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Presenting songs in the key of Cree

Tomson Highway showcases his newest musical in the Hub of the North

Renowned Canadian composer and playwright Tomson Highway brought his latest production to the Letkemann Theatre June 6 in the hopes of preserving Indigenous language through song.

This musical, titled Lynx Lamour Goes to Nashville, follows the exploits of a Cree woman from Northern Manitoba who wants nothing more than to become a country music star.

Even though this journey has lots of ups and down, as she goes from performing at seedy bars in Thompson to the Grand Ole Opry itself, Lynx remains committed to honouring her family’s culture by singing exclusively in Cree.

Outside of Highway’s piano accompaniment, this story was brought to life thanks to a group of talented musicians who hail from Winnipeg, Saskatoon and even Cross Lake. This troupe includes lead singer Krystle Pederson, who pulled double duty by portraying the play’s titular character in between singing all 12 original songs.

After Thursday’s show, Pederson told the Thompson Citizen that this production is going through its second round of tours, having introduced the music to Saskatchewan communities back in 2018.

“This year we kind of stepped it up and added the script to the music as well and have been getting around to a bunch of northern communities in Manitoba,” she said.

Outside of Thompson, the group’s 2019 tour included stops in Norway House, Brochet and Nelson House - places where the overriding theme of the play would generate the most impact.

After all, Highway wrote this production as part of his ongoing Songs in the Key of Cree project, which is designed to help revitalize Indigenous languages through the arts.

This initiative has even left a big impression on Pederson, who rediscovered her own cultural roots in preparing for the role of Lynx.

“I never spoke Cree. I didn’t learn it when I was younger,” she said. “Tomson has kind of brought that back to me and has gifted me with this wonderful show as a way to learn.”

On Thursday, Highway revealed that this initiative is also aimed at empowering troubled youth, since he said art is the most effective way of fighting against the social problems that are plaguing Manitoba’s Indigenous community.

“If I hadn’t had this piano, if I hadn’t had this extraordinary musical training I would probably be dead by now,” he said. “I would have died at age 21, stomped to death in some back alley here in Thompson.”

Despite receiving a warm reception from the local crowd, Highway said the show is still a work in progress and that they are still trying to work out the kinks during their current tour.

By next year, the playwright wants to finalize the music and work in some more elaborate costumes and production values so that this show reaches its full potential.

“I love writing plays and I love working with musicians, so I just wanted to write something that would mean something to Manitoba, my home province,” said Highway.

According to the Songs in the Key of Cree website, the final summer showing of Lynx Lamour Goes to Nashville is taking place at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre in Winnipeg June 13.

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