Conceived, Written & Directed by Alex Mustakas
Orchestrations, Vocal Arrangements & Music Direction by Nicole Gusé
Choreographed by Gino Berti
Performed by Keith Savage, with Singers: Nicole Gusé, Jayme Armstrong, Karen Coughlin, Paula MacNeill, Trevor Covelli, J.D. Nicholsen, Bobby Prochaska, and Danny Williams. Dancers: Carla Giuliani, Heather E. Wilson, Liam Flanagan, and Chad McNamara. Musicians: Sergio Arellano, Kevin Dempsey, and Earl Filsinger.
Drayton Entertainment Production
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 30 to July 24, 2010
(Then to St. Jacobs Country Playhouse July 28 to August 21, 2010)
Extended to August 29 at St. Jacobs, by popular demand!
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
But I don’t even like country music
I don’t like country music. There isn’t a country music CD in my collection – not even among my mountains of old cassettes or in my old, old vinyl. Or even in the 8-tracks I threw out years ago. I’ve never liked country music.
But as the playhouse’s favourite announcer, Neil Aitchison, points out, no one will admit to loving country music, but everyone in the audience is singing along to the tunes in Country Legends at Huron Country Playhouse. And yes, let me publicly confess to knowing most of the songs and absolutely loving the show.
Country Legends opened to a full house on Canada Day in Grand Bend. It’s the next in Drayton Entertainment Artistic Director Alex Mustakas’ franchise of song & dance nostalgia shows. His first big hit was Twist & Shout: The British Invasion, which he followed with a sequel, Legends, which covers a myriad of rock ’n roll greats. Now he has Country Legends, to be followed later this summer with Dance Legends.
So how can I love this show, and still not consider myself a country music fan? Here’s the answer – and true country music aficionados will consider me a heretic – but the cast of Country Legends performs these old songs better than the original artists.
Let’s face it, Willie Nelson can’t sing. But when Danny Williams performs “You were always on my mind” it is truly beautiful. And that’s how this show goes – in many cases this amazing cast turns the old hits into perfection.
In other instances, this cast sounds so much like the original star, it’s eerie. When J.D. Nicholsen dons a fake grey beard, and sings “Ruby don’t take your love to town,” and “Lucille”, you truly believe it’s Kenny Rogers. Paula MacNeill has some breast enhancement, adds a big blonde wig, and transforms into Dolly Parton, sounding exactly like her with “Here you come again”, “Jolene” and “I will always love you”.
Other songs just keep on coming. Among my favourites are Roger Miller’s “King of Road” and John Denver’s “Country Roads”, both performed by Danny Williams. Trevor Covelli’s Glen Campbell set is also excellent.
Karen Coughlin, Jayme Armstrong and Paula MacNeil share the Patsy Cline set, which is an obvious audience favourite. Jayme Armstrong gets spontaneous applause for her rendition of Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man. When the full cast finishes up the evening with a selection of Country Gospel, the audience loves it.
The four dancers are excellent, up to the task of handling Gino Berti’s choreography that we’ve come to expect from the previous Legends shows. We’re not just talking line dancing here – this is energetic, lively, non-stop dancing!
Keith Savage, a Huron Country Playhouse favourite, is Wilbur, the hillbilly emcee. Wilbur tells us about his lovely wife, Thelma Lou, with the beautiful black hair … on her upper lip. “I take her everywhere,” he says, “That way I don’t have to kiss her good-bye.” The corny jokes continue as Savage takes the stage between the country stars’ sets. He makes a perfect Minnie Pearl. Savage also has the opportunity to sing several numbers: of note is Keith in a red suit singing Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, with exceptional fiddle playing by Musical Director Nicole Gusé. She has a chance to demonstrate her many talents – she created the musical arrangements for this production, and also plays the fiddle, sings in several numbers and even step-dances!
Costumes are well done and very authentic, with frequent changes. The set looks like a barn, perfect for Huron Country Playhouse’s rustic look, but then the barn doors spin around to become down-home front verandas.
Country Legends is worth a visit – country music fans will love it, and others will be surprised by how many of the 101 songs they know!
Country Legends continues with eight shows a week until July 24 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at 519-238-6000, Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463or visit www.draytonentertainment.com