Categories: Entertainment

Musical story of Riel remounted

One of the most controversial figures in Canadian history is Louis Riel, a leader of the MĂ©tis people who sought to preserve their rights, culture and homeland from the Canadian government and a swarm of European settlers.

To some Riel was a traitorous fugitive. To others he was a folk hero and it’s this juxtaposition that makes Louis David Riel: The Musical one of the most interesting pieces of educational theatre around.

Once again Musicalmania remounts this 80-minute production for a one-day run at the Jubilee Auditorium on Monday, Nov. 1.

The action starts with Riel (Martin Galba) in Manitoba as an educated man concerned about his people. It follows The Red River Rebellion of 1869 and the execution of Thomas Scott (David Wilson) that forced Riel into exile in the United States. It continues to 1985 when Riel is invited back to his homeland to represent MĂ©tis grievances to the government. The North-West Rebellion ends with Riel’s surrender, trial and execution for high treason.

St. Albert composer Cindy Oxley orchestrated this show with more than 20 songs tied together without the benefit of dialogue. “It’s very much like an operetta,” says director Jen Magel.

The St. Albert resident saw the first production mounted at the Winspear Theatre in 2000. It was delivered in a concert style setting with leads simply stepping out in front of the chorus to sing their lines. “This one is more sophisticated. It’s blocked. There are scene changes, props, a set and some multi-media effects.”

St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumnus David Wilson has been trying out a few vocal acrobatics as Thomas Scott, a zealous man openly contemptuous of all MĂ©tis. The few facts known about him suggest he wanted to annex MĂ©tis lands to Canada. ”That leaves room for a lot of artistic license. I play him as a very angry man. Even the sung lines, I tend to shout through them.”

Scott is killed early in the play, however he remains in the background haunting Riel as a ghostly spectre. “He blames Riel for the execution and spends the rest of Riel’s life taunting him.”

Wilson adds that the real Scott was shot several times by a firing squad but refused to die. “He finally died from a gunshot to the head. Rumour has it he was still alive when they buried him.”

Oxley has defined the characters through song and Scott’s personality shines in The Biggest Cross to Bear, a duet with Riel. In turn, Riel discovers that his adversary, Maj.-Gen. Frederick Middleton at the North-West Rebellion is Not What I Expected.

“It’s an under-told story in Canadian history with a great message and that is fight the good fight. It’s worth fighting for what you believe in.”

Tickets are $12.50. Call 780-460-8944.

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.