Last Friday at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium I had the privilege to be held enchanted and literally breathless for nearly two hours by the magnificent Louise Pitre. Her Retro Pops show with the Nova Scotia Symphony, aptly titled Louise Pitre’s Broadway Showstoppers, featured a wide array of some of the most iconic songs of the musical theatre canon. It is an incredible testament to Pitre’s performing prowess that she is able to take fourteen songs that are familiar to me, ones that I have heard in countless renditions- some since childhood, ones that play on my IPod often, and perform each in a way that makes me feel like I am hearing it for the very first time. On Friday Louise Pitre reminded me how transcendent musical theatre can be. I am fairly certain there was a moment where I levitated in pure blissful delight, and that is the best feeling to have at the theatre.
There is this immediately palpable command of the stage, an inner strength and a shimmer of light that performers like Louise Pitre exhibit the moment they walk onto the stage. They are able to reduce a very large theatre, a very wide space, into something immediately intimate. In her first song, “If I Ruled the World” from Pickwick, she begins with gusto and then seamlessly transitions into something much more sheepish, which immediately gives the lyrics such beautiful depth of emotion and subtext. With Pitre it is never just about the gorgeous belt that catapults her voice into orbit, it is about communicating a story and committing, with every ounce of her humanity, to the integrity of that journey.
Pitre mentions in the show her penchant for singing the heart wrenching ballads about losing love. And indeed, her rendition of “As Long as He Needs Me” from Oliver was soaring in depth and haunting in vulnerability. That vulnerability was also intrinsic to her performance of “Somewhere that’s Green,” which she brought so much subtlety and depth to rather than just belting it out. You really got the sense of how timid Audrey was, how small she had constrained herself to be in order to fit into the life of someone like Orin Scrivello, DDS. The same is true, of course, of Nancy and Sikes, although Nancy tries harder to hide it. Pitre then gave us some comedy with Bernstein, Comden and Green’s “100 East Ways to Lose a Man” from Wonderful Town and she has marvelous comic timing and fun, vibrant character voices. She then turned around and broke our hearts with a quiet, simple, evocative rendition of Charlie Chaplin/ John Turner/ Geoffrey Parsons’ “Smile”, which was laden with melancholic subtext.
I loved Pitre’s interpretation of Mama Rose’s “Some People” from Gypsy because rather than beginning brassy and belty off the top, one really felt that she was appealing to her father with softness, trying to constrain her zealous, aggressive antics, in pursuit of the eighty eight bucks that she asks for. Rather than showing disdain for the some people she cites, she simply dismisses them- as though Mama Rose couldn’t be bothered paying even the smallest heed as her only objective is to get the money from Papa. The audience can see immediately the exact moment the invisible Papa turns her down, and Rose then emerges larger than life and on fire with spite and determination.
Pitre’s gorgeous voice soared particularly powerfully and lush during “Rock A Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” from Jolson and the grand finale “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She had me in tears with her bilingual rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, which made me hungry to see the show en Français, because the lyrics sound much more like poetry in Hugo’s native tongue. She then breathed gorgeous new life into Gershwin/Arlen’s “The Man That Got Away.” I think it is because Pitre always forces her audience to listen to the lyrics, to really consider what each song is saying as she sings, since her diction is so meticulously perfect and her ability to communicate every subtle nuance in every line makes it impossible not to think critically about the specific choices of the lyricist’s words, rather than sitting passively swathed in the music and the sweeping emotion. Pitre aggressively grabs her lyrics too, especially in Brel’s “Mariecke,” which was the moment in the performance when I thought I was either going to float away from pure bliss or that my head was going to explode from sheer mind blowing. I cannot do justice to this performance with mere words; I wish I could watch her sing “Mariecke” over and over so I could mine it for more specific details. It left me breathless, gobsmacked and with a pounding heart.
Louise Pitre received three entirely warranted standing ovations after her concert last Friday evening and left the crowd begging for more with her encore performance of “La Vie en Rose.” You can listen to her rendition here. It is divine and, like with Brel, she transcends language with the wide open exultation of her passionate heart.
Louise says that she lives her life and performs her cabarets en rouge, in red, which I think is a beautifully accurate description of my experience on April 5th. Perhaps it is that essence of rouge that helps insure that audiences across the country and all over the world keep falling helplessly, head over heels, in love with her.