Anything Goes: A play that makes a big production of laughter

27 Jul
Jayme Armstrong and Company in Anything Goes, Drayton Entertainment, 2016 Season

Jayme Armstrong and Company in Anything Goes, Drayton Entertainment, 2016 Season.

By Diva Heather Boa

GRAND BEND – What’s not to love about Anything Goes, the musical that opened on Huron Country Playhouse’s main stage this past Sunday?

There’s incredible singing, live orchestra, fancy footwork, marvellous costumes and fine acting wrapped around the story of a young man who sneaks aboard a cruise ship to pursue the love of his life, a debutante who is being chaperoned by her mother on the voyage that will end with her wedding to another man.

The characters in this play with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and new book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman are zany and delightful, from energetic nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (played by Jayme Armstrong) to desperate romantic Billy Crocker (played by Patrick Cook), from stowaway blonde Erma Latour (played by Lee-Anne Galloway) to the incredibly politically incorrect Oriental duo (played by Neil Salinas and Ryota Kaneko). Even the villain Moonface Martin (played by Sheldon Davis) is quite loveable. Then there’s the dog; that poor fluffy creature whose misfortunes get no sympathy from the audience.

Most of the laughs are the cheap sort that fit comfortably into the weekend summer scene. There’s a beard made of dog fur – yes, from that poor dog, a sword that rises from its owner’s side as his sexual interest rises, a skeet shooting contest that gets overtaken by a machine run and other stuff unabashedly designed to draw laughter. It’s all silly and it’s all in good fun.

Paradoxically, this is serious stuff. Under the direction and choreography of Michael Lichtefeld, this production is tight; it’s a complicated mix of movement, timing, singing and live music that comes together beautifully.

The vocals of Jayme Armstrong and Keely Hutton, in particular, are quite stunning. But songs like Anything Goes and the finale It’s De-lovely, which involve the entire Company in a flurry of dance and spinning costumes and powerful voices, are absolutely magical.

Anything Goes runs until Aug. 6 on the main stage at Huron Country Playhouse. Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.

Keely Hutton and Patrick Cook in Anything Goes, Drayton Entertainment, 2016 Season

Keely Hutton and Patrick Cook in Anything Goes, Drayton Entertainment, 2016 Season.



Hilda’s Yard: Some stories are timeless

18 Jul
Patti Allan and Company in Hilda's Yard, 2016 Season

Patti Allan and Company in Hilda’s Yard, 2016 Season. Photographer: John Sharp.

By Diva Heather Boa

GRAND BEND – You know that type of book that’s really slow to start while the plot gets laid down and then suddenly you’re hooked, awake until way past your bedtime reading to see how it will all end?

That’s kind of like Hilda’s Yard, which opened at Huron Country Playhouse II on Friday night. It’s typical Norm Foster work, with over-the-top characters with gratuitous accents, a litany of jokes that could have been ended with a little drum roll (for example, there’s a drawn out discussion about the disadvantages of having the last name “Fluck”) and a setting that needs the dust blown off – in this case, it’s 1956 even though the play was published in 2012. Norm Foster fans should love this play.

By the end of the first act, the play was just a nice little summer diversion; a story about aging empty nesters looking forward to nights in front of the new television set and perhaps a little hanky panky whenever it suited them, when their plans are derailed by their two children, who unexpectedly move back home. We’ve met all of the family in the backyard setting, including: the matriarch Hilda Fluck (played by Patti Allan), a pragmatic and strong-willed housewife who talks over the fence to her long-time friend Mrs. Lindstrom, who we never see; the reliable patriarch Sam Fluck (played by Brian Linds), whose modest dream of owning a television set causes him to take personal time from work; the sweet schemer son Gary Fluck (played by Alan Kliffer), who is still traumatized by the desk job he held during the war and can’t keep a job, even as a pizza delivery man; and the spoiled daughter Janey Fluck (played by Ella Simon), who has left her husband and wants to pursue a career in a travel agency. And thrown into the mix were Bobbi Jakes (played by Steffi DiDomenicantonio), who is Gary’s flamboyant girlfriend in a costume reminiscent of a stereotypical French artist, right down to the black beret; and Beverly Woytowich (played by Brad Austin), a philosophical bookie.

It’s no small feat that director Mark DuMez hasn’t sent these characters right over the top. After all, it’s encouraged by the playwright.

But somewhere into the second act, true to form of a play written by Canadian Norm Foster, it got real as all the strings laid out in the first act started to pull together. The play shifted from being a nice little comedy to being an exploration love, work ethics, mental illness and domestic violence. Suddenly, the nice little comedy earned respect from the audience, and it reached that place where you really and truly could have heard a pin drop. One particularly chauvinistic line from the family patriarch, Sam Fluck (played by Brian Linds) drew a collective reprimand from the audience. Not what you expect in a comedy. Within 30 seconds, he’d said something else that had people laughing and the show went on.

