Canada in Love: In Love with Canadian Song



While it might have been a little late for Valentine’s Day, Canada in Love was not a moment too late to experience as the appeal of love songs never fades. After all, who doesn’t love a love song? Whether you’re love struck or lovelorn, bursting at the heart or broken hearted, in love with your country or just in love with love, there is a love song somewhere out there for you. And so Canada in Love made its way to The Guild theatre in Charlottetown for its final performance after a gruelling 38 performances in a 5-week tour of PEI, bringing love and laughter to the many island seniors who would otherwise not have had a chance to see the show. That was, after all, the purpose of the production team of Young at Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors.

I’ll have to admit that prior knowledge had me somewhat confused. I’d read that it was a performance of several songs Canadian, so I had come to the conclusion that it was a concert of some sort. Then the programme said it was a musical by Young at Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors, so I decided it must be a musical play, in which case I was delighted. Then I saw the song list and again had my doubts as to the play-fulness of this musical. So my curiosity peaked, but I imagined it would be a completely unique and challenging script to use all the songs on the list, assuming it was a full-length play with a running time of at least 180 minutes.. Then director and choreographer Catherine O’Brien announced that it would run for just a little less than an hour. I tell you, my mind was like a 78 playing at the speed of a 45—or would it be the other way around? Anyway, I had decided that you couldn’t really have a play with all those songs in less than an hour.

So I focused on the backdrop and scenery, which was a colorful screen that I initially thought was randomly designed with little hearts thrown here and there. After staring at it for a couple of minutes, trying to figure out its significance, being abstract and all, I realized it was a multi-colored map of Canada and the hearts were the provincial capitals! That was charming and quaint. And of course the wing screen on one side was a row of colourful houses along a shore, much like you would see on any eastern shore in the Maritimes. On the other wing screen was rolling plains and fields of whatever-you-will. This being the electronic age, of course the piano was an electronic keyboard with a mock-up lamp promising a bit of romance, of course, and live accompaniment.

Going down the list of songs, I have to confess that I didn’t recognize several of the particularly Canadian titles and so prayed that my initiation to authentic all-Canadian music would be a happy one. At least the familiar songs spelt out c-o-u-n-t-r-y and f-o-l-k music. I’m pretty partial to country and folk music after all, and Anne Murray and Paul Anka songs on the list were a reassurance.

After a 10-minute introduction and sponsorship-drumming by Catherine O’Brien, the show began. I was happy to see April Cook again, after seeing her in The Sound of Music. That she has a beautiful voice is no question, but the quality of the performance and the theatre makes a huge difference! In The Guild, April’s voice could be heard in all its power and all its nuances, the songs requiring quite a vocal range, and if there’s one thing April is good at, it’s belting out those high notes. Just perfect for a musical theatre soprano. Kevin Morris’s clear and powerful voice matched hers just wonderfully, doing vocal gymnastics from crooning to yodeling as the songs required.

So it wasn’t just a concert. But it wasn’t a play either. Clearly, this was a musical revue with very clever dialogue running along the theme of Canadian lovebirds across the nation. The script was clever and funny and so very tongue-in-cheek—which made it funnier. A voice-over narration sounded just like the narrator in the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, with constant exhortations to “please contact the Canadian Wildlife Federation for more information on the Canadian lovebird.”

I’ll have to say there wasn’t a dull moment in whole 50-some minutes of their whole performance—not once in the music, dialogue, singing or dancing, which is a whole lot to say for a solid 50 minute show. Every moment was funny or lively or exhilarating or whimsical with a lot of campy humour and music playing all throughout. Sean Ferris certainly did an amazing job at the piano and he’s a wonderful accompanier—you could tell he was looking out for the actors and not just playing on ahead by himself. With him at the piano, even I would be confident singing out there with the rest.

April and Kevin switched characters on and off as quickly and as clearly as changing hats—which they actually did with the authentic and famous Canadian hat dance—and when one of the hats flew down to the audience, they managed to get it back with witty ad-lib by Kevin “after 38 shows…” all without skipping a beat. I just wonder if that was actually planned or if it truly was an accident. While each performer was excellent and their duets were in perfect harmony, they were no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and after 38 shows, they couldn’t raise their batons at the same level or keep them aligned somewhere near the start. That didn’t stop me, though, from expecting them to break out into a step-dance or tap-dance number during the piano interludes. Such was the vivacity and energy they exuded.

