A Good Old Variety Show
If you’ve been sitting back wondering what happened to all the good old variety shows – Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, Wayne & Schuster and the like – then you need to get yourself over to Petrolia and see the variety show, The Fiddler and The Crooner, on stage at the Victoria Playhouse. There’s some fiddlin’, some croonin’, some divas, and some comedy, all adding up to an evening of good entertainment.
Fiddler Jesse Grandmont has returned to the VPP, but this time he does some singing, too, with a voice to match his amazing talent with the violin. Michael Vanhevel, fresh from demonstrating his acting chops in Outlaw, gives us his specialty – a velvety smooth voice.
To create this 1950s-60s-style variety show, some old fashioned comedy is thrown into the mix. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the musical Kiss Me, Kate is perfectly presented by Grandmont and Vanhevel with lots of laughs. They also pay tribute to Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” with their own lengthy version.
Among my favourite numbers are Vanhevel’s “That’s Life”, “Come a Little Bit Closer”, and, of course, his signature encore “My Way”, presented in a peppy fashion this time. The instrumental “Classical Gas” is a crowd pleaser with Grandmont on his violin and Mark Payne on piano with the band backing them.
The amazing Jennifer Walls makes many appearances – she is an impersonator extraordinaire. She brings to the stage the vocal sounds and exaggerated quirks of Liza Minnelli, Celine Dion, Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Carol Channing, Loretta Lynn, Nancy Sinatra, and Barbara Streisand. Each voice is right on for the character, and each characterization is believable and funny at the same time. Walls presents each singers’ hit songs, and her comedic timing is perfect with her hilarious banter.
Vanhevel and Grandmont sing several duets, including a moving Simon and Garfunkel medley. In particular, “Homeward Bound” and “Bridge over Troubled Waters” were presented in perfect harmony. Walls and Vanhevel also sang beautiful duets, among them “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and “Beauty and the Beast”.
I came away questioning the wisdom of mixing country-style fiddling and Sinatra-style crooning. While this made for a great variety show, audiences would probably prefer one or the other. Country fans would be thrilled to attend an evening of Grandmont’s fiddling teamed up with country singers, while big band era fans would love to hear more of Vanhevel’s mix of Sinatra, Bobby Darrin and Michael Bublé. Even though it was a very long show with great variety, I still feel a little cheated by not hearing more of Michael Vanhevel’s extensive repertoire.
Nonetheless, if you have fond memories of sitting around the black and white TV watching Ed Sullivan on a Sunday night, you will enjoy this show.
The Fiddler & The Crooner continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until September 27. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca
Photo: The Fiddler Jesse Grandmont and the Crooner Michael Vanhevel with the woman of many talents, impersonator Jennifer Walls. Photo by Diane O’Dell.
The Fiddler & The Crooner
Directed by David Rogers
Choreographed by David Hogan
Musical Direction by Mark Payne
Performed by Jesse Grandmont, Michael Vanhevel, Jennifer Walls
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
September 9 to 27, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson