Reviews

Kelowna Community Theatre Reviews

Q&A sessions with the Regular Guy Reviewer...

Rosemary Thomson, OSO Music Director - May 2017

As a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Rosemary Thomson:  When I was really young I would dance around the living room while my older sisters played the piano.  Like many little girls at the time, I fancied becoming a ballerina.

What kind of musical background did you have and what instruments did you play?

RT:  My parents met singing in a choir. My whole family (six siblings) would sing in the car as we had no radio. We all sang in the church choir. I started playing the piano when I was age five and the cello at eight. My sisters and I had a string quartet and it was an exciting day when I grew big enough to play my dad’s full-size cello which belonged to my great great grandfather (my son now plays it). I sang in choirs, played in bands and orchestras. It was no big surprise to anyone when I went to University of Toronto to pursue a Bachelor of Music degree in piano, with cello and singing on the side.

How did you end up becoming a Maestra? When did you set that goal?

RT:  I was helping out my friend with her children’s choir and the first time I conducted them I had an epiphany that this was what I wanted to do. I’m a bit of a rarity in that I love to conduct both orchestra and choir, I guess because I performed in both. I’ve added opera to the mix, which is one of my favourite things to conduct. When I auditioned for my current position as Music Director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, I was asked to apply. After the interview, the search committee invited me to do a concert as a guest conductor.  During the process I had interviews, attended receptions, and, of course, conducted rehearsals and performances. The orchestra saw six different conductors that season. They invited me and one other to share the following season so they could get more information. I then put programs together, as that is an important part of the job, as well as assisting with grant writing. At the end of that season, I was delighted to be offered the position. I am currently in my 10th season with the OSO.

When the orchestra is on stage performing, what are the key responsibilities of a Maestra?

RT:  Lots of the nitty gritty work is done in preparation before the rehearsals where everyone (including me) learns their part, or in my case, the full score. During rehearsals we work on intonation, ensemble, balance, and many other aspects. When it comes time for a performance, I’m always working on the pacing of the music, making the transitions clear for the players with my technique, showing phrasing, and trying to provide inspiration in the music.

When OSO is on stage performing, are the orchestra members watching you? Or what should they be watching?

RT:  Ensemble players learn at a young age how to watch many things at once – their music, the other players, especially the principal of their section, and the conductor. There will be moments in the music where they need me more than others and then their entire focus might switch to me. I remember when I first started conducting noticing how much the players really watched the point of the stick (baton).

When OSO is on stage performing, what can the audience learn from you…and what are you doing with your hands, head, and baton?

RT:  That’s a great question.  Conductors use their physicality, including posture, arm gesture, stick technique, as well as the way they breathe. The audience should be able to hear the music reflected in the quality of the conductor’s gesture. If you ever have a chance to hear an orchestra with multiple conductors in a row (at a gala, or if an orchestra is holding assistant conductor auditions they sometimes let the audience observe) you will notice that the basic sound of the orchestra changes as soon as the new person starts conducting. It’s part of the Maestro mystique.

As a Maestra – what’s your favorite and least-favorite part of the job?

RT:  Favourite – making live music with great people and meeting lots of other people. I also love the artistic planning. It allows me to be very creative. Least favourite – I’m not a big fan of grant writing, but it’s a necessary part of the job.

As a Maestra, you commented during January’s Beethoven performance that his music offered “incredible conversation between instruments.” Please explain what that means?

RT:  One technique of writing that composers use is called counterpoint. It was especially prominent in the Baroque era (1650 – 1730). It means that one instrument (or group) plays a theme or melody and then another one plays it back. So the musical lines are happening at different times rather than in a block of harmony. It then feels like a musical conversation.

What do you tell up-and-coming Maestras about your job and what must they do and learn along the way?

RT:  There are so many different parts to the job, from score study to mastering the physical gesture, running rehearsals, which is so different from conducting performances, and remembering always that your “musical instrument” (the orchestra) is made up of individual human beings who each have their own creative voice. They need to learn all these aspects to be successful. I also encourage them not to replicate a recording that they’ve heard of a certain piece, but to listen to many different recordings of great conductors and orchestras for inspiration and a means to finding their own interpretation. Also, that a career is a marathon and not a sprint and to keep working at their craft every day.

After 10 years on stage in front of live audiences, can you tell us a memorable story about something that happened before, during or after one particular performance?

