Tag Archives: Huron Country Playhouse

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.

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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.

Legends. . . of Rock ‘N’ Roll pays tribute to music greats

17 Aug
Michael Clark, Michel LaFleche, Gerrad Everard and Yvan Pedneault in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, in the 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Michael Clark, Michel LaFleche, Gerrad Everard and Yvan Pedneault in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, in the 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

GRAND BEND – I have been very fortunate to catch every musical offered at the main stage of the Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend this season. I was wondering if Artistic Director Alex Mustakas’ most recent creation (yes, he dreamt up, wrote and directed the Legends . . . of Rock ‘N’ Roll) would be a favourite as it would be hard to top the other shows, especially Chicago. Yet this musical flashback of the tops tunes from the 50s, 60s and 70s had me dancing in my seat on opening night!

The theatre was packed again and as soon as the audience finished the traditional Huron Country Playhouse “one-clap” recognition of the sponsors, the lights dimmed and the audience was taken back to a more simple time with old advertisements and other video footage playing on two retro televisions on either side of the stage to set the mood. The premise of the show is a popular television host, Roy Solomon, is signing-off after 20 years. The “theatregoers become the live studio audience” who get to relive the best moments of the show.

The 13-member ensemble each has superb talent and individuals got the opportunity to shine while bringing back to life moments

Laura Mae Nason, Jennifer Kee and Valerie Stanois in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Laura Mae Nason, Jennifer Kee and Valerie Stanois in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

from music history. One cast member who really stood out to me, Yvan Pedneault, was able to capture so many different musicians beautifully but two that really moved me were rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. My parents used to play Simon and Garfunkel to help me sleep when I was little.

Right away, I was impressed by the vocal strength of Christine Glen in “Proud Mary”. This continued in “Son of a Preacher Man” and my favourite, “Respect”. Jennifer Kee nailed Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and, along with Laura Ma Neson and Valerie Stanois, brought The Supremes hits to a cheering audience.

Lee Siegel has such a rich voice that he had the audience singing along to “Mony Mony” and “Pretty Woman” to name a few. Gerrad Everad had the audience in stitches over his Mick Jagger portrayal and rocks the keys as Jerry Lee Lewis.

Michel LaFleche does it all from the rockin’ Chuck Berry to softer hits from The Lovin’ Spoonful. He teams up with Pedneault as Sonny and Cher…words can not even describe the comedy when those two are together. Michael Clarke goes from Stevie Wonder one minute to Ray Charles the next. His voice changes ever so slightly for authenticity of the artists.

It is the funny man Michael De Rose who ties it all together as the announcer, Sheldon Lubliner, of this Ed Sullivan style television show that gets the audience laughing throughout.  De Rose brings the audience some great belly laughs – especially in his rendition of “Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips with Me.”

A warning to those who end up with front row seats. You may become a part of the show as De Rose selects audience members to be past American presidents and one First Lady. Two lucky ladies were picked out by the performers and became the focus of their amorous songs, which provided the rest of us some great laughs. Fortunately, the audience members did not seem to mind in the least little bit.

The ensemble  encouraged audience participation throughout the show and I did not hold back! Clapping to the rhythm of each song and singing along when appropriate (okay, maybe singing very quietly along with the cast to most of the songs) secretly hoping that I would be pulled up to dance with one of the cast members.

I look forward to seeing what this talented ensemble will be performing in for the 2016 Drayton Season. Did someone say Mama Mia?!

Legends . . . of Rock ‘N’ Roll runs through Aug. 29. Regular performance tickets are $42 for adults; $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Huron Country Playhouse, online or by calling the Box Office at 519-238-6000 or 1-855-drayton (372-9866).

 

Snow White: The Panto – Happily ever after in Huron County

1 Aug
Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season. Photo by John Sharp.

Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season at Playhouse II. Photo by John Sharp.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GRAND BEND – If you like corn on the cob slathered with butter, then you will like this play – Corny with a capital “C” and slathered with silliness.

