Simply Grand

Written on August 7th, 2011

Simply Grand

Mark Payne

Mark Payne

Starring Mark Payne
With June Crowley, Rebecca Poff, Mary Elizabeth Brown, John Yun, Alex Baerg, Daniel Baerg, Mark Laidman.
Starbright Summer Festival
Imperial Theatre, Sarnia
August 6 to 19, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Piano Man Popular at the Imperial

After being musical director at the Starbright Summer Festival in Sarnia for three years, Mark Payne is finally at centre stage – or at least his grand piano sits at centre stage and he sits at the keyboard.

Payne is the star of his own production, where his piano skills are showcased, along with his vocal talent. It’s a wonderful change to see and hear more from Mark, who usually sits with the band at the back of stage, behind a sheer curtain or set piece. He is the musical director and head coach for the opera program at the University of Western Ontario, and chorus master and pianist for Orchestra London — impressive credentials indeed!

Payne mixes classical, jazz, pop and theme songs and inserts comedy along the way. There is certainly something for everyone. He has fun presenting Chopsticks, Liberace style. He sings “I Love a Piano” while playing the rag time number, and from there, goes into some Fats Waller jazz. The audience “ahhhs” as he plays Sondheim’s emotion filled “Send in the Clowns”. He has some fun with another pianist, John Yun. He and John do battle on the keyboard, in a duet using one piano, reaching over and around each other to hit the right keys. They play Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in tribute to the late great Victor Borga.  As well, Mary Elizabeth Brown joins Payne, accompanying him on the violin. 

Payne also plays a selection of movie themes: The Entertainer from The Sting, Haygood Hardy’s Homecoming, and more. He livens things up when the Starbright Band, a talented group consisting of Alex Baerg on guitar, Daniel Baerg on drums, and Mark Laidman on bass, joins in for Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire. Vocalist Rebecca Poff sings a duet with Payne, delighting the audience with a medley of Gershwin tunes.

Payne starts out Act II with more fun, when he comes on stage dressed in black and yellow stripes with antennae bobbing on top on his head and plays Flight of the Bumblebee. He evens gives a shout out to Sarnia Sting fans. My personal favourites are his Billy Joel selections, where he adds the harmonica in true Piano Man style, followed by some Elton John. But the evening’s showstopper is his moving duet with June Crowley, “Time to Say Goodbye”.

Credit goes to Starbright Producer David Hogan and Director David Rogers for bringing Mark Payne to centre stage. Starbright fans knew that there was obviously a very talented musical director working behind the scenes. Nice to see him out front and giving us a wonderful evening of entertainment. Also nice to see a very appreciative full house at the beautiful Imperial Theatre.

Starbright Summer Festival continues at the Imperial Theatre, Sarnia until August 21. For tickets, call the Imperial Theatre box office at 1-877-344-7469 or 519-344-7469 or see

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