RT:  One of my favourite things to do is hang out with my colleagues and exchange embarrassing stage stories. I have lots. Once I gave an elaborate introduction to La Gazza Ladra, a Rossini Overture that I was conducting. When I turned around to conduct it, I discovered that I had given my librarian the wrong score to put on my music stand and The Barber of Seville was sitting there. I had to run and get it.  Tim Watson, our stage manager, was so quick and intuitive he had already run upstairs to my dressing room and had it in hand as I dashed off stage. I find that audiences are pretty forgiving of these kinds of errors and love to see that we are human, too.

 

Regular Guy Reviewer reviews...

Simon and Garfunkel Story - November 4, 2017

On a cold and snowy Saturday night outside Kelowna Community Theatre, folks inside the old barn were Feelin’ Groovy and having A Hazy Shade of Winter good time seeing The Simon & Garfunkel Story unfold before their eyes in music and video.

Late in the Evening, this was an outstanding musical tribute that paid homage and mad respect to singer-songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel. These two gents from Queens, New York first performed together in 1953 in an elementary school production of Alice in Wonderland. They went on to become folk rock legends and counterculture icons with a wealth of classic hits and 25 million albums sold.

On this Kelowna evening, Taylor Bloom filled the snow boots of Simon and Ryan M. Hunt, with his tallness and curly locks, was the gangly Garfunkel. Backing them up were Evan Jay Newman on keyboards, Matt Baldoni on guitar, Randy McStine on bass, and Bob Sale on drums. This in sync six-pack has been touring across several continents and exceedingly lived up to the rave reviews posted by fans and reviewers.

The first fives words sung by Bloom and Hunt were “hello darkness, my old friend” from The Sound of Silence. Talk about throwing a strike on the first pitch. There was polite applause with a gasp of familiarity in the air. It was easy to assume that this classic opener was a tasty appetizer leading into the delectable dishes of the main menu.

What I particularly appreciated was the usage of a giant video screen at the back of the stage. Throughout every song, the screen was filled with cartoon pictures of the main two characters as well as black-and-white photographs and clips of pop-culture newsmakers, events, and products during the time period when Simon and Garfunkel were creating magic. This blended presentation for the eyes and ears was a well-conceived construct that iced the concert cake.

Later in the first set, before intermission, my favorites were I am a Rock, Homeward Bound, Scarborough Fair, and Feelin’ Groovy. All of these songs came off two of the duo’s early albums – Wednesday Morning 3 A.M and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

After the break, the audience was immediately drawn in with Mrs. Robinson and A Hazy Shade of Winter. Soon after came upbeat renditions of Cecilia, Late in the Evening, and Bye Bye Love (a tribute to the Everly Brothers). The final 10 minutes were a smashing solo by Hunt of Bridge Over Troubled Water and the duo finishing up with The Boxer. By this time folks were on their feet and giving a warm and handsome sendoff to the entire cast for a job extremely well done.

The Big Finish – Maybe the only things missing, in my musical memory, were peppy versions of 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard. For trivia buffs, Bloom stated during the show that the Bridge Over Troubled Water album was the number #1 selling album in 1970, 1971, and 1972. Hey Jude. It beat the Beatles.

Shane Koyczan - November 3, 2017

When Shane Koyczan took the stage at Kelowna Community Theatre on the first Friday night of November, he seemed genuinely gobsmacked at the size of the crowd. About 700 seats were filled and this spoken word artist was almost speechless.

“I know that poetry is not a normal Friday night event for most of you,” Koyczan offered with a chuckle. “Some of the men out there probably feel trapped at a poetry show. Just know that poetry gives socially awkward kids a way to be applauded by their peers.”

It was that kind of night. And Koyczan was that kind of accomplished wordsmith. Spoken word is a performance art that is word based. It is an oral art that focuses on the aesthetics of word play, intonation, and voice inflection. Kudos to him for mastering this verbal art, having a tortured, yet endearing soul, and knowing how to connect with his audience at some of the deepest levels in the universe.

Koyczan kept the 95-minute performance rolling along at a slow-but-steady pace. It was just him, a microphone, and a mounted iPad that he scrolled through and read from for his poetic verse. He was whimsical at times with clever anecdotes; at others he choked up and may have shed a few tears. He owned his content and many times his content owned him.

