Gateway Theatre
Hey Viola!

When & Where April 13 to 22, 2023, evenings at 7.30pm plus Wed, Sat & Sun matinees at 1pm | Gateway Theatre, Mainstage, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond BC

Director Tracey Power Associate Director Sereana Malani Music Director Steve Charles Lighting Design Jillian White Set Design Drew Facey Costume Design CS Fergusson-Vaux Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu Musicians Mary Ancheta Piano, Steve Charles Bass & Guitar, Chris Davis Drums & Trumpet

Reviewer John Jane

Hey Viola! is Krystle Dos Santos and Tracey Power's musical biography of Canadian civil-rights activist Viola Desmond in first person form by a solo performer. Tracey Power also takes on the responsibility of stage direction and Krystle Dos Santos delivers the storytelling plus vocals.

Most Canadians likely only realized what a significant contribution Viola Desmond made to Canadian culture when they saw her image on the ten dollar banknote - and only those of us whose fingers still rub through paper money. For those who are even now unsure of who Viola Desmond is and why there is a musical portrait in her honour, she is the black woman who in 1946 refused to leave the (unofficial) whites-only section in the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. This was nine long years before Rosa Parks also challenged racial discrimination on an Alabama bus.

Desmond, for her trouble, was superficially convicted of a tax violation for the value of one-cent. But even before that incident, Desmond had shown herself to be a genuine trailblazer. The performer recounts her subject's story in the past tense as if relying on memory at end of life. Viola Desmond may have achieved much in her tragically short life, but it's not known that she could sing.

However, Dos Santos who is an even better songstress than a storyteller, gives her the voice that she no doubt dreamt of having, beginning with "Dream a Little Dream" and "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" singing into a standing mic at centre stage. Dos Santos and Power didn't just choose songs from the American Songbook. The show's repertoire of songs range from gospel with "This Train is Bound for Glory" to Nina Simone classics like "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "Sinnerman" and "Feeling Good." Dos Santos has a natural mezzo range that occasionally gets close to contralto. She gets top drawer accompaniment from a talented trio of musicians that are always visible onstage and led by Steve Charles on bass and guitar.

Drew Facey's set design is appropriately minimalist, with the musical instruments taking up much of the stage. A brightly lit marquee light informing the audience that they are annexed to SMALLS PARADISE - a night club in Harlem - is the only concession to profligacy.

Tracey Power and Sereana Malani guide the show through eighty minutes of joyful entertainment, but leave the pacing to the solo performer. Along the way, the show offers up nuggets of historical information without making it seem like a history lesson.

© 2023 John Jane