Opera is just too neurotic for this theatrical songster

Bremner Duthie wouldn’t tell me what was under the towel. He’s Scottish. Enough said. The Paris singer begins his show in…

Bremner Duthie wouldn’t tell me what was under the towel.

He’s Scottish.

Enough said.

The Paris singer begins his show in risqué terrycloth.

And over the course of an evening he changes artfully into a tux.

“In over 100 performances, the towel has never slipped,” said Duthie with a laugh.

“It’s a family show.”

Whiskey Bars is a cabaret-style theatre piece built around the songs of Kurt Weill.

The first piece Duthie wrote after escaping the neurotic debacle known as New York opera, it’s a production that has evolved over the years.

Duthie started out in political science, heading for a law degree, then quickly switched to opera.

After singing at McGill, he headed to New York City to sharpen his teeth with the pros.

This is when the glamour ground to a halt.

“The last performance I did, there were people screaming, the conductor was throwing things at people from the pit, and I was like, ‘You know, I’m not really cut out for this world,”’ said Duthie.

“I don’t want it enough to have somebody throwing chairs at me.”

So, musical theatre it was.

Looking for the cheapest, easiest plot device he could find, Duthie wrote Whiskey Bars about a character who’s backstage, preparing for a make-it or break-it performance.

The Kurt Weill music was an obvious choice — Duthie is passionate about the political, German composer.

Choosing 10 songs that span Weill’s career, Duthie’s performances start with music Weill composed while still in Berlin, and end with an encore piece he wrote just before he died.

Weill worked in Berlin in the early part of the century, then ran from the Nazis through Paris to Broadway, where he worked with writers like Gershwin, Ogden Nash, Irwin Hughes and Maxwell Anderson.

“He was really involved in the politics of music and theatre,” said Duthie.

Although New York seems like the obvious place for a musical actor like Duthie, the Weill fan fled the city where he was born.

With travelling parents who called hostels home, the young Duthie was toted from New York to Scotland when he was eight.

His dad, after hauling his young family back to the tiny Scots village of his youth, opened a bingo hall.

Seven years later, Duthie and his parents moved to Vancouver, where his father abandoned his clothes.

“My dad was just a free spirit,” said Duthie.

“He spent a lot of his last years hanging out at Wreck Beach (a nude beach). And he’d invite me to come down, but I’d be like, ‘No Dad, it’s OK thanks’ — I’d be too uptight.”

But with a history that includes stints as a casino worker, Christmas tree, mad king, art administrator and house painter, Duthie doesn’t come off as uptight.

The Christmas tree gig was the most interesting.

And, apparently, the most embarrassing.

While attending college in Vancouver, Duthie and two friends would dress up as Christmas trees and sing Christmas carols for cash.

“We were called Tree-O,” said Duthie sheepishly.

“We got those tomato growers, a couple of hula hoops and covered ourselves in green fabric.”

Duthie is now based in Paris, where he should have been recording a second CD.

Instead, he fell in love with Dawson City in the winter.

Coming for two weeks to visit his wife, who’s the writer in residence at Berton House, Duthie still hasn’t left.

“I was supposed to go to Mali to this music and theatre festival in the desert,” he said.

“And in February and March I was supposed to be recording a CD in Paris.

“Now that’s pushed to June and Mali will have to be next year.”

Duthie, who was performing in Toronto before heading north, had everything he needed for the show, so the Guild decided to stage it.

 “The whole show fits into a small suitcase,” he said.

Duthie had been to Whitehorse before, to visit a friend, but this was his first visit to Dawson.

“My mom drove up the Alaska Highway in 1951 in a Volkswagen Beetle,” he said.

“And she has some great stories about arriving in Dawson and wandering through what was then a ghost town.”

Duthie’s mom, who was from the north of England, drove up the highway without seeing cars for days, arrived in Dawson, walked up to one of the dredges and this guy leaned out the window.

It was her neighbour from Yorkshire, who greeted her with, “Hey, Lass, what you doing?”

That was one of her favourite stories, said Duthie.

When he was a “wee thing,” Duthie’s mom always knew when her son was heading home, because she could hear him singing blocks away.

“It’s the first thing I can remember wanting to do when I was three or four,” he said.

Whiskey Bars explores the complicated relationship performers have with the audience, but it’s mostly just fun, said Duthie.

The show happens Saturday night only, at the Guild Hall.

Curtain is 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available at Arts Underground.

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