The audience was pulling for the tall, bearded man who was born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and currently resides in Penticton. A myriad of emotions gushed forth in his poems as he navigated through social and political territory with mesmerizing honesty and a belief that mankind can and must do better. Here are some nuggets of his inner angst forged from the receiving end of bullying and other demons:

 “I’ve felt the heavy axe of judgment. I’ve climbed under most of life’s hurdles.”

“Some are in a war against loneliness and battle for joy.”

 “Laughter should be honest. There’s no pension or dental plan in poetry.”

The Big Finish – Koyczan received a much-deserved standing ovation after reading his final poem entitled “How to be a Person.” That came after an aw-shucks story and poem about the orange-haired cat he bought (and can’t stand) for his grandmother. The three of them live together in the same house and naturally this touchy-feely arrangement became gold-label material for this globe-trotting spoken word artist.

OSO: Spooktacular - October 28, 2017

They did the mash…….they did The Monster Mash……. it was an Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Chorus smash…..it caught on in a flash.

Good goblins, that was a frightfully good Halloween SPOOKtacular performed with devilish depravity at Kelowna Community Theatre a few nights ahead of trick-or-treaters taking over the streets. The sold-out house was treated to a Saturday night special 2-for-1 deal that saw the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and OSO Chorus performing together on one stage. Saying the KCT stage was jam-packed with talented artists was attuned to saying kids like candy.

But there was more. The evening’s guest artist was Christopher Gaze, Founding and Artistic Director of Bard on the Beach which is the annual Shakespeare festival that runs from May to September in Vancouver. His fiendish vampire role, at stage front, was doing spooky readings between pieces and joining in for the final number. As an accomplished actor and narrator, he sounded like the British version of Vincent Price.

On my scorecard, this show got an A+ for creativity. I believe everyone on stage, including the Maestra, narrator, orchestra, and chorus, was costumed. We’re talking bats, vampires, witches, werewolves, pirates, scary brides, and more. The front of the stage was adorned with a row of lit jack-o-lanterns and there were two ghouls hanging above the orchestra. BOO-ya to the stage manager and helpers for setting the mood.

OSO Musical Director Rosemary Thomson (costumed as a bat) had these comments after the show. “It was amazing to see all the people and props come together on stage. We had orchestra and chorus members coming to dress rehearsal this afternoon in full makeup. Everyone bought into the SPOOKtacular theme and that made it an extremely fun night.”

Thanks to the evening’s playbill, it was easy to follow along with the musical numbers. The OSO started scary hot with Carmina Burana: O Fortuna, a piercing arrangement that was loud and chillingly familiar. When the chorus kicked in, the ghoulish intensity was ratcheted up several notches. It was my favorite piece of the evening, until the universally known (and aforementioned) encore.

Other works before intermission included Danse Macabre, Witches’ Chorus from Macbeth, and Night on Bald Mountain. The orchestra was spectacular. The chorus was powerful. The narration was creepy. I’d say the audience was wholly engrossed in this smoldering cauldron of eye-of-newt and wool-of-bat ingredients.

After intermission, movie music took over. There was Music from Dracula, Psycho Prelude and Murder (voted the scariest movie score of all time), Music from Harry Potter, and The Raven (“Once upon a midnight dreary….while I pondered, weak and weary”). The Raven was a world premiere created composer Gary Fry specifically for Thomson and OSO. The verbal highlight was Gaze solemnly uttering Nevermore, the single word immortalized in the poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Big Finish – before final curtain call, Thomson had a twinkle in her eye when she teased one last surprise. It was The Monster Mash. Everyone pitched in and clapped along during this rousing symbolic send-off to a Frankenstein-like evening.

Derek Edwards - October 27, 2017

When you’ve been in the comedy arena for more than three decades, you develop a feel for storytelling, timing, pace, and how to deliver a punch line.

That’s the easiest way to describe the comedic repartee of Derek Edwards and his “Alls I’m Saying” Comedy Tour that took place at Kelowna Community Theatre on the final Friday of October. During his 90-minute stand-up act, just him and a microphone on stage, Edwards was deliberately tentative and never force fed any of his best lines to the audience. He had the patience of a surgeon and did a bang-up job of keeping the half-filled room in stitches.

The 58-year-old Ontario native lived up to his reputation of taking aim at life’s galling moments and turning these nuggets into homegrown material. Even his peers recognize that he is one of Canada’s comic elite with his textured presentation. He’s a four-time nominee, and winner, of Best Standup Comic – Canadian Comedy Awards, as well as a multiple Gemini (now known as the Canadian Screen Awards) nominee for Best Performance in a Comedy.

