Keeping the 88s Straight
Mark Payne is Liberace, Victor Borge and Glenn Gould rolled into one. He has showmanship and flair, he’s silly and witty, and he can play the classics with passion. While his usual role is that of musical director in the background at Victoria Playhouse, he is now taking centre stage at the keys of his grand piano, starring in his own show, I Love a Piano.
Following Liberace’s style, Payne plays Chopsticks with great showmanship. Then he calls a young pianist, Mark-Anthony Del Brocco, to join him on stage where the two tussle over seating space on the piano bench, then fight with each other to get their hands on the keyboard. Despite all the wrangling, they manage to play Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2.
The audience loves it when Payne offers them some guessing games – he plays well-known piano movie themes, such as the rag time song The Entertainer, made famous by the Newman and Redford movie, The Sting, and then the audience has to guess the show. A crowd-pleaser is Hagood Hardy’s 1977 hit, Homecoming. He brings the fun up to date with a hint of Let it Go, from Frozen.
Bass player Mark Laidman and drummer Dan Baerg join Payne, as he belts out Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire, another audience favourite.
The three young men, Del Brocco, Laidman and Baerg are called on to be jugglers in one fascinating number, after Payne complains that his hands aren’t as big as Rachmaninoff’s. The three young men toss around a number of devices that allow many keys to be pressed at once, somehow managing to get the right combination into Payne’s hands at just the right moment for the Rachmaninoff score.
Payne also has an opportunity to show off his vocal skills, singing along in various numbers. In particular, he gives an amazing rendition of a beautiful song by Alan Doyle, formerly with Great Big Sea. Payne also plays some of his own creations, including a lively rag time number, which incorporates folk songs from his birth province, Newfoundland.
Vocalist Stephanie Roth sings beautifully, and includes some scat-singing in a Gershwin medley. Because the show sold out early, it has been extended. Vocalist Janet MacEwen will be replacing Roth in the August 28-30 shows.
Five huge mirrors are placed around the stage, allowing the audience to see both Payne and his hands as they fly across the keyboard.
For those who indeed love a piano, this is a wonderful evening of entertainment.
I Love a Piano continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until August 30. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca
Photo: Mark Payne at the Piano
I Love a Piano
Created by Mark Payne and David Rogers
Directed by David Hogan
Musical Director/Arranger: Mark Payne
Performed by Mark Payne, Stephanie Roth, Mark-Anthony Del Brocco, Dan Baerg, Mark Laidman, Janet MacEwen
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
August 19 to 30, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson