From its cabaret setting, Hey Viola! tells the story of Canadian civil rights activist, Viola Desmond through reminiscences and song, bringing a fuller picture of the Haligonian’s life. As she has since the show debuted, in late-2020 to small audiences amidst covid restrictions, the incomparable Krystle Dos Santos personifies Viola, making her so much more than the woman we see on our $10 bill. Much of my previous review from last year’s remount at another theatre still holds true, but over the last years of touring, Dos Santos’ Viola seems to have become even more second-nature. The audience can feel the emotions and toil of a life of fighting just to be recognized as equal, while also becoming the ground-breaking entrepreneur, entertainer and icon. The story if Viola Desmond still feels relevant and required in these current times, when we are still routinely hear of acts of oppression and inequality.
Co-created and directed by Tracey Power (Chelsea Hotel: the Songs of Leonard Cohen, Miss Shakespeare) and Krystle Dos Santos, Hey Viola! not only entertains with a great soundtrack but also educates with a more in-depth look at Ms Desmond’s whole, albeit short, life. Many of us likely hadn’t really heard of Viola Desmond before a 2016 Canadian Heritage Moment and her addition to the new $10 bill peeked our interest. The co-creators set out to change that lack of knowledge for themselves then for the rest of us as they learned what a full and iconic life the National Historic Person led. The education can’t come without the entertainment and it is top-notch, lead by Krystle Dos Santos’ timeless vocals on jazz standards and anthems like Dream a Little Dream (of Me), This Train, A Change Is Gonna Come, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Mississippi Goddam and many more. Along with Musical Director Steve Charles on Bass/Guitar, Chris Davis on Drums/Trumpet and Mary Ancheta on Piano, Dos Santos as Viola commands the stage for the entire 80minute performance.
Created by the late Drew Facey Hey Viola! is set in a recreation of Small’s Paradise, a small basement nightclub in Harlem, NY. When it opened its doors in 1925 (until 1986), Small’s was the only nightclub in Harlem with an African-American owner and a racially integrated clientele. Hey Viola! opens the doors to a whole lot of history, waiting to be discovered.
Step through those doors for yourself, while Hey Viola! continues until April 22, 2023 at Gateway Theatre, Mainstage, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond, BC, you won’t be disappointed.
This production is presented in English with Traditional and Simplified Chinese surtitles. Tickets start at $35 and are available online at gatewaytheatre.com/hey-viola