Seeing Edwards for the first time, I’d say his material was a hodgepodge of everyday life. There was no consistent theme or method to his comic genius, it was like he was pulling stories and topics out of his own personal cloud and humorously relating them to his lieges. This was a self-effacing jokester who said, when talking about life at home with his wife, “I look guilty waking up in the morning.”

The husband-wife scrum was a common thread throughout the routine. He went into stories of how “the happy husband is moot,” how he “won an argument nine years ago,” and how the happy couple celebrated a recent anniversary with “him upstairs and her downstairs.” These Rodney-Dangerfield-like salvos brought hardy laughs from both genders in attendance.

Other musings that brought similar roars were his take on vegetarians (“mythical creatures”), the fine line between embarrassment and hospitalization when falling on an icy winter sidewalk, shopping at a massive Loblaws store, and sampling mango chutney at the farmer’s market. He got slightly bluer when cracking wise on a do-it-yourself vasectomy, visiting a Calgary strip club with his buddies, and how Viagra and hearing loss go together.

The Big finish – this was mostly a PG-rated show where Edwards never got blatantly offensive. There might have been a few groans scattered throughout, but for the most part his material was road-tested and the bad apples weeded out. Early in the show one audience member shouted out that he was coming back for the second year in a row to see Edwards. Edwards retorted that he hadn’t appeared in Kelowna last year and that well-received zinger set the laughter bar delightfully high for the rest of the show.

Gordon Lightfoot - October 26, 2017

If you could read my mind, you would know that Gordon Lightfoot was at Kelowna Community Theatre on the final Thursday of October for pretty much a Canadian crooner, thanks-for-the-memories concert.

When mentioning to a couple buddies that wife Elaine and I would be attending the show, one of them commented “man, that’s old school.” He was right. Lightfoot and his signature baritone vocals are so seasoned and from a nostalgic era that his first singer/songwriter chart-topping hits came out on vinyl. Spinning records on a turntable, some would call that the single-lane sounds of a carefree highway.

About 90 minutes after sundown over Okanagan Lake, the Ontario native took the stage to a warm applause from an almost-sold-out crowd. His four-piece ensemble was already in position and waiting for the boss to strike the first chord. There was an air of respect circulating throughout the building for the legend with the incredibly vast song catalog. Lightfoot continues to perform extensively throughout Canada and the United States, playing somewhere around of 75-80 gigs per year.

That’s hard to comprehend considering he’s a few licks shy of his 80th birthday. The beat goes on and the royalties keep rolling in. Lightfoot remains a revered national icon with a lights-out treasure trove of accolades. He has 17 Juno Awards and five Grammy Award nominations. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2004 he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2012 the U.S. Songwriters Hall of Fame.

On this chilly night, Lightfoot was his normal folksy self, singing a wide-ranging playlist of his folk, pop, and adult contemporary classics. “I wanna keep working” was his repeated mantra. There was also a prized quote he attributed to Willie Nelson: “all you need in life are three keys and the truth.” Gordie (as some in the crowd addressed him) and his talented crew worked through about 10 songs before intermission – the two standards that got a rise out of his followers were Carefree Highway and Sundown.

After intermission, he quickly got aboard The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Later in the set came the highly anticipated standards of Rainy Day People and If You Could Read my Mind. Both of these faves elicited sing-alongs from the faithful. Despite his frail appearance and crackling-at-times voice, Lightfoot showed he still has staying power and can fill a room on a school night.

The Big Finish – not many artists these days can fathom a 50-year musical career and international album sales into the multi-millions. In 2007, Canada Post honored the Hall of Famer by issuing an official Gordon Lightfoot postage stamp. He didn’t mail in this performance.

 

 

Thunder from Down Under - October 19, 2017

For the second consecutive October night, I had to re-authenticate my MAN card before stepping inside the artistic halls of Kelowna Community Theatre.

On Wednesday night, it was Menopause The Musical. Hardly any men in the building. It was an estrogen filled total blast. On this brisk Thursday night, it was Thunder from Down Under performing a visual and sensory onslaught that was bloody bonkers! Watching these beefcake boys tear it up in an uptown funk kind of way quickly reminded me that I had forgotten to fine-tune my non-washboard abs. Luckily, wife Elaine was my escort for this high-testosterone teaser accurately dubbed Girls’ Night Outback.