Even though the set is the 1950s, with costumes that include clothespin apron, saddle shoes, greaser jeans and bowling shirt and discussion about WWII and television sets, the family dynamics are timeless. Who of us with siblings hasn’t stuck our tongue out or tried to take a jab from time to time? What adult child hasn’t scored beer and sandwiches from the fridge? What parent hasn’t had a moment when he or she felt the children never grew up?

Hilda’s Yard runs until July 29. Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.







A place maybe even better than home: Colborne B & B

5 Jul

colborne1By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – Suzanne and John Anderson, the owners of Colborne Bed and Breakfast, make their job look easy.

But underneath their welcoming and easy-going style is a careful staging of every detail from the stock in their kitchen to the furnishings in the rooms to ensure that guests in their home have a memorable experience.

“We meet so many wonderful people from all over the planet,” said Suzanne, as she worked in the kitchen to prepare a lunch of baked eggs that swam in a pool of butter and cheese topped with fresh herbs, bacon from Metzger’s meat shop located 20 minutes down the road, artisan bread that was cooked in a wood oven, fresh salad greens grown in a hoop greenhouse on an organic farm, and baked apples dripping in maple syrup, yoghurt and a special granola mix made from a local baker who happens to live across the street.

colborne5colborne2colborne8colborne6“We try to serve local as best we can. Our guests deserve the best,” Suzanne said, as she dabbed the baked apples with yoghurt while a cameraman from a local film crew tracked her movements.
colborne9On the table were also croissants from neighbouring Cait’s Kitchen, chili sauce from her grandmother’s recipe, and jam from the local market (her own ran out mid-winter). To meet special dietary needs, there’s a butter replacement and a dairy-free cheddar-style shreds in one of the egg dishes.

John and Suzanne have been welcoming guests into their red brick home on Colborne Street, just off Goderich’s unique downtown Courthouse Square, since purchasing it in 2010. There are four spacious rooms, with hardwood floors, high ceilings, wide baseboards and ensuite washrooms. The decorations are warm, with clean lines and elegant simplicity.

There is also a lovely loft space that can be rented longer term and offers more privacy.

Some of the windows overlook a tranquil garden, with space for guests to escape with a book or a cup of tea. Everywhere, there’s somewhere to sit and relax, from couches in the shared living room with its rows of books and games to bistro seating in window nooks to stuffed leather or wingback chairs by fireplaces.

Their home serves as a resting place for guests who have come to town for family events, local festivals, shopping or beach experiences. Or they’ve come for one of the experiential packages, like the Spa Getaway, offered during the off-season. Colborne Bed and Breakfast has partnered with Irene Duguay Spa Services to offer a full weekend of dining and relaxing, plus a shuttle trip to the spa for a bit of pampering.

On this particular day, it was cold and pouring rain but swaddled in a blanket with a warm compress on my face, soothing instrumental music in the background, and all sorts of exotic scents mingling in the small room, I was toasty and relaxed. I even managed to forget that I was being filmed by a cameraman as Irene efficiently explained what she was doing as she applied a deep cleanse, then steaming and masking, using Eminence organic skin care products. She moved with a certain calmness, as though there were a sleeping baby in the room that shouldn’t be wakened.

“I went to a show in Toronto and I just fell in love with the product,” Irene said. Every spring, she returns to Toronto for training on new techniques using the Eminence products.

massageWhile the mask worked its magic, Irene gently and methodically massaged my hands, arms, shoulders and feet, both of us content in the silence, broken only by interview questions from me or explanations of what she was doing from her.

As I lay there, I schemed on a girls’ spa getaway at Colborne Bed and Breakfast with my favourite friends for next winter. I’m sure it will be exactly what we need to celebrate our friendship amid hectic lives.

For more information on Colborne Bed and Breakfast, visit online or give them a call toll free 800-390-4612 or 519-524-7400.



Canadian Legends: Oh Canada – You Rock!

5 Jul
Neil Aitchison and Company in Canadian Legends, 2016 Season

Lee Siegel and Company in Canadian Legends, 2016. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GRAND BEND – A great way to have celebrated the Canada Day weekend was by attending the opening performance of director Alex Mustakas’ must see Canadian Legends at Huron Country Playhouse. It is a triple-threat production of music, dance and comedy celebrating the wide range of musical talent that this great nation of Canada has produced both in the past and continues to produce.

Neil Aitchison, as RCMP Const. Archibald Finkster, acted as the show’s witty and humorous MC against a backdrop of changing scenery from across this beautiful country. This was the first time that I had seen Neil perform and he was a natural comic who looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. I think that my favourite joke was the one about the rosebud tattoo – but you will have to attend the performance to hear it!

