They Rock! Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue: A Review


 2014-06-20 03.21.48

by Cindy Lapeña

It might have been a preview night, but the Company of Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue 2014 show delivered a performance that rocked the rafters of the newly-reopened Homburg Theatre in the Confederation Centre of the Arts. A 26-member cast, 14-member orchestra, and 4-man rock band regaled a full house with 74 songs spanning several decades of Canadian hits from the 60s all the way to Paper Lions, PEI’s rock band-winner of the 2014 Independent Music Award for Best EP – Pop (Pop/Adult Contemporary;See more at:

Musical Director and Arranger Craig Fair led the orchestra and band in an almost non-stop score with only the intermission as a break, showing off not only great musical panache but the excellent new sound system as well. Renée Brode’s lighting design, sometimes intense and emotional, most of the time playful and spectacular, likewise exploited the extensive capabilities of the new lighting system—something I would want to play with myself. I only wish that the two spotlights set in the back of the stage were not so blinding when they were bare—a result of their being set so high on the raised stage they were pointing directly at the audience at the start. The production design by Charlotte Dean was enhanced by 23 screens, on which video images were projected—sometimes to create a single gigantic image, sometimes displaying 23 different images that were entertaining on their own; kudos to projection designer James Nesbitt.

The show was directed and choreographed by none other than long-time Charlottetown Festival Artistic Director Anne Allan, who, along with Doug Gallant, Terry Hatty, Wade Lynch, and Hank Stinson, wrote and conceived the whole musical revue, which took the audience on an East-bound journey from BC to PEI. Overheard from the audience was a desire to see a more consistent story line, with the train-trip theme more evident. That might have made the performance more theatrical than revue-ish, but it could not matter less to me. In fact, I had to look away from certain video footage because they induced a touch of motion sickness. Nonetheless, the projections enhanced the story of Canada’s music industry, creating a more synaesthetic and memorable experience in a way that the songs and narration alone cannot.

While I enjoy a wide variety of musical genres and avoid really loud music and wild concerts, I have to say that the loudness of the sound system was within tolerable levels and not deafening—something I really appreciated. Much more than that, however, is the way Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue is my first real lesson in Canadian music. Not having been born here, I was quite unaware of the who’s who of Canadian music, thinking all the music I heard growing up on the late Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was American—such was our exposure to the Western world. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, in the few years I have lived on this Island but mostly through this Musical Revue, that so many songs I was familiar with and learned to love are actually Canadian; and so many musicians I liked—both singers and songwriters alike—are Canadian. This knowledge made the show not only enjoyable and educational—it made the show more personal: Canada Rocks! made me feel that I have truly come home.


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Community Theatre: A Festival of Surprises



Charlottetown joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Theatre Day with, naturally, a theatre festival with not one, not two, but five plays! What more could a theatre lover ask for? Well, good entertaining theatre, certainly; and with five plays in the offing, there had to be at least one good one.

The first half of the program had child-friendly plays, which explained a good number of families in the audience. Englewood Drama Club opened with the charming and witty A Tale of Two Towns created and directed by Peter Bevan-Baker. It was clearly a take from Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story and all the other feuding family tales you can think of, except that this was set in East and West Loyalty between the MacDonalds and the McDonalds, or the Mic-Mac feud for short. Two songs were cleverly written to the tunes of the Spiderman theme and Old MacDonald. Unlike the classic tragic endings, however, this play had a happy ending, with the two clans finally becoming friends as a result of wily plotting by the kids, who didn’t see the sense of the enmity. Thankfully, the well-written script made up for the narrator who hardly ever looked up from her script, and for the kids, several of who still had their scripts with them. That made it seem more like a school play than a festival play. Plus, a lot of lackluster acting from half of the huge cast, saved again, by their witty lines. I did think that the wall created between the two towns was amazing and original—built by the cast themselves out of graffiti-painted large grocery boxes.

Ah, well. At least I knew the second play would be better, as it wasn’t the first time I had seen the Rag Tag Players’ Where the Wild Things Are. The story was as charming as ever, the acting more pronounced, despite the cast being much younger than the first group and different as well, from the original cast. There were a couple of little heads that would scan the audience now and then, presumably looking for familiar faces in the audience. The costumes were great, the masks spectacular, the sets creative, the children adorable. The band seemed a little out of its element and could have played on to segue between scenes, as the scene changes seemed to take a tad bit too long. All that aside, it’s a story that will always be entertaining.

The third and final young people’s theatre was The French Fiasco written and directed by 11-year-old Danielle Proulx and performed by the Bonshaw Young Players. The script was amazing with humour and wit and lots of movement. The acting and direction, considering this was done by an 11-year-old, was pretty well accomplished. Pick-ups could have been a little tighter and if only the French aunt who was the cause of the fiasco in the first place spoke more clearly and loudly and was more aware of the audience, the play would have been much better. I have to mention that the narrator had excellent delivery and was, in herself, quite captivating.

As a whole, the first three plays were definitely entertaining, but I say it’s never too late to teach young people stage discipline and the basics of good acting. That way, they will learn good habits from the onset rather than practice bad ones.

Three good scripts out of three, with two out of three for decent acting wasn’t a bad score for the afternoon. It could only get better, considering the plays after the intermission were for more mature audiences. Thankfully, many of the earlier audience, the children from the plays included, never returned after the break—clearly they were only there for the first half.

