The Crooner

Stroll Through the Crooning Years

Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

As a fan of Michael Vanhevel, I was disappointed when I couldn’t make it to see The Crooner last year at St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre. Fortunately, Alex Mustakas brought it to the South Huron stage at Huron Country Playhouse, as he says it is one of his favourite shows! 

We all have varied musical tastes, so why see The Crooner if the old standards aren’t your favourites? It’s primarily because Vanhevel has such charisma that he is a must-see! Another reason is that the show is a well-crafted stroll through the crooning years.

Beginning with Bing Crosby and Al Jolson, you’ll learn about women crooners, the influence of crooners on country music, the Italian influence, crooners during the war years, love-themed crooning, and more. Then you are brought right up to modern times with a sampling of Bublé, the other Canadian crooning Michael.

Michael Vanhevel is not just Canadian, he is a local, raised in Grand Bend. He was blessed with a smooth voice, great looks, a great sense of humour, and is modest, polite, and friendly in person. And when he sings, he looks completely in his element. It’s as if he was born for this! And he’s expanded into film acting, portraying Billy Bishop in The Ace and the Scout.

The show is dedicated to the legendary Canadian composer/arranger/conductor/director Howard Cable, who passed away in 2016. Cable had stated that “Michael Vanhevel is an absolute star to be,” and he has been proven correct.

A third reason to see The Crooner is because of the involvement of musical geniuses Mark Payne and Jim Hodgkinson. The arrangements are by Payne and Hodgkinson directs and performs with Vanhevel. I look for these names on the programs of the shows I see and have always enjoyed their work (Hodgkinson with Billy Bishop Goes to War and Wizard of Oz; The Panto, Payne with all his work at the Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia.)

The set consists of three gigantic records, surrounded by lights; the centre of the middle record turns around and shows us the portraits of all the old greats, as well as a portrait of Vanhevel. Jim Hodgkinson and his piano are on the audience’s left, and Kevin Dempsey with his drums and Junior Riggan with his bass are on the right. The three instruments are just enough to showcase Vanhevel’s voice, and there’s plenty of room for him to dance around as he sings.

One thing I had hoped for was a costume change during intermission. A different suit, a bit of sparkle, a touch of colour, that type of thing. It would add a bit of panache and freshness to the second part of the show.

On opening night, the audience couldn’t get enough of Vanhevel. He saved his best for the encore – the Sinatra songs the audience was clamouring for and that he sings so beautifully. Vanhevel will modestly say “Great audience,” but it’s he who brings out the best of the people who come to see him!

The Crooner continues until July 22 at the Huron Country Playhouse, South Huron Stage. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 519-238-6000 or Toll Free at 1-855-372-9866, or by checking www.huroncountryplayhouse.com for availability.

Photo: Michael Vanhevel. Photo by Drayton Entertainment

The Crooner
Conceived by Alex Mustakas
Musical Arrangements by Mark Payne
Musical Direction by Jim Hodgkinson
Performed by Michael Vanhevel, Jim Hodgkinson, Kevin Dempsey, Junior Riggan
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
South Huron Stage, Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 5 to July 22, 2023
Review by Vicki Stokes

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