A gifted musician, formerly of Red Deer, is returning to the City to stage A Tribute to Liberace – set for Jan. 17th at the Welikoklad Event Centre.
Performance times run at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Curtis Labelle, who has been busy teaching and directing in the Edmonton area for the past five years, is excited about including Red Deer on the tribute. His is a very recognizable name to local audiences, as he has been involved in many local productions over the years. He studied composition, conducting, piano and voice at Red Deer College under the tutelage of Dr. Cheryl Cooney, Dr. Ross Debrusin, Steve Sherman and Sharon Braun.
As to the show, he said the concept popped into his mind one night at 3 a.m. about three months ago.
“I had just finished watching Behind the Candelabra, and so many people have said to me over the last few years, ‘Why are you not performing?’ I’ve been directing musicals and teaching. But this idea came along, and it hit me so hard – I didn’t even think twice about it. Why am I not doing this? Why am I not performing. I thought, that’s it – I’m going to do it – a tribute to to Liberace.”
It’s been a rich, imaginative journey ever since as Labelle has delved into Liberace’s legendary, flamboyant world. Known for his over-the-top costumes, stage sets and bigger than life personality, Liberace’s storied career stretched from the 1950s until his death in 1957 in Palm Springs, California.
Labelle’s show will capture songs from various periods of Liberace’s musical journey. To that end, he’s been carefully preparing for the role – not just in intense piano preparation, but also in ensuring the show is a full-fledged tribute on virtually every level from the elaborate costuming to the in-between song banter to nailing the nuances of Liberace’s personality. The look will be inspired by his style during the early 1980s.
According to Biography.com, Liberace was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in Wisconsin in 1919.
He appeared as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 16. “He later began giving concerts in flamboyant costumes with ornate pianos and candelabra, playing primarily popular music. Very successful, he hosted his own TV variety series, The Liberace Show (1952–55, 1969), and appeared in films such as Sincerely Yours (1955).
“In later years he performed frequently in Las Vegas.”
In the mid-1970s, Liberace decided to give the public a peek into his lifestyle. He transformed his Hollywood home into a museum. “He later displayed his collection of costumes, cars and other treasures at his own museum in Las Vegas.”
For Labelle, it’s been an amazing challenge – and he can’t wait to present the finished product to audiences.
“The tribute will be about 85 minutes long without an intermission, featuring piano and grand piano complete with candelabra and orchestra.” There will be special guests plus some instrumental sections that will allow for a few costume changes, too.
“There’s so much repertoire out there that he has covered; almost anyone can recognize a tune that he played because he covered such a vast (period). He had a 40-plus year run in playing.
“He would often say he wanted to leave a legacy, that we wanted to leave the world a better place.”
There has been plenty to work on, including getting used to playing piano with large rings on, as Liberace did. But it wasn’t just for image – there was a practical purpose, too.
“They’re big and heavy. But Liberace once said that when he was younger, his teacher put lead weights on his fingers so he would have to learn to play ‘heavy’.”
These days, Labelle lives in St. Albert, but he called Red Deer home for several years.
During his time here, he served as a director for theatre companies in Alberta and the Yukon, including Central Alberta Theatre, Ignition Theatre, Tree House Youth Theatre, Kompany! here in Red Deer. As a private vocal coach and piano instructor, Labelle was owner and operator of Labelle Studio of Music for six years in Red Deer as well.
In addition to working on stage and film productions, he also enjoys working with PDD individuals (learning and developmental disabilities). He was the director of the Arts Sparks choir with the Red Deer Public Library.
In between directing for stage productions and rehearsing with students, the accomplished Labelle is also continuously composing and developing new themes and melodies for piano and orchestra.
Labelle has also served as musical director in the theatre program at Visionary College, and he is the executive and artistic director of Mallard Theatre in Edmonton.
He’s long had a passion for music – Labelle was only four years old when he asked his parents if he could take piano lessons. Soon after he displayed promise in talent and studies into teenage and adulthood.
As for the Liberace show, Labelle is thrilled for the opportunity to perform and engage with audiences. Not to mention sporting those phenomenal costumes. “It’s worth every penny just to see these costumes,” he adds with a laugh.
“It’s going to be exciting.”
For ticket information, visit www.blackknightinn.ca or call 403-755-6626.