Yeeeee Haaaaawwww! Country Sunshine
A foot-stomping, knee-slapping good time can be had at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia this week, with plenty of Country Sunshine on stage. Country music purists will love this show as it brings them a wide selection of songs and singers. But those of us who don’t consider ourselves country music fans can still enjoy it: there are plenty of cross-over hits, and anyone will be impressed with the amazing talent of the singers and musicians.
This show is a real audience pleaser – on opening night the applause and cheers were frequent, with a hearty standing ovation. The show includes a plethora of country favourites, plus fun medleys, sweet ballads and some gospel. They even throw in some comedy, so there is truly something for everyone.
It’s difficult for me to give you a rundown of the cast and musicians, because they are frequently changing roles. Singers pick up instruments and musicians came forward to sing, both joining in the chorus and taking on solos. The level of talent in this cast is stunning.
A real crowd pleaser is a medley of TV show theme songs, from Beverley Hillbillies to Rawhide. There are several medleys throughout the performance packing in many songs that evoke good memories for the audience.
I have a new appreciation for Janelle Murray. She was the soprano in VPP’s production, The Heart & Soul of Broadway. It turns out that she is a quadruple threat: She is able to belt out country with the best of them, she sets the pace with step dancing, she has a laugh-out-loud comedy routine, and she is also seen playing piano and trumpet. Her rendition of The Auctioneer song leaves everyone laughing, while in act II she offers a very touching rendition of “I Hope You Dance”.
Alex Baerg is normally in the orchestra playing guitar. But this show sees him coming forward to sing, and we are pleasantly surprised to learn he has a wonderful voice. His brother Dan is on drums, but also steps forward pounding out rhythms on wooden boxes.
Musical Director Mark Payne is full of surprises, too. He demonstrates great country talent, singing several songs. His lively rendition of “I’ve been Everywhere” warms up the audience, especially as he makes his way across Lambton County. Later he gives a very moving version of Johnny Reid’s “Today I’m Gonna Try and Change the World”. Bass player Mark Laidman shows his sense of humour, dressing up in pigtails in one scene.
Callandra Dendias is an absolute powerhouse singer with a country twang. She also delights the audience with her yodelling. Jesse Grandmont fiddles his way across the stage. He shines in the old Charlie Daniels song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. Klinger – who looks more like a rock ‘n’ roll type with his guitar and sunglasses – shows great comedic talent. His popular solo is an ode to the red solo plastic cup. Jenn Kee, a favourite in last summer’s Let the Sunshine, is back showing her country talent.
The big attraction in Country Sunshine is Jaydee Bixby, of RedDeer, Alberta. Jaydee was runner-up on the 5th season of Canadian Idol in 2007. (That season, Brian Melo was the winner, with Carly Rae Jepson finishing third.) Bixby has an engaging grin and western charm, but his voice seemed tired by the end of act II. While the musical theatre cast is trained to sing eight shows per week, other singers sometimes find the schedule very demanding. Only 21 years old, Bixby still has a promising career ahead of him as a country singer. The opening night crowd gave Bixby a warm welcome, and were pleased to have a TV star in their midst.
Credit goes to choreographer Adele MacKenzie for some lively step dancing and plenty of energetic movement. The set is well done and well lit. The barn door opens to reveal a Ford pickup truck being backed in, and lights are strung around the ceiling, giving a barn dance impression.
As well as having a hit show, Artistic Directors David Rogers and David Hogan had more good news to share on opening night – they have signed up for three more years at Victoria Playhouse. As they pass the half way mark of their first season, the shows have been well-received.
Country Sunshine continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 29. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca
Directed by David Rogers
Musical Director Mark Payne
Assistant Director David Hogan
Choreographer Adele MacKenzie
Performed by Alex Baerg, Dan Baerg. Jaydee Bixby, Callandra Dendias, Jesse Grandmont, Michael Hogeveen, Jenn Kee, Klinger, Mark Laidman, Janelle Murray and Mark Payne.
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
July 18 to 29, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson