Saskatchewan shines at gala

by Joanne Paulson
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
May 20, 2005

Saskatchewan, you looked good on national TV last night. And so commercial-free.

Bless Mother Corp. for showing us in our best light, with (a few exceptions) smooth camera work that displayed our artists and our landscape so well.

The Lieutenant Governor's Centennial Gala, despite its earlier setbacks, did us proud, mingling First Nations and European cultures with aplomb.

The opening number was hardly a surprise. Brad Johner, Andrea Menard, Theresa Sokyrka and Megan Lane came out to sing the centennial anthem, Saskatchewan, We Love This Place, dramatized with a First Nations beat.

Then comic Brent Butt appeared as host of the show, and soon gave everyone the cue for Queen Elizabeth II's arrival.

"When I say canola, everyone please stand, and she'll think we've been standing the whole time," said Butt, who always knows how to be funny without being offensive.

CBC broke away from Megan Lane's subsequent solo performance when the Queen and Prince Philip arrived, accompanied by Lt.-Gov. Lynda Haverstock and commentary from hosts Sheila Coles and Costa Maragos (who politely did not appear too often). A young choir greeted Her Majesty with God Save The Queen, which may not be the most inspiring song but was actually moving on this night. Michael Burgess followed with O Canada, in both official languages, rather less successfully.

Then it was back to the show. There wasn't quite a river running through it -- more of a runway painted like a river -- but it worked for Butt, who wandered it in his usual slightly nervous style and treated us to his funny and bittersweet comic song, Nothing Rhymes with Saskatchewan. OK, Butt can't really sing, but nobody cares. He's too great.

What followed was an impressive lineup of Saskatchewan stars.

Buffy Sainte-Marie looked beautiful, and sounded magnificent, as if the years since she first sang Universal Soldier have never passed. Connie Kaldor's contralto was in excellent form, and she sang intimately to the audience. Poet Lorna Crozier presented her mythic poem about light, Saskatchewan's legacy from God; poets aren't usually performers, but this one is.

And if there was any doubt that Andrea Menard is a star of nova power, her performance of Sonny Makes Me Sunny and Big Yellow Taxi put that to rest. Menard's beautiful voice, mingled with a style that is sincere, theatrical and relaxed, is never to be missed.

Colin James was great, especially in his second song. The medley tribute to Joni Mitchell, arguably our most famous ex-pat, was terrific . . . especially Lane's steaming hot version of Woodstock. And then, the Queen appeared on stage; what a final moment, especially for the artists who shook her hand.

The pace and mood did lag a few times during the show, and a couple of moments were lame; but in the overall effect, it was hard not to echo anthem-writer Stan Garchinski: We love this place. We do rock, Saskatchewan.

CENTENNIAL GALA FACTS

The Lieutenant Governor's Centennial Gala was the largest stage show ever held in Saskatchewan. Here's a description of the gala, by the numbers:

- 700 performers went through hair and makeup, starting at 4 a.m.;

- Hairstylists used 100 bags of hair and hair extensions;

- 100 volunteers provided hair and makeup services;

- 122 dancers performed;

- 120 stagehands were needed to assemble and run the set;

- 160 production personnel, stagehands and technicians built and operated the set;

- The stage was 9,000 square feet;

- The projection screen was 40 metres wide and 14 metres high;

- 328 singers in the Centennial Gala choir sang more than 3,100 notes.


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