The almost nameless group, The Temporary Players from UPEI performed The Philosopher, a play by Dr. Malcolm Murray, directed by Yuling Chen. It had the most curious situation of an old man who kept a philosopher in chains in his basement, feeding him on soup and water, and bringing him up to talk with him about, well, things philosophical. To be invited to meet the philosopher was, apparently, a great honour, at this moment endowed on the unassuming Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the latter seeming quite lost most of the time, almost as if she wasn’t sure what she was doing on stage. Nonetheless, the script was very tightly written, very sardonic at times, but also very funny. The acting was well done with the characters interacting really well, the stage directions almost like a dance.

Sure Thing by David Ives, directed by Jonah Anderson and staged by ACT (a community theatre) was a rip-roaring way to end the day! With only two characters on stage the whole time, the whole script was an exploration of alternatives to just about everything, with the two characters constantly returning to an earlier point in the dialogue and acting out the different ways the dialogue might go with different personalities, progressing bit by bit as they went through the whole boy-meets-girl-and-they-decide-to-date process. The repartee was just amazing and the two actors were superb, picking up lines and characters like they were plucking dandelions in a field.

Four out of five and what an afternoon feast! The big plus was the presence of Wade Lynch as adjudicator, who was generous with his praise as well as really good advice, especially to the young actors. Rob Thomson of ACT was a wonderful Master of Ceremonies, ebullient, engaging, entertaining. A couple of last words, though, about the audience. While teaching young children how to appreciate theatre through exposure, part of teaching them is teaching them how to behave in a theatre, and if they can’t or won’t behave, they should be taken out so that others in the audience will not be disturbed. And a cellphone going off is totally inconsiderate and in bad taste, especially since the audience was already requested to turn off their electronic devices at the beginning of the festival.


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Come-All-Ye for the Time of Your Life!


On its second year run, Come-All-Ye opened to a full house at The Mackenzie Theatre, better known as simply The MackCome-All-Ye brings together a stellar cast of five musicians and one comedian for an evening of live island music and, yes, comedy. The show runs for two full hours, possibly a bit more, since I got home really late and I’m sure I didn’t spend an hour and a half chatting with fellow-reviewer Michelle Pineau or Patrick Ledwell, the show’s sole comedian and co-creator or Acadienne singer Caroline Bernard. If I did, I certainly didn’t notice time fly, and fly it does when you’re having fun! What made the evening more entertaining was that Michelle and I were fortunate enough to be seated at the same table as the legendary veteran music radio host Eric MacEwen (the Director’s Notes misspelled it “MacEwan”) who was featured in videos presented during the show. Come-All-Ye is a multimedia show about PEI and its denizens, told through music, songs and witticisms, backed with photographs, slides and video clips that help the imagination and the mood. Except for the first time John Connolly and Patrick Ledwell used the center mike solo and the pickup was somewhat spotty—more likely because they were too tall for the mike’s position, which was rectified by the next number—the show was technically flawless. I just miss the presence of footlights or at least sidelights that would lessen the shadows on performers’ faces—which is what footlights are for.

Besides the music being an excellent representation of island music, the singers were top-of-the-line professional performers—stars in their own rights who, nonetheless, worked marvellously well together. I completely agree with Director Wade Lynch that there is so much talent on the island and to see it put together so magically is always a treat. Kudos to Music Director and performer John Connolly, who wove together a program of well-chosen songs with the right mix and mood that kept the audience clapping and stomping and singing along alternately with swaying and quietly listening to more introspective numbers.

And then there was Patrick. Most of my encounters with Patrick are of a more serious nature, although he manages to slip in some humour here and there, mostly tongue-in-cheek. The first time I saw him “at work” was when he emceed a mixer for Culture PEI. I thought he was quite the funny man there and his accompanying slides helped to emphasize the humour. This show was the first chance I had to catch him in full glory and all revved up in performance mode, bounding up the stage on his daddy-long-legs and keeping the audience charged and rolling with laughter after every two or three songs in the program. I guess the best thing about being a comedian is that you don’t really have to act and be someone else you really aren’t, and that’s just what Patrick was on stage—completely himself and at home, well, I’d say ninety-eight percent at home on stage—and only because he once in a while tripped over his own tongue or almost said something he didn’t mean to say, or seemed to be trying to recall a thing or two. Still, it was all very natural and very endearing as well as entertaining. Since he was also plugging his new book I Am An Islander, I’ll help him along and say that if the jokes in the book are as funny as the jokes he told in the show, I’m definitely buying that book and hoping he’ll sign it for me someday.

Kidding aside, Patrick Ledwell’s spiels explored various aspects of PEI, from history to geography, Charlottetown, the Acadian influence, the pros and cons of living on PEI, the Confederation Bridge and all the peculiarities of the typical islander, along with the unavoidable gibe at government. But only, in his words, “about what I know.” His penultimate spiel was a recitation of the poem “John of the Island” by his poet father Frank Ledwell, which pretty much summarized what PEI is all about. Without doubt, Come-All-Ye is the best and most entertaining way to learn as much as possible about this gentle island and its islanders. It is music and humour that will be appreciated by everyone, whether you are from here or away, as islanders would say. To quote my new friend Eric MacEwen, “it was a beautifully inventive celebratory show.” And to that, with a little intake of breath, I say “Amen!”


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