Having never attended a “panto” I did some research before setting off to see this production. Unlike the name may suggest, a panto is not made up of actors in white face going through strange silent routines. It is, in fact, a very British tradition of winter musical comedy theatre based (somewhat loosely) on well-known fairy-tales and children’s stories. A panto is filled with slapstick, Vaudeville routines, risqué innuendos, contemporary wise-cracks and, of course, lots of music, singing and dancing. It is also famous for its noisy and cheerful audience participation.

The opening night performance of Snow White: The Panto at Huron Country Playhouse fulfilled every one of those British panto traditions.

The scenery was painted to look like those wonderful illustrations in my childhood fairy-tale books. The staging, though simple with just painted backdrops and a prop or two, created the necessary atmosphere but also allowed for the maximum amount of movement – of which there is a lot!

As a person who enjoys history, fashion and fabrics, I greatly appreciated the design and detail of the costumes as well as the designer, Rachel Berchtold’s, decision to create costumes that are reminiscent of all those wonderful illustrations in our favourite childhood stories, but with the occasional modern flavour, such as glittery shirts for the dwarfs or maids uniforms reminiscent of early Hollywood musicals. I must confess to being somewhat envious of Queen Diabolica’s wardrobe – sassy and sexy  with form-fitting designs created using luxurious fabrics and lots of bling, although I don’t think it would look quite the same on me!

I was very interested to learn that the musical accompaniment was performed by a live band. The four musicians and Music Director Scott Christian  did a wonderful job performing a wide variety of musical styles from hip-hop, to Broadway, to R&B.

No musical would be complete without dance numbers and this play did not disappoint. Routines included tap dance, ballet, ballroom, jazz and hip-hop. Choreographer Gino Berti put together an absolutely brilliant routine that required precision timing on the part of the dancers or some serious whacking of heads and thwacking of shins would have taken place. A nice touch to a number of the dance routines was the inclusion of a troupe of 14 children   of various ages and sizes (extremely cute in animal pyjamas.)

The characters in the play were exaggerated versions of many of those we know and love. Snow White, played by Sarah Higgins was predictably sickeningly sweet while Prince Justin of Timberlake portrayed by Jamie McKnight was youthfully handsome, in a pale vampire kind of way.  Sexy Queen Diabolica, portrayed by Jackie Mustakas (who has great legs by the way), reminded me a bit of Bette Midler dressed for the Oscars. Cutie pa-tootie Tim Porter played the Queen’s hapless woodsman, Woody, with an almost perpetual grin on his face (made my cheeks ache) and restless energy in his movements. The portrayal of the dwarfs was both surprising and amazing. Stephanie Pitsiladis stood out as Grumpy, complete with Bronx accent, attitude and a voice that could fill a stadium.  Another favourite of mine, performed by two members of the Ensemble, was Prince Charming’s white horse , Avalanche, who had attitude, could tap dance and wouldn’t let anybody ride him.

While all the actors did a great job, hubby and my favourite character had to be buxom and flirty Nurse Tickle, who was brilliantly portrayed by Justin Bott. This continues one of the old British theatre traditions of having male actors play female parts.

While I am not sure that panto is exactly my cup of theatre tea, I did enjoy many aspects of the production and my hubby thoroughly enjoyed the entire production.

When you go to see this performance, be sure to bring your best booing, hissing, and cheering voices along with your waving, clapping hands because they are sure to be busy.

Snow White: The Panto runs to Aug. 29 at the Huron Country Playhouse II.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

I am telling my friends: Go cut Footloose!

27 Jul
Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

I am feeling a flashback after enjoying another stellar musical at the Huron Country Playhouse near Grand Bend yesterday.

From the neon coloured clothing, teased hair with scrunchies, acid washed jeans and large wads of chewing gum, the cast of Footloose: The Dance Musical in Sunday’s opening performance had me looking through old photos from my childhood and reminiscing about what growing up in the 1980s was like (even though I was very young when the original Footloose movie was released).

Having the pleasure of taking in several of the offerings so far this Drayton Entertainment season, I was excited at the opportunity to see another hit.  This time I was up in the balcony and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the view was. The rows were staggered so that even if the person in front of me shifted a lot in his seat it would not affect my view of the stage. Definitely worth considering getting tickets up there the next time.

