Monica Huisman had such an unique experience at Fred Penner's house concert featuring Toronto cabaret show The Picture of Happiness last June that the Winnipeg soprano is hosting her own on Friday, June 20.
After a sold-out three-show run at Penner's River Heights residence a year ago, The Picture of Happiness, a performance featuring actor-singer Brad Hampton and pianist Patti Loach, is back in town this weekend for another trio of pop-up concerts -- one at Huisman's St. Vital home, followed by two at Penner's.
"I saw the show last year and it was so moving, sweet and spectacular," says the singer. "I thought how fun it would be to have them in my house."
Huisman was taken by the intimacy of a performance for 30 people in the comfort of someone's living room.
"Their cabaret, musical-theatre type show needs a venue like that," says Huisman. "It's such an intimate story and communication between artist and spectator. You don't feel like there's anyone else in the room. I got lost in what they're doing."
The picture referred to in the show's name is a mysterious 1941 photograph, discovered by Hampton in the basement of his grandmother's home 25 years ago. It showed two men sitting on a picnic blanket, arms around each other in what appeared to be a picture of happiness. One of the men was Hampton's grandfather. His mother refused to identify the other man or continue the conversation.
Eventually, Hampton pried the information out of his mother and the story became the basis of the duo's home concert series.
Hampton and Loach have been hosting house concerts in the kitchen of their Toronto home for years. Travelling artists have stopped by, and Loach counts the performance by singer-songwriter Jane Siberry as one of her favourite evenings ever.
"When we listen as a group to live musicians we, as humans, feel connected, regardless of whether we're sitting in Roy Thomson Hall or around a campfire or in someone's home," says Loach, who, like Hampton, is originally from Alberta. "I like the human connection of a small house concert and, apparently, I'm not the only one. Our Jazz in the Kitchen concerts sell out within three days of announcing them."
POH's prairie encore tour stops at Huisman's home at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 20, and at Penner's at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 21, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 22. Tickets are $35, $30 for seniors and students, but are not available at the door. They must be purchased in advance online at www.thepictureofhappiness.com.
Guests are invited to bring along a bottle of whatever they would like to drink. Glasses will be provided, as well as Nanaimo bars and butter-tart squares.
"The first time I experienced The Picture of Happiness in Toronto, I was touched by Brad's voice and style," says Penner. "Joy, laughter and tears make this a very special performance. I wanted to share this with my Winnipeg friends. I loved watching the audience experience the same delight that I first had."
House concerts are word-of-mouth events and Huisman has been spreading the word. She has been urging friends to get their tickets pre-show, making sure they know they can't just show up at the door.
"Last year, Fred felt bad because he had to turn away friends who were saying, 'Come on, you have space on your stairs for me. There must be somewhere I can hang from your chandelier.'"
Loach will be making her sixth trip to Winnipeg, but if The Picture of Happiness returns next year, it will be presented in new venues.
"The sad thing about this trip for me is that this will be the last time I get to perform in Fred's home and Monica's home because, by coincidence, they are both moving," she says.