Canada 151 ~ Better Late Than Sorry

Let’s Celebrate Canada Every Year!    

What happens when Alex Mustakas and David Rogers work together?  You get a hybrid:  a superior product, by putting two shows together.  Mustakas, artistic director at Drayton Entertainment, and Rogers, co-artistic director at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia, have both created all-Canadian shows in the past.  So now they’ve taken the best of their shows and melded them into one.

Mustakas started in 2008 with Sorry…I’m Canadian, then updated it in 2013, both at Huron Country Playhouse.   In between, there was Canadian Loonie and Canadian Toonie at other Drayton venues.  In 2016, Mustakas produced Canadian Legends in Grand Bend.

Across Lambton County in 2011, David Rogers and David Hogan presented Let the Sunshine In at Sarnia’s Imperial Theatre.  Then in 2014, they presented Canada Sings and in 2017, Fiddler on the Moose, both at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia

In the current iteration, Canada 151 – Better Late Than Sorry, you can see a collection of the best elements of all these shows.  I was intrigued by the fact that credit for conceiving this show was given to Lukas Mustakas, the 13-year-old son of Alex Mustakas.  Alex tells me that they had been unable to put a Canadian show together for the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada in 2017.  Lukas, adopting a Russian accent, asked “Vy don’t vee celebrate Canada every year?”  His point is that Canada is a great country and we don’t need a special anniversary to celebrate it. Thus the idea of celebrating 151 was born.

Elegance is the first thing you notice about Canada 151.  This is not a bunch of guys in plaid shirts sitting on cases of beer.  The stage is draped in sheer fabric while crystal chandeliers hang from above.  At centre stage is a gold Mountie statue, looking rather like a giant Oscar.  Large half maple-leaves adorn both sides of the stage.

The highlight of the show is, of course, Neil Aitchison as RCMP Constable Archibald Finkster – at least that’s how the program bills him.   Always a crowd pleaser, Aitchison is impressive with his stamina (he step dances in riding boots) and his great memory (he does stand up comedy, smoothly rolling from one bit into the next).  In the show, Constable Inkster says he is 70 years old, but afterwards Aitchison admits he is 71.  He handles the role perfectly, never missing a beat.

As I’ve said before, Aitchison reminds me of the late, great comedian Red Skelton:  quick with the punch line, then showing the audience he enjoys it as much as they do.  His tongue comes out and he chuckles along as the audience laughs.  His comedic timing is excellent.  I won’t spoil your show by revealing any of his jokes, suffice to say, some are old (we’ve heard them before in the Sorry shows, but they are well worth repeating) and some are new, as he skewers today’s politicians.

Of course, as a Mountie, Aitchison rides in on his usual trusty hobby horse, that his nephew Cliffie (played hilariously by Frank Parks) has to clean up after.  Later his horse is upstaged when the ensemble comes out for the musical ride number, in their cute and clever costumes — Mountie and horse all in one.

Six singers backed by a four person band give us various medleys of Canadian music.  A regular at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, Jesse Grandmount who plays the fiddle and sings, takes on a third task as music director.  Kale Penny sings effortlessly, performing Johnny Reid’s poignant ballad “Today I’m Gonna Try and Change The World” perfectly.  Gerrad Everard, a favourite at Huron Country Playhouse,  sings The Guess Who’s “American Woman” with the energy of Burton Cummings.  You’ll remember Everard for his energetic  performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in last year’s Million Dollar Quartet.  Everard’s wife, Laura Mae Nason gives a moving rendition of the 1940s ballad “I’ll Never Smile Again”, written by little known Canadian Ruth Lowe who penned many of Frank Sinatra’s hits.  The bilingual Mélanie Paiement sings beautifully in both official languages. As well as her vocal talent, Jennifer Walls also entertains with comedy, having fun with her Celine Dion impersonation.

Joining Grandmont with their fiddles are two of the Ballagh sisters, Paige and Devon.  Their step dancing is a real crowd pleaser.

In previous Sorry productions, we were taken on a travelogue across Canada with the music.  They featured songs from every province on our journey, while this revue collects the songs together by topic or singer, rather than geography.  There were projections of scenes of Canada appearing on big screens above the stage.  As well, there was excellent choreography with talented, energetic dancers.  I missed all these in the current production.

Canada 151 ~ Better Late Than Sorry is a show designed to make us proud Canadians, whether it’s a special year or not.  It succeeds.  On opening night, audience members waved Canadian flags along with the songs.  It was enough to make your throat tighten with pride.

Canada 151 Better Late Than Sorry will be on stage at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend until August 4.  Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com

Photo: Neil Aitchison and Company in Canada 151: Better Late Than Sorry. Photo by Liisa Steinwedel.

Canada 151 ~ Better Late Than Sorry
Conceived by Lukas Mustakas
Written by Neil Aitchison, Alex Mustakas & David Rogers
Music compilation and arrangements by David Rogers and Mark Payne
Directed by David Rogers
Musical Direction by Jesse Grandmont
Performed by Devan Ballagh, Paige Ballagh, Gerrad Everard, Jesse Grandmont, Laura Mae Nason, Mélanie Paiement, Kale Penny, Jennifer Walls, Frank Parks.
Musicians: Howard Gaul, Dee Klinger, Bob Hewus, Steve Lavoie.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 12 to August 4, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

NEWSLETTER

Sign up here if you would like to receive notice when news, reviews, and musings are posted. You can unsubscribe at any time.