Canada in Love: In Love with Canadian Song

0

 

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!

-30-

Return to Reviews

Advertisements

The Attic, The Pearls & 3 Fine Girls Make One Very Fine Evening!

0

(This article is also available on onrpei.ca)

I love comedy. There. I’ve said it. There are many other things I’ll say I love, but the evening of November 3 has gotten me out and admitting that I love comedy, and I just loved this performance, so wonderfully directed by Laurel Smyth! CONGRATULATIONS, Laurel!

Of course, without the cast, the play would have been nothing at all, and it was mainly the cast that made the play so amusingly and amazingly human.

The playwrights, whom, I have learned, started writing the play as improvisational theatre and worked on it over several years, have captured the essence of family and sisterhood in their delightfully delectable and infinitely humorous script. Tell me if there are too many superlatives…but I can’t really think of enough.

Three sisters, Jojo (the eldest, played by Melissa Mullen), Jane (the in-betweener, played by Kathleen Hamilton) and Jelly (the baby, played by Gill Mahen) have to deal with their father’s death and the party he requested as his dying wish. But it is not just the party and his death they have to deal with, apparently. Like any normal family, they have had issues about each other and with each other, as well as with their lives outside their sisterhood.

Jojo has been in a couple of failed relationships after giving up her one true love, Umesh, to be with Jane at her “death bed” which, as it turns out, was not final. Jane, who is plagued with episodes of some unnamed condition (asthma? a weak heart?) has also been in several relationships, and is as yet unable to come out in the open about her sexuality. Jelly is a struggling artist who has decided to return home and take care of their ailing father in his last year of life.

Jojo is angry at Jane for many things, but mainly the loss of her one true love and for having slept with her ex-husband, then inviting him to the party. Jane is obsessed with her work, her girlfriend, and her former lover, Mrs. Gray, who is also at the party. Jelly is the only without any real hidden anger, and interprets her life in her art, particularly for an upcoming exhibit in Munich.

Their father’s death has thrown the three together in the house they grew up in, full of memories of good times and bad times, and the script constantly throws us back and forth between past and present. Most of the memories are literally and figuratively stored in the attic, which is where the girls are reminded of most of them.

How they confront each other and their pasts is alternatingly poignant and hilarious, as Jane and Jojo lapse into rambunctious remembering in between blaming and bickering. Jelly finds herself more and more in the role of mother and peacekeeper, emphasized by the way she is supposed to look so like their mother and how she does things the way their mother did. Still, she is the “baby” who is constantly ignored and not heard, until she finally finds a way to get their attention and make them listen to her. In the end, they find the best solution, which really was Jelly’s suggestion in the first place.

The actresses were superb in their roles, which all seemed so natural. It’s no wonder after all, since Laurel told me that they had about two years to go over the script and work on the characters before they finally decided on a definite run.

The sets, executed by Anne Putnam, had all the charm of a rustic aging attic—indeed, the whole house seemed like an attic, fraught with memories—and served the performers well. David Bennet’s lighting, including a few special effects, worked excellently with scene changes, except for one tiny forgivable execution in timing, which revealed an exit that should have been hidden. The costuming was both whimsical and characteristic of the teacher, the businesswoman, and the artist in each of the three characters. And the music! The sound effects and the music that triggered many of the memories were the icing on the cake.

If I could, I would watch this show every night of its run! One performance is not enough to savour every little aspect of the play, or even to just enjoy the quick and witty dialogue and the little surprises every scene change brought. Definitely a play to catch before the month is over!

-30-