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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
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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.

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

 

 

 

Our Beautiful Sons: Powerful, raw & honest

19 Jun
matthewdinningblyth

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.

 

 

Praise for Sister Act

14 Jun
Aurianna Angelique as Deloris Van Cartier and Company in Sister Act, 2016 Season_2

Aurianna Angelique and Company in Sister Act, 2016. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

By Diva Amanda Swartz

 GRAND BEND – An emotional high was evident in the opening day audience as it gave a much deserved standing ovation to the cast of ‘Sister Act’ playing at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend.

Many have known and loved the movie version of ‘Sister Act’ since Whoopi Goldberg first appeared in this film, but now after seeing the live musical performance, they likely will forever be an even bigger fan of the musical. The energy and soul put into this show by the entire ensemble, from cast to choreography, made this show stand out above both the film version and other musicals.

Aurianna Angelique, who played Deloris Van Cartier or Sister Mary Clarence, wowed the audience with her commanding and captivating voice. This Diva gave a sassier and more confident edge to her character that had the audience dancing in their seats along with her performances.

Lee Siegel (Curtis) and his gang, Gerrard Everard (Joey), David Lopez (TJ), and Oscar Moreno (Pablo), gave great renditions of the bad guys that everyone loves. Their comedic portrayals of 1978 Phili gangsters gave everyone a good laugh, even making their song about killing Deloris seem amusing with some ‘Can-Can’ style high kicks, hip sways, and funky background singing.

Other performances to be rejoiced were by Matthew G. Brown (Eddie), who not only performed well on stage, but also had the best costume change in the play with not just one, but two tearaway costumes. Also, Susan Gilmour (Mother Superior), Lorraine Foreman (Sister Mary Theresa), Susan Johnston Collins (Sister Mary Patrick), Amanda Leigh (Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours), Laura Mae Nason (Sister Mary Robert), and Rebecca Poff (Sister Mary Lazarus), portrayed their characters in tune with the Sisters that everyone knows and loves from the film, but with some added funk and pazzazz. Truly each performer should be praised for their part in bringing immense joy to the audience through spectacular dance and song.

From the glowing red ‘Sister Act’ sign to the beautiful, versatile, and impressive sliding stage, this musical would not have been complete without the creative hands of the production team.

So much goes into taking a live play from great to outstanding. Lisa Stevens helped it achieve this with her fantastic, comical, and powerful choreography, as did Rachel Berchtold who designed the ever impressive costumes.

Director Max Reimer and his crew should be proud of this entertaining, witty, and hilarious musical that had the audience laughing and smiling until their cheeks hurt. Big praise goes out to the entire ensemble for their collaboration in creating something truly soulful.

Don’t miss your chance to see this dynamic performance! On stage until June 25.

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

Unnecessary Farce draws necessary laughs

9 Apr
The cast takes a much deserved bow at the end of the dress rehearsal.

The cast takes a much deserved bow at the end of the dress rehearsal.

rachellynnBy Diva Rachel Lynn

GODERICH – Tuesday evening, I attended what’s referred to as the soft opening of Unnecessary Farce, the final “practice” before opening night of this Goderich Little Production on April 9.

There were many in the audience and the cast treated it as a true performance.

Written by Paul Slade Smith and directed by local Goderich-ite Nina Reynolds, Unnecessary Farce is being staged at The Livery Theatre in Goderich. The play is about two cops who are undercover in a cheap motel, trying to catch the mayor in a $16-million embezzlement scheme with the help of one “HOT” accountant. Add in Agent Frank (Jordan Henry), and “Big Mac,” you have one perfect recipe for suspense and laughter.

But it’s so much more than that. From the beginning, I was laughing and sometimes covered my

Confusion leads to hilarity in Unnecessary Farce, which opens tonight, April 9.

Confusion leads to hilarity in Unnecessary Farce, which opens tonight, April 9.

mouth I was laughing so loud. A word of advice, don’t cover your mouth. Laugh out loud. For me, it’s one of the best sounds on this planet. Now and then, the actors had to wait until the laughter died down to deliver their next line. Officer Dwyer (Eric Lubbers) and Sheraton (Shawn Van Osch) have a great back and forth banter as the incompetent cops who keep messing up. Ms. Brown (Jenna Leifso), the accountant, keeps taking her clothes off, but it’s not what you think. Agent Frank arrives to protect the mayor and search the room for “bugs”. Is Agent Frank who he says he is?

By the end of the show, I was laughed out and my cheeks hurt.

Bring a friend or family to see this wonderfully hilarious comedy.

A caution, there is some mild swearing so it may not be appropriate for a younger audience.

“The Livery itself has a grand history. Records indicate that the rear portion of The Livery was erected

The audience can watch events at The Livery in added comfort, now that the new seats are installed.

The audience can watch events at The Livery in added comfort, now that the new seats are installed.

during the 1840s as a harness shop by Samuel Seegmuller, trader in hides and whiskey along the Huron Trail between Guelph and Goderich.” In 1978, the building was almost demolished but, with the help of council and a private citizen, The Livery was saved. For more information on the history, please visit online.