Here’s what the promos hyped:  Thunder from Down Under was an international hit voted “Best Male Strip Show” for three consecutive years in Las Vegas. It came two-steppin’ through Kelowna as part of its Outback Fantasy Tour 2017 that promised to take this male revue to a new level of excitement and eye candy for women of all ages who can transform fantasy into reality with the blink of an eye or unbuttoning of a shirt. Hard bodies and boy-next-door charm included.

Here’s what we got:  a late-arriving packed house of literally all women. Seriously, I believe there might have been five guys in the joint and three of them were on the production crew. This was ladies’ night on steroids and cheeky concoctions of liquid courage. They came to party, let loose with zero filters, and, not unexpectedly, scream their heads off with unbridled admiration for 90 Magic-Mike-like minutes.

All the hootin’ and hollerin’ started within the first 12 seconds of the show. That’s when emcee Nathan took the stage to gin up the frenzied females (he called one side of the theatre “professionals” and the other side “virgins”) and unleash the beasts. The beasts were the five Thunder dancers; I believe their names were Benny, Beau, Beno, Benjamin, and Malik. They appeared in raincoats with umbrellas and started to gyrate to ear-splitting music. Then they started to strip off clothing. Then the screaming got to such high decibels that I thought the Fire Chief might arrive and shut down the old barn.

These dudes were absolutely ripped. It was impressive. How do they stay in such great shape traveling so much? When they yanked off their trousers, all of them were wearing pink g-strings on behalf of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Talk about playing to your audience. And, of course, when the boys hit the aisles to pose, hug, and tease their adoring fans, the lathered-up ladies were encouraged to tuck paper dollars in their teeny tiny skivvies.

The bumping-and-grinding included skits with Tarzan, military uniforms, a SWAT Team, cowboys, and an old-fashioned TV public service announcement featuring a milkman, doctor, delivery man, business man, and construction worker. During each sexy segment a woman from the audience (there were plenty of volunteers) was brought on stage and treated to a steamy personal lap dance. During one costume change there was a routine pitting three women against each other in a fake “noise-making” contest that cannot be described in a family-friendly review.

The Big Finish – all in all, I was thunderstruck at how this show was a fully interactive experience. It was also pointed out that the Thunder boys were all straight, single, and Australian, just in case anyone was wondering. I’m not sure if KCT has ever seen anything before like this performance and with this kind of frenetic audience participation? It might be one for the record books. I certainly hope someone digitally captured it all.

Menopause the Musical - October 18, 2017

As a dude, and not part of any sisterhood or female think tank, I entered Kelowna Community Theatre on the third Wednesday of October with a teaspoon of trepidation. Would the all-star Canadian female cast of a wildly popular musical seen by more than 11 million people around the globe really be singing and dancing about things like menopause, hot flashes, mood swings, and nocturnal sweats?

Yes, indeed, they were and they did. What a hoot! Wife Elaine and I had the extreme pleasure of taking in MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL® (The Hilarious Celebration of Women and The Change!®) during its one-night quickie in Kelowna. It was a joyful exploration and delightful ball of fire. I would guesstimate that the sold-out house, mostly made up of women and an ultra-slim smattering of male companions, felt the same way based on laugh-o-meter results during the 90-minute live production.

I almost blushed a few times, but it was too dark in the theatre to notice. How else could I explain this off-Broadway sensation that starts off in a department store where four women have a chance meeting over a black-lace bra? Yowza – talk about wading into unchartered waters?!  It gets better. This day was National Menopause Day 2017. How’s that for irony and serendipity in the Okanagan Valley.

So the four leads start out at Bloomingdale’s in New York bumping elbows at the lingerie table. They each have a signature look, role, and sound. They were the entire kit and kaboodle, and they were superb:  Jayne Lewis (Soap Star/Dance Captain), Janet Martin (Iowa Housewife), Nicole Robert (Earth Mother), and Michelle E. White (Professional Woman).

This quartet of quirkiness spent the entire evening, how do I put his delicately, vocally expressing their feelings about THE CHANGE while amusingly demonstrating the woeful trials and tribulations of reaching middle age. I now understand that this so-called “state of confusion” affects the mind, body, and soul of women in different ways. Apparently “I’m Having A Hot Flash” moment is common to most, but not all. Hang on and pray.

