Twist and Shout: The British Invasion

Conceived, Written & Directed by Alex Mustakas
Choreographed by Gino Berti
Musical direction by Robert Foster
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 10 to September 3, 2005
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Twist & Shout: The British Invasion ~ Nostalgia made for Baby-Boomers

Alex Mustakas knows the demographics. Statistics show that the baby-boomer population is now in the 40 to 55 age range. If the goal is to put “bums in seats”, as they say in the theatre, then put on a show that will appeal to the bulk of the population and the crowds will come.

That’s what Mustakas, artistic director of Huron Country Playhouse and Drayton Entertainment has done with Twist and Shout: The British Invasion. He conceived, wrote and directed the show, all designed to take baby boomers down the nostalgia trail and show them a good time. And he has succeeded!

Anyone who remembers watching the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964 when the Beatles arrived in North America will love this show. The audience is taken back to a mid-sixties TV studio, complete with microphones on booms and old movie cameras. Two high large-screen televisions show the action on stage in living black and white. Watchers are treated to some 1960’s commercials – stirring vague memories of Heinz pickles and Dristan tablets.

A five-piece band under musical director Robert Foster plays in a loft above the stage, recreating the early rock and roll sounds. A cast of 14 fills the various roles as required, transporting us back to those heady days.

Mustakas, with the help of his historical consultant Michael Bignell, has done excellent work in pulling together a wide variety from those British Invasion years. They educate as well as entertain – trivia concerning the different acts flashes on the old TV screens. For example, did you know that Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits was a child star on the TV show Coronation Street? Credit for the black and white film clips goes to Peter Conrad who is listed as historical visual elements designer.

As well as the Beatles and all their familiar tunes, we see Dave Clark Five (Glad All Over), The Searchers (Needles and Pins), Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders (Game of Love), Donavon (Mellow Yellow – and he still appears to be suffering from that early drug bust), Gerry and the Pacemakers (Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying), Freddy and Dreamers (I’m Telling You Now), Swinging Blue Jeans (Hippy Hippy Shake), Spencer Davis Group (Gimme Some Lovin’), Herman’s Hermits (There’s a Kind of Hush), The Hollies (Carrie Anne, Bus Stop, He Ain’t Heavy) and more groups with many more songs.

OK, so maybe I didn’t know all the groups – and even when I knew some of the groups, I didn’t know that they were part of the British Invasion. Frankly, I was surprised (and embarrassed) to learn that many groups I thought were American were indeed British. But I did know each and every song, and I loved them all. It sounded like Grand Bend’s old roller rink in its glory days!

And while all the early rock groups are covered, there is good representation of the female singers: Lulu with To Sir, With Love, Petula Clark’s Downtown and I Know a Place, Mary Hopkins, (Those Were the Days), and the late great Dusty Springfield with fantastic songs like You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and You Don’t Own Me.

The showstopper is Danny Williams, first when he sings The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun, and later with Procul Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, for which he received a mid-act standing ovation on opening night. He also brings the house down when he does his Mick Jagger imitation for Honky Tonk Woman, Let’s Spend the Night Together and Satisfaction.

Similarly, Christine Glen’s powerful voice rocks the house with Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man. Her rendition of Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger makes you feel like you’re 16 and watching James Bond at the drive-in.

Also notable is Ange Pagano as Lulu singing To Sir With Love and as one of The Seekers doing Georgie Girl. Her version of Shout in the closing number is phenomenal, as she puts herself into the part with great facial expressions and body language.

The musical numbers are interspersed with David Brummel as MC Roy Solomon telling background stories on the various singers. Brummel also gives a very credible Ed Sullivan impersonation. Kevin Etherington is entertaining as a magician and a ventriloquist. HCP favourite Keith Savage provides comedy as an assortment of characters. A couple of numbers are borrowed from the repertoire of the production of Vaudeville, which appeared at Playhouse II two years ago. But that’s all right – classics like “Who’s on First?” have enduring entertainment value.

Also remarkable are the dancers – Dance captain Michelle DiGioacchino is outstanding, and Chelsi Schill, Jade Elliott and Patrick Styles are extremely talented with their sixties moves, much of it presented in Fossé style. Kudos to choreographer Gino Berti.

As always, HCP has saved the best for the last of the season. The show is brilliantly put together, presented by a high-energy cast. The good times are infectious and the audience can’t help but have fun.

If you’re considering seeing this show, order your tickets today, as it is certain to sell out fast. Two years ago, Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story sold out immediately, and this production, similar in style, will certainly be even more popular.

Twist and Shout: The British Invasion continues with eight shows a week until September 3 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000 or Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463.

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