Unnecessary Farce opens tonight, Thursday, April 9, at 8 p.m.

Additional dates: April 10,11,16,17, 18 at 8 p.m.; April 12 at 2 p.m.

For tickets, please visit The Livery’s box office at:
35 South St, Goderich or phone (519) 524-6262.

The Livery is also a venue for live music, film festivals and rentals. For more details, visit online.

Stag and Doe celebrates road to matrimony

15 Aug
Nicole Joy-Fraser, Jason Chesworth, Rebecca Auerbach and Greg Gale. Photo: Terry Manzo.

Nicole Joy-Fraser, Jason Chesworth, Rebecca Auerbach and Greg Gale. Photo: Terry Manzo.

by Diva Claire Carter:

I am at the point in life where many friends and relatives are walking down the aisle.  With the announcement of an engagement, often comes news of engagement parties, stag and does (also known as buck and does or Jack and Jills), bachelor and bachelorette parties, and a date set for the main event itself.  Despite planning, sheer luck sometimes seems to have more to do with how smoothly things run for all of these events.

I had the pleasure of attending the Stag and Doe in Blyth on Sunday, August 10, which is a shining example of how sometimes, things don’t always go as planned.  Within minutes, my guest and I (and the rest of the audience) were sharing serious laughs.  The plot of the story is worst case scenario, but has very real situations, of course punctuated by humour, shock and a bit of salty language.  There are parts of the stag and doe experience that seem universal; the community centre, games, discussing the guest list and similar social events from the past.

Because the show features both a stag and doe AND a wedding, we see the same honest writing and acting as far as the wedding is portrayed – budgets are ignored, family dynamics are made public, alcohol plays a factor in decision making, schedules for the day are delayed and the fairy tale image of the day differs from the reality (sometimes leading to bridezilla behaviour).

The Stag and Doe is the perfect show to go to with a group of friends for a bachelorette party, to gift tickets to all engaged couples or those celebrating anniversaries.  The actors in the Stag and Doe have great chemistry, and to the audience, seem like real couples, friends and enemies.  Having attended Kitchen Radio, I noticed a number of actors have roles in both shows.  It was amazing seeing how versatile these individuals are!

Another highlight of the show was catching the final performance of Bonanza Weekend, a Blyth Festival tradition when theatre-goers have the opportunity to watch all four main stage plays in three days for $100.  What a fantastic idea!  The theatre was packed, and the audience was having a great time.  Next year, I hope to plan my Blyth Festival trips around this great weekend.

Blyth Festival
Box 10, BLYTH, Ontario  N0M 1H0
519-523-9300

Tickets are still available online or at the Box Office.

HCP’s Les Miserables blew this Diva away!

15 Aug

by Diva Christine Harris

It was an amazing treat to be able to see Les Miserables on opening night in our own backyard, Grand Bend.  This was my first visit to the Main Stage at the Playhouse and I really enjoyed being up on the balcony.  The view was great from above; and it was also really neat being able to see the conductor throughout the night.  The evening started out with an introduction by Alex Mustakas, the Artistic Director of Huron County Playhouse (Drayton Entertainment).  He told us how long and how hard he had been working at bringing this musical to his theatre and welcomed us for the evening.

Cast of 2014 production of Les Miserable at Huron Country Playhouse Photographer, Hilary Gauld-Camilleri

Cast of 2014 production of Les Miserable at Huron Country Playhouse Photographer, Hilary Gauld-Camilleri

I really don’t know where to start, I was completely blown away.  The set was ingenious with how it moved and how they were able to quickly and easily change the feeling from a small quaint room to a large battlefield.  Props for the set like tables were easily slid into place with the system they used, so it took very little time and very little attention away from what was going on.  The costumes were beautiful pieces from the era that took you back in time, so you were able to get completely lost in the story.  The music and the singing by far was the most spectacular part of the evening.  A seven piece orchestra lead by conductor Robert Fraser did not disappoint.  With cello, keys, bass, percussion, reed and french horn the orchestra sounded beautiful together and complemented the amazing voices on stage.  I enjoyed the duo played by Eddie Glen and Kristen Peace as Madame and Thenardier who were both comical and crude; they lightened the mood and brought laughter to the audience.  Lee Siegel who played Javert had a strong and commanding voice; he was one of the performers I enjoyed the most.  My very favorite of the evening was “On My Own” by Ma-Anne Dionisio playing Eponine, that one will be in my head for days.

David Rogers in Drayton Entertainment's Les Miserable, playing at Huron Country Playhouse until Aug.30/14

David Rogers in Drayton Entertainment’s Les Miserable, playing at Huron Country Playhouse until Aug.30/14

At the end of the evening we were treated to a meet and greet in the lobby with the full cast and a midnight buffet.  Fans were able to talk to their favourite actors, and some even got autographs.  I was very happy that I was able to enjoy this whole experience and be a part of such a big production coming to such a wonderful theatre.

Les Miserables runs at Huron Country Playhouse until August 30th.

Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse

RR 1, 70689 B Line, Grand Bend, Ontario N0M 1T0
GPS coordinates: N 43° 18.834 W 81° 43.549
Box Office: 519-238-6000