I was struck by the creative brilliance of this rib-tickler. The sets and plot were simple. The divas commanded our entire attention. Each of them brought a striking charisma and charm to their roles. Their chemistry was palpable. They each shared pieces of the playlist pie, belting out a total of 25 familiar-sounding songs that were cleverly altered with lady-business lyrics.

For example, Stayin’ Alive (became Stayin’ Awake), California Girls (became Wish We All Could Be Sane and Normal Girls), My Guy (became My Thighs), and Lookin’ For Love (became Lookin’ For Food In Too Many Places). There was also one distinct verse worth remembering, “Lookin’ For A Pill Not To Kill.” It went on like this all night. These ladies were total champs. No wonder this physical comedy has worldwide appeal.

The Big Finish – the final number was New Attitude, it represented the culmination of life experiences and expressed that women are proud of who they are in spite of some of the difficulties they endure. Several groups of women attending were wearing red hats. Found out they were representing The Red Hat Society, a playgroup for women created to connect like-minded women, make new friends, and enrich lives through the power of fun and friendship. They certainly picked the right musical that embodied their platform.

Just for Laughs - October 16, 2017

On a busy October Monday night when MLB, NFL, and WWE were all sporting-it-up on various TSN platforms, JFL snuck into town for a ROFL 90-minute gut-buster at KCT.

Translation – there was a ton of sports on television, but by far the biggest hit of the evening occurred when Kelowna Community Theatre got a one-night, down-and-dirty visit from the 2017 Canadian Just for Laughs Comedy Tour. The 17th edition of the annual comedy showcase was hosted by bilingual showman Sugar Sammy, he was flanked by the genial Gina Brillon and anti-stupid cynic Alonzo Bodden.

No punch line needed here – the almost-sold-out house gobbled up every delicious morsel like leftover pizza at a frat house. The comic trio came loaded with lab-tested material that consistently hit the mark and metaphorically had folks rolling on the floor laughing. It was that raucously good, F-bombs and all. JFL claims its mission is to “Make People Happy.” These left-wingers lit the lamp with GPS precision.

Sugar Sammy took the stage first and set the no-holds-barred bar extremely high. Described in his bio as a “charismatic provocateur who seamlessly hits on cultural, social, and political themes with charm and finesse allowing him to connect instinctively with audiences on an international level,” the Okanagan faithful were immediately buying what he was selling. Right out of the gate he got big yuks with “I walked around downtown Kelowna this afternoon. It was the best 45 seconds of my life.”

The Montreal native then dove into the grittier subjects of ethnicities (“are there any ethnic people in Kelowna?”) and his Polish girlfriend (who costs him “a fraction of the price of his previous Caucasian girlfriend”). There was a smattering of groans mixed in with devilish laughter as he aggressively explored these culturally topical continental divides, but nothing came across as mean-spirited or crossing any PC line.

Up next was Brillon, a Latina actress and poet from the Bronx. She spent the shortest time on stage, mostly cracking wise about being recently married (“a relationship promotion”) and remembering back to the awfulness of her single days. Her gags on dating rules and being hit on by younger guys got big rises out of all genders in the crowd.

Bodden brought down the house with a rousing set that made light of everyone and everything. He tapped into “the night of the incident”…the 2016 American Presidential election, the American President (“he thought Justin Trudeau was Canada’s Next Top Model”…..got a big roar), and what Americans know about Canada (“you don’t think we hear you laughing”……another razor-sharp roar). His take on a grizzly bear trying to nab a slippery salmon was hysterical. His schtick on men married for 20 years or more (“20-year veterans”) and how they methodically handle things at home was sensational.

The Big Finish – while researching these performers, I discovered that many comedians do not like talking with reviewers before or after shows. It mostly has to do with “giving away the farm” by publishing some of their best lines. I get that. Hope I didn’t cross too many lines with this recap?

 

An Evening with the Rat Pack - October 9, 2017

On a day when turkey and trimmings were the star attractions, three Cornish hens showed up on Monday night at Kelowna Community Theatre for a smorgasbord of love songs and laughs.

Fly Me to the Moon…..because an Evening with the Rat Pack was a delight for those in the audience who may have had a chance to see the originals back in the day. Taking the lead roles, faux sure, were Andy DiMino as Dean Martin, Lambus Dean as Sammy Davis, Jr., and Gary Anthony as Frank Sinatra. This traveling trio did a more-than-credible job of looking and singing the parts of the legendary Rat Pack that lived and celebrated the high life of booze, broads, and bright lights.