In the end, they summarized the top ten things Canadians love and I will quote: Tim Horton’s, the Canadian Rockies, Healthcare, fresh water, freedom, multiculturalism, the changing seasons, the Canadian landscape, the Canadian character and home. Their one addendum was hockey for the rousting grand finale, The Hockey Song.

My one addendum to the list of things that Canadians love: music!


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A Portable Shakespeare: Vagabond Productions’ The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare



The doors to Room 303 of the Murphy Community Centre opened promptly at 7:00 p.m. with tickets priced at $4.00 for adults and $2.00 for children, which is an amazing bargain for a Shakespearian production, granted it would be good. That rock music played in the interim did not sit very well with me, although a former technical theatre/production design class of mine did stage a Goth production of Hamlet, complete with electric guitars and yes, rock music. At least this group didn’t have the speakers for outdoor rock concerts in a small room. There were barely 100 seats arranged around an empty 10’ x 10’ square space in the center of the room, the seats no more than 3 deep, and the corners wide open.

Ah, theatre in the round. I personally like the intimacy of small theatre spaces as they naturally draw the audience into the play and, I suppose, there’s nothing like the intimacy of arena theatre to involve the audience in a play by Shakespeare. It was an eclectic audience for sure, a good number looking like parents and university professors and the rest being university students and, certainly, family members and friends.

Without so much as a by-your-leave or a dimming of the lights, Lucentio made a smashing entrance, followed by the glib Tranio. It was a brilliant use of doors as entrances and exits, with characters roaming about the room, around the audience and in the central space. They certainly took command of the available space, although the audience was hard pressed to follow some of the movement, especially if it was happening behind them. Still, it was an engaging way to keep the audience awake and involved, considering the language of Shakespeare can sound completely stilted to the untrained ear. Anent to that, the scene changes were seamless as characters entered from one door while others exited through another and it was their voices that drew the audience to turn to see them, much as one actually would turn toward new voices in a three-dimensional real world. The fourth wall was certainly there, and then again it was not. The overall effect was that the audience was more like ghosts within a world of another dimension, silently watching events as they unfolded, sitting in the midst of everything, yet not really being part of it all. In a way, it was surreal and I liked it.

The effect of using the normal lighting of the space with no sets save some empty seats in the audience that were used by the characters in character was effective in making the audience part of every scene. It was most unlike any other Shakespearean production I have witnessed, where minimalism was used to maximise the impact of Shakespeare’s spoken verse, edited as it was. Yet, it was that same minimalism that cut out lines and scenes from the original play that would have caused the play to drag on, although I think the value of a new gown for Kate was lost because we never saw her dragging her wedding dress through the mud and having to wear it day in and day out.

I have to mention that this performance was physical theatre—nay, physical comedy—in a way that Shakespeare must have somehow meant it to be. Bawdy, rowdy, loud and earthy, sans the fancy ways of upper society that transformed Shakespeare’s plays into two-dimensional worlds of unutterable language and twisted speech viewed by powdered wigs in fancy dress from balconies untouched by the riffraff in the orchestra. The amount of unpretentious hitting, dragging, bumping, running, struggling, wrestling and touching between characters was completely unprecedented. But there was no way they could not do it, the audience being in their midst, after all.

To add to the minimalist staging, the actors wore contemporary clothing with token costuming and accessories to accentuate the character or the occasion. Not that it was a problem. The delivery of lines and consistent internalization of character completely overshadowed that fact that the dress did not the language match. And yet, because the action and the actors are so close to the audience, the way they relate to each other as characters has to be convincing, and Hortensio in disguise looked not in others’ eyes, whereas all the other characters maintained eye contact with each other or with the audience.

Besides the fact that one actor could properly pronounce the Italian “Signor” but another could not say “Signora,” Mantua should sound more like Padua than Manchew-a, and Hortensio’s widow should speak a bit louder so that even the audience behind her can hear what she is saying, the deliveries were clear, precise and rhythmic. Someone might have forgotten a line a spent a couple of extra seconds getting it out, but no harm done. What did harm the illusion was someone’s cellphone going off somewhere in the last act.

So yes, I will admit that, once again, I was entertained, and thoroughly. I am the bard’s number one fan, and this rendering hasn’t changed my mind at all about his genius, but it’s genius as well to pull it off without boring the audience. It’s a wonderful play to bring on the road as it’s perfectly portable, extremely affordable and will charm even non-believers. I hope every performance is at least as captivating as this one!


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