The production opened with a high energy song and dance routine to a melange of Tom Cochrane’s hit song Life is a Highway and Hank Snow’s I’ve Been Everywhere. “High energy” and “hit songs” were the theme of the entire production.

A packed house was kept busy tapping toes and clapping hands as we were brought on an historical musical journey, starting with Paul Anka’s Diana and ending with Paul’s song My Way made famous by legendary crooner, Frank Sinatra. In between, we were treated to Canadian musical hits from every decade, including rock ‘n’ roll, country, folk, classic rock, rap, hip-hop and down home East Coast by musical legends such as Neil Young, Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Celine Dion and Michael Bublé, just to name a few. We also heard music from bands such as Rush, The Guess Who, BTO, and The Tragically Hip.

The songs were performed by six multi-talented men and women, who not only gave fantastic vocal performances but also played instruments. My favourite singer was Stacey Kay whose powerful voice could give America’s Kelly Clarkson a good run for her money. All the singers did a wonderful job of sounding like the original artist being featured.

The accompanying “high impact” dance numbers were performed by four lithe and limber dancers choreographed by Gino Berti, who has worked on other Drayton Entertainment musical productions such as Twist and Shout, Hairspray, and Dance Legends. Dance numbers featured styles such as jive, waltz, ballet, country and western and hip-hop.

The singers and dancers had excellent musical accompaniment from a five-piece band under the direction of Brigham Phillips.

The costumes of both singers and dancers reflected the time period of the music being performed. I think that the gentlemen in the audience liked the sexy costume worn by Laura Mae Nason for her rendition of Shania Twain’s I Feel Like a Woman the best.

Both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed this production, so much so that even though my hubby wasn’t feeling well, he didn’t want to leave until the end! Now that is a recommendation!

Canadian Legends is playing at the Huron Country Playhouse main stage until July 16.

Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.

The Birds and the Bees: Brilliant physical acting

27 Jun

Earl (played by John Dolan) whispers a few tantalizing lines into Gail’s (played by Nora McLellan) ear. Photo by Terry Manzo.

By Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH – On the same day stock markets plunged, the pound sterling took a nose dive, and those who won the vote for the United Kingdom to exit the European Union were left wondering just what they’d really done, a summer comedy, The Birds and the Bees, premiered at the Blyth Festival.

Playwright Mark Crawford could not have predicted that his story about a young turkey farmer who leaves her husband and moves back into her mother’s home after a 20-year absence, and all the shenanigans that subsequently take place, would premiere the day after an historic vote. But as a result of this coincidence, he achieved the target result of a good comedy – evoking much-needed laughter.

We are introduced to: Sarah’s mother, Gail, an uptight divorcée who raises bees, which she believes are dying as a result of neonicotinoid pesticides in corn and soybean seed planted by the neighbouring farmer who rents her land; Earl, the neighbouring farmer who is also a little vulgar and randy; and Ben, the student who is studying the bees and more often than not appears on stage in tight biking shorts and shirt, and a helmet.

We also see two bare bums, trunks, boxers, slips and a couple of bras in the impossible hilarity of this play. Not to worry though. It’s suitable for adult audiences of all ages to laugh, as evidenced on opening night this past Friday.

Marion Day (as Sarah) and Nora McLellan (as Gail) have a wonderful ease about them on stage, as if they are living in the moment and everything that’s taking place is really, truly real. It’s a particular pleasure to watch the two, although Christopher Allen (as Ben) and John Dolan (as Earl) are also fine actors.

But perhaps the real brilliance in the opening night performance was the physical acting all four actors did. Each had to deliver not just lines, but physical actions and reactions that were dependent on timing in order to nail the funny factor. And nail it they did.

It was a hoot to watch Gail argue with Earl while struggling with a dressing gown hastily put on backwards or to watch Ben try to pluck a bee stinger from a particularly sensitive region of his body.

I can’t give away much more, so you’ll have to go see it yourself, and forget whatever troubles ail you and the world on that day.

The Birds and Bees plays at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until Aug. 6. Tickets (Adults: $31 regular, $35 preferred; youth: $15. All orders subject to $6 handling charge) are available by calling the box office at 519-523-9300 or toll free at 1-877-862-5984 or online.


Ben (played by Christopher Allen) and Sarah (played by Marion Day). Photo by Terry Manzo.




Unnecessary Farce – A modern Comedy of Errors

23 Jun
Keith Savage and Ralph Small in Unnecessary Farce, 2016 Season

Keith Savage and Ralph Small in Unnecessary Farce at Huron Country Playhouse II.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GRAND BEND – Slapstick comedy was front and centre at the Huron Country Playhouse II during the opening night of Paul Slade Smith’s play, Unnecessary Farce.

