Reliving 1974 with John Denver
It’s rather amazing that the five performers on stage at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia are singing and playing the wonderful songs of John Denver from 1974, and not one of them was alive then. In fact, they were just small children when he died in 1997. Yet they have perfectly captured his sound and his message.
Rocky Mountain High is another of the musical revues on which Victoria Playhouse has built its reputation. This time it’s a tribute to John Denver and it has been perfectly cast to replicate his famous songs, creating a beautiful nostalgia trip for those of us who recall 1974.
Alex Baerg becomes John Denver, telling us he was born with the name Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. I guess we can see why he adopted the name Denver, selecting it because of his love of Colorado. As Alex tells us his life story, pictures of Denver’s youth appear on the big screen above the stage.
All of Denver’s big hit songs are included and you will be amazed at how many there are, and you will also surprise yourself when you completely recall all the lyrics.
A great band has been assembled for this production: Alex plays guitar, while his brother Dan Bearg is on drums, with Georgie Brown on piano and Erik Larson on bass. All four have great voices, as does Rebecca McCauley who joins them.
My personal favourite is “Annie’s Song”: Alex Baerg tells us that Denver wrote it for his wife Annie while riding a ski lift by himself. Alex plays guitar and sings it so sincerely, taking my husband and me back to our wedding in 1979 when a friend sang it. Another favourite is “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which Denver wrote, but was made famous by Peter, Paul & Mary. In fact, it was their only number one hit song. Rebecca McCauley gives a powerful rendition of this sad break-up song.
Alex, Dan, Brown and Larson gather around the piano to sing Denver’s beautiful “How Can I Leave You”, accompanied by Brown. The entire cast has fun with “Grandma’s Feather Bed” as the Muppets join in for a sing-along. Of course, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” is lots of fun, too.
Geordie Brown’s melodic voice soars when he sings “Perhaps Love” along with Alex. The two harmonize beautifully in a duet and both take solo parts. Brown and McCauley sing the iconic lines “Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine, I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine” from Denver’s song “Today”, which is a crowd-pleaser. Another of my personal favourites, “Calypso”, is perfectly presented, along with many more Denver hits. The show closes with an emotional a cappella version of “Sunshine on my Shoulders”.
As a bonus, creator and director David Hogan treats the audience to a medley of 1974 hits. Maybe he just wants to complete the trip down memory lane, or maybe he wants us to realize how great John Denver was, getting plenty of radio air play when he was up against a plethora of talent. Included in the 1974 hits are Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle”, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown”, Anne Murray’s “Sing You a Love Song”, Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”, Olivia Newton John’s “I Honestly Love You”, Abba’s “Waterloo”, Terry Jack’s “Seasons in the Sun”, and the Guess Who’s “Clap for the Wolfman”, among others. It must have been a golden age of pop-rock!
The variety of tunes emphasizes the fact that Denver’s talent couldn’t be pigeonholed. In the show, we learn that he refused to be put in a category. Denver said he is not country, not rock, not pop, not folk. He wrote songs that cross all sectors, and most importantly, people love to hear them, even 21 years after his death.
Rocky Mountain High continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 8. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 or visit www.thevpp.ca for tickets.
Photo: Cast of Rocky Mountain High, Dan Baerg, Alex Baerg, Rebecca McCauley, Erik Larson, Geordie Brown. Photo by Diane O’Dell.
Rocky Mountain High
Created, Directed & Choreographed by David Hogan
Co-Artistic Director David Rogers
Musical Direction by Mark Payne
Performed by Alex Baerg, Dan Baerg, Geordie Brown, Erik Larson, Rebecca McCauley.
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
June 19 to July 8, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson