Memories of the Summer of Love

Created by Chris McHarge and Colin Stewart
Performed by Natalie Howard, Derek Marshall, Penny Skolski, and Paul Wilson
Directed by Chris McHarge, Musical direction by Colin Stewart
Lighthouse Festival Production
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
September 9 – 20, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Nostalgia Trip back to the Sixties

For their final offering of the summer season, Victoria Playhouse presents a nostalgia trip, which, for the right age group, is a real crowd pleaser. The evening is one sixties song after another, with bits of trivia in between.

Act I starts off with some early sixties surfin’ music, and then moves to the British invasion.  Derek Marshall’s talent is showcased early with “Don’t let the sun catch you cryin'”.  Natalie Howard gives a good rendition of Petula Clark’s “Downtown”, then Marshall and Howard together do a couple of Sonny and Cher numbers.  The act ends with protest song selections:  “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Paved Paradise”, “Stop, hey, what’s that sound”, and The Youngbloods classic “Come on, people now, smile on your brother.”

The second act takes the audience to the home of the hippies, Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, and then on to the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.  Penny Skolski shines as Janis Joplin with “Me and Bobby McGee”.  She also does well with Jefferson Airplane’s “Want Somebody to Love”.  The four vocalists perform together for songs such as The Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” (which, they tell us, was written by Bob Dylan), the Association’s “Never My Love” and  “Along comes Mary”. In the introduction we learn that Mary is marijuana.  The foursome also gives a very credible version of Mamas and Papas.

Derek Marshall and Paul Wilson have beautiful harmony for a Simon & Garfunkel set – “59th Street Bridge” and “Sound of Silence”.  For the final number, Wilson does an audience favourite – “Bridge over Troubled Waters”.

The four-piece band does very well with the sixties hits, under the musical direction of bass player Colin Stewart.

But while the audience seemed to really enjoy this walk down memory lane, there were several things that could have been done to make a decent show into a great show.  The tidbits of musical trivia, (Simon & Garfunkel started singing together in 6th grade, and Laura Nyro wrote hits for many stars of the day) were interesting, but could have been presented with a lot more showmanship.  It seems like the cast just hurriedly rhymes off the information.  Perhaps a narrator or emcee would have helped.

The authenticity of the costumes is very questionable – they need to do better when most of the audience remembers the time well.  Also, with album covers appearing overhead on the big screen, we can see what the stars of the day wore – the costumes on stage looked like a few items were grabbed from someone’s old tickle trunk.  While Natalie Howard dons wigs to be Cher or Michelle Phillips, the men on stage do not have long hair.  If a man with a shaved head had gone to the Monterey Pop Festival, he would have been treated like an alien.

There is also a need for choreography – dancing around like they are floating on LSD gets tiresome, and I worry they could be injured when they bump into each other.

With cast members sipping from water bottles and casually strolling to the back of the stage, it is more like a concert – not a polished musical theatre piece.

This is not a Victoria Playhouse production – it was created at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre.  And it was not up to the standards set this summer at VPP with their musicals The Broadway Club, the second act of Discovering Elvis and the surprise delight Oil Rush.

So while the audience loves the old music, this show isn’t in the same category as Twist & Shout and Legends, both of which have been at Huron Country Playhouse in recent years.  (Legends is currently showing at Drayton.)  And if you really enjoy old music, consider seeing The Jersey Boys, currently running at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.  This fantastic Broadway production is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Memories of the Summer of Love continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until September 20.  Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

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