Sean Elliot directs a high-energy production with lots of physicality, slamming doors, burlesque humour, and slapstick comedy as two bumbling police officers and an accountant work together to try to prove that the town mayor has embezzled municipal funds.

One of my favourite scenes was when Constable Billie Dwyer, well played by Kristen Peace, tries to escape from the motel room while being gagged and bound. My muscles were aching just watching her manoeuvres!

Kristen also did an amazing job with one incredibly long, rapid, breath taking piece of dialogue that left us all amazed and gasping for breath.

I admired the self-confidence of Jayme Armstrong, playing the character of accountant Miss Karen Brown, who had to disrobe, not just once, but several times! And yes, I envied her lithe figure.

Ted Simonett, as the slightly bumbling Mayor Meekly, reminded me of an older Andy Griffith.

Valerie Boyle provides a surprise twist of character and plot as Mayor Meekly’s “charming” wife, Mary.

David Leyshon portrays a somewhat ineffective and tongue-tied, yet sort of sweet, police officer, Eric Sheridan. His “getting dressed” routine was quite humorous.

Ralph Small put his heart, and by the look of his red face, all his high blood pressure, into the character of Todd “The Scotsman”, an assassin who kills people by playing his bagpipes. He looked quite fearsome when dressed in all his Scottish kilt and Busby hat! And I don’t know how he managed to wrap his tongue around all those Gaelic curse words!

I think my favourite character portrayal was Keith Savage as Agent Frank. His long legs, lanky movements and confused expressions reminded me of an American version of Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame.

The set design of two adjoining hotel rooms was very well done. In fact, a friend who accompanied me to the play commented that there was something wrong when the play set had better bedding then she did!

Unnecessary Farce plays at the Huron Country Playhouse II until July 2nd.

Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.


Our Beautiful Sons: Powerful, raw & honest

19 Jun

Rebecca Auerbach and Jesse LaVercombe star in Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 6. Written by Christopher Morris. Directed by Gil Garratt. Photo by Terry Manzo

By Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH – Through the actors on stage at the Blyth Festival on the opening night of Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning, I saw the Wingham family in the aftermath of the death of 23-year-old Corp. Matthew Dinning, who, along with three other Canadian Forces members, died in 2006 when the armoured vehicle they were travelling in struck an IED in Afghanistan.

In this world premiere, the powerful, raw, honest and incredible personal true story of how mother Laurie (Rebecca Auerbach), father Lincoln (J.D. Nicholsen), youngest son Brendon (Cameron Laurie) and even the widowed neighbour Gail (Catherine Fitch) dealt with the grief, guilt and memories of their loss is laid bare for all to see.

The story begins after a military official comes to the house to inform Laurie and Lincoln Dinning that they have final decision in whether their only living son, Brendon, can also join the military. From the start, there is conflict and recriminations between the couple; their son had already told his dad but not his mother. They are opposites. Laurie is fiercely determined, protector of family and private in nature. Lincoln is laid back, social and open, with a penchant for humour. They are a family of few words and little physical demonstration of affection.

Ultimately, Laurie takes some of her son’s ashes and hikes the El Camino, an historic pilgrimage route, to come to a decision on Brendon’s future.

Along the way, Auerbach portrays a woman – a mother and a wife – who is a soldier unto herself, demonstrating resolve, reason, conviction, loyalty as she struggles between the guilt of allowing a son to go into conflict knowing that he may die, and interfering in the will of a young man.

As I watch the play, I feel the heavy responsibility on playwright Christopher Morris and director Gil Garratt to tell this story just right. But during intermission, my companion tells me that the actors have captured the essence of the Dinning family members. She imagines they spent time with the family in order to mimic gestures and nuances.

She introduces to me to Lincoln, who tells me the play is true to what really happened. Maybe there’s a bit more arguing in the play, maybe it’s a bit more dramatic than it really was, he says, but it’s a play, after all.

To give the impression that this play is cluttered with arguing and recriminations would be wrong. It is also punctuated by humour, thanks to American traveller Mario (Tony Munch) and his run-on stories, a scene that involves a bag of frozen peas, and a rather tell-all sign Lincoln displays at the airport when he picks her up after her long absence.

Our Beautiful Sons is important to the local military heritage but it is bound to resonate for any military family that has suffered a loss. And, sadly, we have many across this country.

Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning plays at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until Aug. 6. Tickets (Adults: $31 regular, $35 preferred; youth: $15. All orders subject to $6 handling charge) Are available by calling the box office at 519-523-9300 or toll free at 1-877-862-5984 or online.




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