Long ago one scribe described the Rat Pack as the “Mount Rushmore of men having fun.” That certainly fit the bill on this night as Faux Martin peppered the performance with G-Rated jokes that elicited groans and giggles from the 350 in attendance. While departing post show, I overheard one woman opine: “I really enjoyed it. They were funny, sang well, and didn’t say one bad word.”

The show started with the super-suave Martin taking the stage in a tuxedo and cigarette in his right hand. He was backed by a tight six-piece orchestra that featured horns, bass, percussion, and piano. With boozy confidence, he hit all the right notes and belted out Ain’t That A Kick In The Head, Volare, and Everybody Loves Somebody. He had the CARP crowd eating out of his gin-stained hand.

For example, he got the crowd juiced with this American-based ice-breaker. “I’m having Social Security sex…I get a little bit each month but not enough to live on.” Rim shot, please. While walking the stage he noticed a young man in the first row. He left the stage, approached the youngster and said “you have no idea who I am; I’m Justin Bieber’s great-grandfather.”

After Martin came the short-statured Faux Sammy with his signature walk, rings, and dark shades. His first three solos were For Once In My Life, Candy Man, and Gotta Lot of Livin’ To Do. Along the way he did some timely tap dancing and called everyone “Cats.” Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Last to arrive on the scene was Faux Chairman of the Board. He was also in full tux and had the Sinatra hair and swagger. His voice was bold and booming as he led with Come Fly With Me, I Get A Kick Out Of You, and You Make Me Feel So Young. Now that all the boys were introduced, you could feel a fantastic finish looming on the horizon.

The final six-pack was the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Faux Sammy altered his outfit and became Mr. Bojangles. Then came slightly Faux Martin singing That’s Amore. Heads were swaying. Folks were eagerly singing along to “When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie.” The biggest applause of the night came with Faux Frank soloed My Way. Like an Olympic gymnast, he stuck the landing. Bellissimo.

All three got together for the closing three numbers – That’s Life, New York, New York, and Mack The Knife. Faux Frank commented that these songs “were some of the romantic music every written.” On this night, the room was filled with lots of amore. Fedoras off to these Rat Packers.

The Big Finish – Luck Be a Lady, you could tell this act was one well virgin-oiled machine. The trio has excellent chemistry and didn’t step on each other’s lines. In total, they sang 22 songs and looked like they were having a blast reenacting the male bravado roles of a bygone era.

Andre-Phillipe Gagnon - October 1, 2017

When an entertainer is billed as “the legendary man of a 1,000 voices and the number-one singing impressionist in the world” – those glowing accolades piqued my interest.

So on the first of October I scooted over to Kelowna Community Theatre to see what the fuss was all about. It was Sunday night and the theatre about half full. There wasn’t a whole lot of buzz in the building. Let’s just say I was cautiously optimistic. Would this international performer deliver the goods, or was it all blustery hyperbole created by some PR factory?

Turns out it was an old-school variety show with slapstick sprinkled in. The entertainer was André–Philippe Gagnon, a master impersonator and vocal illusionist from Quebec City. This vocal chameleon had been around the block, having once appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, performed all across Canada, and worked rooms in Las Vegas and Paris.

When I first got a copy of the playlist from the production crew, I counted 44 songs. No way would Gagnon be able to rip through that many numbers before midnight?! Something had to give, and it did. Let’s just say when you’re doing 44 vocal impressions from multiple eras, you don’t sing the entire song. Just short, memorable snippets that were instantly recognizable.

Gagnon took the stage in a shiny gray suit, no tie, and two bottles of water. No backup singers, he was a one-man schtick with no place to hide or rest. The first song was Sam Smith’s Stay with Me. The music was provided electronically and Gagnon started singing a la Smith. Next up were impressions of Bill Hailey, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, The Platters, Elvis, Chubby Checker, and Ray Charles.

The music timeline started in the 50’s and ended almost at present day. The entire gig was Gagnon, who can do the show in English or French, mimicking the artist’s voice and distinguishable mannerisms. Between songs he mixed in one-liners about certain artists. The fast-talking Frenchman’s impressions of Sammy, Dean, and The Beatles were spot on.

Other audience favorites were his Mick Jagger (rooster-like strutting) version of Satisfaction, Louis Armstrong (What a Wonderful World), James Taylor (You’ve Got a Friend), love ambassador Barry White (Can’t Get Enough), and Gnarls Barkley (Crazy). The only two females covered were Tracy Chapman (Fast Car) and Natalie Cole (Unforgettable).