As soon as the curtains open, the audience starts to feed off the high energy of the ensemble of “Footloose” and it allows us to get the feel for Colin Sheen as the defiant outsider, Ren McCormack. Sheen oozes talent (who can rollerskate like that anymore?) with his vocal talents, dance moves and looks the role of the teen heartthrob. I enjoyed Sheen as Gilbert and Danielle Wade as Anne in Anne of Green Gables earlier this season. The chemistry between Sheen and Danielle Wade, who plays Ariel, is evident in the pair’s rendition of “Almost Paradise” although my theatre companion thought it was a bit corny…that was the traditional love ballad of the ‘80s! Wade is able to portray the multiple sides of Ariel with ease and belts out one of my favourite tunes “Holding Out for a Hero” with passion.

I found that as good as Sheen and Wade are in their leading roles – and they are both excellent – my favourite scenes are the ones with Nick Settimi as Ren’s dancing challenged friend, Willard and Jade Repeta as Ariel’s friend, Rusty. The number of one-liners that Settimi delivers has the audience cheering for him and Repeta’s rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” had me dancing (and very quietly singing) along in my seat.

Director and choreographer Timothy French has put together a solid cast filled with amazing talent and backed by a great orchestra led by the incredibly talented Craig Fair. The ensemble was great as well with some very talented dancers. It was easy to hate David Cotton’s character of Chuck Cranston, Ariel’s abusive boyfriend. I was hoping that Ren would knock him out at several points.

Victor A. Young delivers a very moving performance as the Reverend Shaw Moore. In his song near the end of the show, “Heaven Help Me,” Young wrings every ounce of emotion out of it he can. Susan Gilmore as the Reverend’s wife, Vi, Rebecca Poff as Ren’s single mother, Ethel, and Wade come together beautifully for “Learning to be Silent”.

Once the cast kicks off their Sunday shoes for the finale, the audience was all up, clapping and dancing along with the ensemble. I can almost guarantee that you will leave the theatre dancing and singing too!

Footloose: The Dance Musical runs until August 8.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

Chicago brings “all that jazz” and more to Huron Country Playhouse

8 Jul
Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

As the lights dim in the theatre, I know that my husband is in for an interesting experience, as he has no background knowledge (other than the quick Cole’s notes version I gave in the car ride to Grand Bend) about the iconic Broadway sensation Chicago.

Boy, was I right.

The opening night of Drayton Entertainment’s Chicago at the Huron Country Playhouse had the audience captured from the start. Lots of long legs, toned abs and barely-there costumes along with amazing musically talented ensemble definitely grab the attention of all in the theatre. This is not a show for young children!

The darker, sultry side of life in the 1920s Chicago comes alive through edgy dancing, strong musical numbers and humour as the cast razzle dazzles its way through the story of the two divas, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, who vie for the spotlight in Cook County Jail after doing away with their cheating lovers. Both Jodi McFadden (Velma) and Jayme Armstrong’s (Roxie) powerful voices demand the audience’s attention from the moment they start singing.

It is hard not to find a soft spot in your heart for Geoffrey Whynot’s Amos, Roxie’s hapless husband, who just wants to be seen but can never catch up to the spotlight. His rendition of Mr. Cellophane captures the sympathy of the audience, as Amos is just pathetic.

Dean Hollin portrayed the sly lawyer Billy Flynn and made me hate how slimy and sleazy his character was but done in such a smooth way. Valerie Boyle gets the audience going as Mama Morton after her opening song “When You’re Good to Mama” that had us cheering for her and her powerful vocals.

HCPgazeboMy husband and I enjoyed some salted caramel ice cream bars during the intermission under the new, large gazebo that has been recently built on the front lawn. It was great to overhear conversations from other viewers about what they thought so far. Many talked about the athletic ability of the ensemble and the vocal talents of the whole cast. Others discussed the costumes (mostly the men) who seemed to be pleased that their wives and significant others brought them to the Huron Country Playhouse.

