Sunday, September 28, 2003

Menard delivers stirring performance in Velvet Devil

Joanne Paulson
The StarPhoenix

Andrea Menard has wowed audiences with her musical theatre creation, The Velvet Devil, in Regina and Ottawa.

Now she has brought it home and thank heaven -- and Menard -- for that.

From the moment the Saskatoon singer and actor appears on stage, clad in a white satin dress, glittering jewelry and long golden gloves, she commands attention until her final bow.

Menard plays Velvet Laurent, a.k.a. The Velvet Devil, a young Metis woman born in Batoche with a beautiful voice and determination to burn. Velvet is a tender 18 when she hits Toronto, ready to take her place on the vaudeville stage, and her success is spectacular.

But tragedy brings her home, to a performance at the Roxy Theatre -- yes, Saskatoon's Roxy Theatre -- where she tells her story and ends up baring her soul to the audience.

The plot weaves in the difficulties encountered by women and people of colour in show biz, as well as the character's eventual search for her roots.

That being said, don't expect a dark, brooding lecture on the evils of society. This is riveting to watch and wonderful to hear, with that 1940s flavour of vaudevillian fun running most of the way through.

Menard is an incredible talent.

She wrote The Velvet Devil, including the music in collaboration with Robert Walsh and performs it with passion, her sparkling eyes connecting with the audience in a way that is extremely rare.

She is never better than when she is singing. Menard has a beautiful voice with an extensive range, and she uses it to full effect. It helps that the music is wonderful, lyrically intelligent, melodic and tells a story, but Menard could probably sing Happy Birthday and pack a room.

Every single song -- and there are many of them -- is great, particularly the enchanting Is That You? Menard also takes a chance by blowing and gently whistling into the microphone, creating a song she hears in nature. It's just wonderful.

On stage with Velvet is her band, made up of Saskatoon's own Lee Kozak on guitar, Bill Watson on drums and Murray Dubray on bass. Not only do these guys play great music, they also pitch in with a little bit of acting . . . and it's pretty good.

The Velvet Devil is an entertaining, moving, professional piece of theatre, which clearly demonstrates the wide range of talent stirring in one hometown woman.

The Velvet Devil is presented by The Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company at the Black Box Theatre. Kennetch Charlette directs.