What a Wonderful World

Inspiration and Motivation

Ben Vereen is a verifiable, Tony award winning, Broadway triple-threat.  He has appeared in hits such as Pippin, Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.  He has a long list of TV shows to his credit, most notably the landmark mini-series Roots, and more recently How I Met Your Mother.  So what’s he doing on stage in little old Petrolia?

Well, it seems like Vereen is a man on a mission – he wants to motivate and inspire everyone he meets, and no place is too small or too far away for him to spread his positive message.

Vereen sings, dances a little bit and talks to the audience as if we are old friends.  He acts as emcee for the show, which is another of Co-Artistic Director David Rogers’ concert productions.  Rogers again shows his expertise in putting together a line-up of songs, and Vereen has added the finishing touches with his dialogue.

Rogers and Co-Artistic Director David Hogan have assembled an absolutely stellar cast.  Rebecca Poff has a warm chemistry with Vereen, and sings beautifully with her rich full voice.  Joining them is Jennifer Walls, Jake Stern, and Christopher Dunham, all with amazing voices.

Area young people form a Show Choir, backing up the five key singers – Brett Brownlee, Ben Cookson, Henry Firmston, Alexandra Grant, Tanya Guimond, Jonathan Gysbers, Caitlin McKeon, Christine McKeon, and Melanie Paiement.Wonderful World 2015

The song line up is also nothing short of inspirational.  Of course, Vereen sings What a Wonderful World.  Poff is wonderful with Colours of the Wind, and Christopher Dunham gives a moving rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.  Jennifer Walls presents a beautiful version of I’ll be There.  Vereen sings Corner of the Sky from Pippin (the show for which he won a Tony award), and an enthusiastic rendition of Defying Gravity from Wicked. Act one closes with Vereen and Poff singing Reach Out and Touch, joined by the other soloists and the choir.

The entire cast has fun with a medley of tunes featuring happy songs and the show choir really shines in Seasons of Love.  Rebecca Poff is outstanding in her presentations of No Day but Today and Wind Beneath My Wings.  Jake Stern leads in a rousing version of I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.

Throughout the show, Vereen offers messages of hope – it’s obvious he has a successful career as a motivational speaker.  He tells of his horrific accident in Los Angeles in 1992 — first he was driving and hit a tree.  Thinking he was alright, he went on with his day, but later became disoriented and walked onto the street, where he was hit by a vehicle driven by Canadian David Foster.  Vereen made a point of telling this Canadian audience how much he appreciated the fact that Foster stayed with him, saving his life until paramedics came.  The second accident left him in critical condition —  he had a broken leg and other extensive injuries.  It was doubtful if he would ever act, sing and dance again, but he fought back, undergoing prolonged rehabilitation.  Just that story alone gives credence to his inspirational message.

Vereen reminds us to be happy.  He says “no one wants to come to a pity party”, and if we complain, 80% of the people don’t care, and the other 20% are glad we have a problem.

After listening to these exceptional voices singing uplifting songs, and catching Vereen’s infectious smile, no one could leave the theatre unhappy.  Take advantage of having a Broadway star right here in Lambton County.  Don’t worry, be happy. It’s indeed a wonderful world.

What a Wonderful World continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 28.  Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca

Photo: Ben Vereen with the Show Choir.  Photo by Ruth Brown and Diane O’Dell.

What a Wonderful World
Directed by David Rogers
Musical Direction by Mark Payne
Choreographer Adele Mackenzie
Performed by Ben Vereen, Rebecca Poff, Christopher Dunham, Jake Stern, Jennifer Walls and a Show Choir
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
June 9 – 28, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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