R. Markus as Mary Sunshine’s operatic voice could possibly shatter glass. I loved the shocker that comes from the character at the end!

The ensemble is simply mind blowing. It demonstrates beauty and strength in its dance routines, and is definitely not hard on the eyes, thanks to Ivan Brozic edgy costume designs that leave little to the imagination. This ensemble is full of talent as its members, especially the men, take on many roles throughout the performance. The murderesses’ “Cell Block Tango” is a favourite of mine along with their performance alongside McFadden in the opening number “All that Jazz”.

I loved the two-storey jailhouse set design that allowed for a very smooth transition between scenes and the orchestra being moved to the second level of the jailhouse just within view.

Director and choreographer Mike Jackson has a hit with Chicago. Alex Mustakas, the artistic director of Drayton Entertainment, calls Chicago “…the hottest ticket in town this summer” and both my husband and I agree! As we walked to the car, my husband was humming “All that Jazz” and was discussing how many of his friends would enjoy seeing it.

The Playhouse was packed on opening night and I am sure tickets will be limited so I would suggest clearing an afternoon or evening in your calendar to catch this show before it’s gone.

Chicago runs until July 18.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

 

Theatre in a uniquely beautiful setting

3 Jul

By Diva Jennifer Mossop

According to NASA, Jupiter and Venus are a “jaw dropping few degrees apart” right now and clearly visible at sunset in the Western Sky. Venus is all about love and beauty. Jupiter is the planet of the abstract mind, ruling higher learning, and bestowing a yen for exploring ideas, both intellectually and spiritually. A perfect analogy for the experience that awaits you on the shores of Lake Huron, at the Huron Country Playhouse on the outskirts of Grand Bend.

There is something quite precious and picturesque about an evening at the Huron Country Playhouse.   The farmers’ fields are very green now, and filled with promise. The sky is big, blue and endless. And nestled in the midst of all this natural delight, is a seat of culture – an iconic member of the Drayton Entertainment family. For over 40 years, generations have been coming to this renovated barn to be treated to the entertaining, mind expanding, soul searching and soul satisfying delights of live theatre.

We drove along the B line from Highway 21, feeling the lush summer country landscape engulf us. My daughter sat beside me – 12 years old now, and dressed in crisp white shirt, black pants and a scrubbed clean look ready for her first “real job”. At age 12, children in the surrounding area are invited to usher at the Playhouse. Ushering is now ranked as a tradition and an honour, shared by generations in the Grand Bend area. These are the eager young faces that meet you as you arrive. Eager to serve and eager for the chance to watch professional live theatre!

Photo Credit: Kevin Kruchkywich and Daniela Vlaskalic in Last Chance Romance, 2015 Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke

Photo Credit: Kevin Kruchkywich and Daniela Vlaskalic in Last Chance Romance, 2015
Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke

There are two theatre options, with the main productions housed in the old barn and the smaller Playhouse II accommodating lighter fare.   Last year, Les Miserables met with ecstatic reviews, as did a pantomime version of Peter Pan. This year, Anne of Green Gables has already stolen many hearts, and now Chicago is just ramping up. This was the production my daughter took in as she helped hand out programs in the main theatre. I, on the other hand, had tickets for the Playhouse II, for the comedy, Last Chance Romance.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.  Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.
Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Sets and costumes are always creatively, meaningfully and well done, and the calibre of performer and performance continually meets with approval from seasoned theatre-goers and critics, alike.

Intermission brings the chance to step out into the fresh country air, and gaze at the magnificent sky, ablaze in setting sun glory. Collecting a refreshment, we ventured out on to the lawn to see the new gazebo and met up with the Chicago goers, gushing about the production next door. Note to self, buy tickets now.

At end of the evening, we collected our daughter, her eyes wide and shining with the new experience. Climbing into the car, we looked over the fields at the rising full moon to the East, and enormous Venus and Jupiter in the Western Sky. Natural beauty and human experience in a satisfying balance. If you haven’t been to the Playhouse yet, or yet this season, don’t miss the chance. Check its website here.