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Jane Enkin

Heitha Forsyth

In Tribute to Barbra Streisand - Heitha Forsyth at the Tarbut Festival November 16, 2013

by Jane Enkin, Jan 1, 2014

I came to the Saturday night Tarbut concert not as a Barbra Streisand fan, but a Heitha Forsyth fan. All my expectations were met – Forsyth put on a beautiful show.

The concert featured a fantastic local band. Karl Kohut sounded great on bass, William Bonness gave good support on piano, and Ryan Voth on guitar contributed essential riffs for the Streisand pop hits. Paul Balcain, Andrew Littleford and Todd Martin made a fine horn section. David Grenon, Brooke Wylie and Joanne Majoko had fun singing back up vocals and each joined Forsyth for one of Streisand's famous duets.

Streisand's fame was a constant presence throughout the evening. At first, Forsyth was a little tentative about the task of singing such well known songs from the repertoire of a beloved diva. She received enthusiastic and vocal support from the audience, which may have helped her quickly get her stride and deliver a rich performance. Most of the audience recognized the songs from the first few notes, and let their excitement show.

Trained in jazz at the University of Manitoba, experienced in R and B, and now creating a new career in country and soul as Sol James, Forsyth chose to sing Streisand's songs in a straightforward, clear style. She began with songs from Streisand's theatre and film career, and closed the concert with big pop love songs.

Just before intermission, Forsyth sang a beautiful “Avinu Malkenu,” with the back up singers as synagogue choir. Just like in the old days, when cantors went on tour for adoring crowds, this song brought sighs of pleasure from the audience. At the opening of the second set, Tarbut Music Producer Karla Berbrayer asked us all to rise for Hatikvah, sung simply yet powerfully.

There was a lot of delicacy to Forsyth's singing, yet she knew when to go over the top. She held the big notes, always with more subtlety than pop divas often deliver.

In the first half of the concert, Forsyth's duet with Brooke Wylie recreated Streisand's famous performance with Judy Garland. In their complex intertwining of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the singers interacted and sang beautifully. Joanna Majoko brought flair and a nice contrast to Forsyth in her turn as Donna Summer. David Grenon had a great time recreating Barry Gibb's part in the duet “Guilty,” and rhythmically this number was challenging and interesting, but I found the song too much like a lounge act number.

I'm ambivalent about the big pop love ballads – they are sentimental, but they have terrific, indelible hooks. The lyrics aren't brilliant, but they are truthful. Forsyth sang them with heart, in tender and transparent interpretations that shimmered with feeling. She devoted herself to experiencing the passion in each song and to reaching out to the audience, never “commenting” on the songs, instead inhabiting them with commitment.

I'll close with two of my favourites. Forsyth's “Don't Rain On My Parade” was outstanding – I think she should keep this number in her repertoire, even outside of Streisand tribute concerts. The song is so challenging, with its fast, pulsing rhythms. It starts at a high level of excitement and builds even further. Forsyth's technical skills and strong voice really shone here.

“The Way We Were” was simply perfect. A thoughtful, wonderful song, beautifully offered to a receptive, delighted audience.

Sol James will appear in the Music 'N' Mavens series on February 18, 2014 at 2 pm.

Sol James will sing her Barbara Streisand concert on April 12, 2014 at 8 pm at the West End Cultural Centre.

Check for lots of upcoming performances

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