FRINGE: Andrea House delivers the full Willie

Chasing Willie Nelson – A Tribute

By Stardust Players, Venue 39 (CKUA building)

The Stardust Players are a group of like-minded professional artists who, in recent years, have gathered together to create original works that play to their specific talents. Their latest is billed as a tribute to Willie Nelson. But it goes much farther than a collection of Willie’s greatest hits – due to its creator and star Andrea House.

Apparently House began with your basic “and then he wrote” musical biography only to be told by fellow performer Mat Busby that it was boring. So she want back to her computer and created a fractured, moody dream. In it, a lonely woman spends a fevered night sleeping alone in her bed. She dreams of her childhood hero, Willie Nelson, and his doomed son, Billy. The two fool around with guns, rob trains in the old Butch Cassidy-style and she falls in love with Billy, who committed suicide in 1991.  As their fantasy unfolds so does the life and music of Willie.

House is superb. First you are struck by the practiced craft of this amazing singer. Each song is given a specific life of its own. It’s like listening to a Barbra Streisand or even Lady Gaga rendition – you feel that the song has been wrung of every subtlety, lyric intelligence and musical significance it can possibly offer. No song is thrown away by the singer, who brings her awesomely supple and fluid voice and actor’s perception to each offering.

On the opening barn burner, Bob Wills’ San Antonio Rose, she can sound like every country warbler you’ve ever heard taking full advantage of her ace house band. On the jazz-inflected Georgia On My Mind she summons the ghost of Billie Holiday. Crazy could stand as a straight cover for Patsy Cline. Stardust is a delicate jazz filigree that is hers alone although she is infinitely aided by an exquisite accompaniment from pianist Chris Andrew. Dana Andersen, with his flowing biblical beard is “the spirit of Willie,” filling in with comic one liners. He joins House (with a presentable stab at Willie’s voice) in Always On My Mind.

The production is presented as a radio show (direction by Davina Stewart) with the performers standing in a line near the band. There are hundreds of Willie pictures projected throughout the evening. Mat Busby makes a likeable and bemused Billy.

But it is House’s show and her night. And she is outstanding.

5 out of 5