, Patricia Cano.

“She is so good when you close your eyes and hear her voice you will experience a healing like an ocean.”

Cano said the audience must expect a diverse performance at TNO.

“They can expect laughter, songs about love, lullabies, tongue twisters, very theatrical pieces - the whole human emotional range. People will have a really good time.”

Highway expects the play to go worldwide after the initial performance in Greater Sudbury.

His previous cabaret show, the Cree Cabaret, has played in theatres, concert halls, and nightclubs in Sudbury, Toronto, Montreal, Stratford, Berlin, Munich, Prague, Budapest, Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro (in Brazil).

Cano began her professional singing career with Highway, performing the Cree Cabaret worldwide. She had met Highway when attending the University of Toronto. while studying theatre.

Highway comes from northern Manitoba.

“I come from a nomadic family of caribou hunters. My father was a Cree caribou hunter. I was swallowed by a caribou when I was born.  I grew up inside a caribou,” he joked.

As a child, he spoke Cree, as well as Dene. He then went to residential school in La Pas, Manitoba, university in Winnipeg and then to the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

“I had the most extraordinary piano teachers all along the way. So I became a pianist.”

He said he's not a high-level pianist because he didn't start his training early enough in life.

“I was 11 when I started because where I grew up there were no pianos. We travelled by dog sled, so it would have been hard to carry a grand piano on a dog sled. The nearest piano was 500 kilometres south of us,” he laughed.

Highway said he was social worker from the age of 22 to age 30, when he began to write.

“I did not think I was capable of writing. I thought writing was for other people. I tried it, and lo and behold it worked. I was quite surprised.”

Artistically, Highway was influenced by various people in his life.

“My father was an accordionist. My grandfather was a legendary fiddler. People encouraged me. My teachers noticed I had musical capability. I had one teacher at Western who himself was taught by Glenn Gould. I was taught visual arts, philosophy as well as music, poetry, literature, all that. That is what fired my imagination. So I had a fine musical pedigree."

Highway continued his educational path by himself teaching a course on native mythology at the University of Toronto. This is where he met his vocalist Patricia Cano.

“I was speaking about native mythological figures in comparison to Greek mythology.

I met Patricia when she was 18 years old, pretty as a peach. She still is,” he laughed.

“I was shocked because I had (also) met her (in Sudbury) when she was six years old. My partner is from Sudbury, from an old Sudbury family. My partner's sister lived down the street from the Cano residence. My sister-in-law had three daughters who always were playing with Patricia down the street.”

Jean-Yves Begin, a well known saxophone player from the city, will also perform in the cabaret.

Tickets are $15 and are available at the door, 21 Lasalle Blvd., cash only, or reserve at 929-1736.