My favorites were Roy Orbison (Pretty Woman), R.E.M. (Losing my Religion), and The Black Eyed Peas (I Gotta Feeling).

The Big Finish – one indelible impression, the fast-action show lasted 80 minutes. That included a song-and-dance routine Gagnon did with select audience members. His encore was taking a pretend iPod and jamming through the songs on it. Things ended so quickly folks were heading to the parking lot at two minutes before nine.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra - September 30, 2017

That, my friends, was a professional symphony performance I will never forget.

On the final Friday night of September, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) made a tour stop in Kelowna and absolutely positively blew the roof off Kelowna Community Theatre. Typed words cannot accurately express what took place inside the old barn as the VSO packed its 71 full-time musicians onto the stage and went on an amazing orchestral journey from first salvo to last bow.

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO) was the evening’s gracious host and perpetrator of this musical masterpiece. Follow these numbers. The OSO unofficially opened its 58th season by literally handing the baton to the VSO which is marking its 99th season. In charge of this confluence was conductor Bramwell Tovey (a perfectly classic name for a Bond villain) who is in his 18th and final season with the VSO.

According to Alan Gove, VSO’s Vice-President, Marketing and Sales, VSO has an annual budget of $16.5 million. It’s the third-largest symphony orchestra in Canada and the largest performing arts organization in Western Canada. In the 2017/18 season, the group will gear up for approximately 141 concerts.

Who doesn’t know the familiar riff of the William Tell Overture by Rossini? That’s how this party, amplified by a filled-to-the-brim house, got electrified early. Heads were swaying as many in attendance were transported back to the time when The Lone Ranger television and radio show dotted the airwaves with this iconic theme. Go ahead, hum parts of this libretto in your head and you’ll hear a mix of cellos, English horns, flutes, and brass.

Part two of the program was a four movement song cycle titled Ancestral Voices and composed by Tovey specifically for Canada 150 celebrations. With this work, the English maestro was speaking to an act of reconciliation that addressed the complicated part of Canada’s shared legacy – the fraught relationship between First Nations people and subsequent arrivals.

While the music and texts stem from non-aboriginal sources, Tovey was careful to seek out the advice and perspective of someone with First Nations heritage. The songs were created for and written in consultation with mezzo-soprano soloist Marion Newman, who has Kwagiulth and Stό:lō First Nation roots. The four songs she admirably soloed were In Arcady, The Last Bison, The Letter, and Bring Light to the Truth.

After intermission, Tchaikovsky took over and killed it. His Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 had four highly engaging movements that reflected the composer’s outlook on life at the time. The emotional progress he expressed in the music and waltzes was restless striving, heartfelt yearning, and passionate love before the final whirlwind coda that brought an extra-long standing ovation.

My favorite part of this session was watching the strings, mostly the three rows of violinists at stage front, bobbing and weaving their heads, upper bodies, and bows with absolute precision. It was rhythmic poetry and caused me to think these musicians really enjoy what they do. Bravo. I learned after the show from OSO General Manager Roger Tilstra that this technique is called downstroke and upstroke. The musicians practice this choreographed strumming. On this evening, practice made perfect.

The Big Finish – but wait, the VSO had a few encores up its tuxedo sleeve. The first was the highly energetic Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5. The audience stood throughout. Then Tovey introduced the Radetzky March by Strauss and invited OSO Music Director Rosemary Thomson to conduct. She accepted and orchestrated a vivacious finish to a captivating two-hour show.

The OSO will officially open its 2017/18 season on Saturday, October 28 at KCT with SPOOKtacular. Concert-goers are being encouraged to come in full costume and get into the Halloween spirit.

Manitoba Chamber Orchestra - September 28, 2017

It was Manitoba in the house at Kelowna Community Theatre on the final Thursday night of September.

Thanks to an invitation from the Kelowna Community Concert Association, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (MCO) made a tour stopover in the Okanagan to perform a delightful mix of contemporary and classic concertos. Adding silky tone and technical prowess to the program was guest cellist Ariel Barnes, a Vancouver native who dazzled the packed house with smooth solos under the baton expertise of Music Director Anne Manson.

The evening’s modern first piece, written by freelance composer Jeffrey Ryan, was called Earthshine. Earthshine is a dull glow which lights up the unlit part of the moon because the sun’s light reflects off the earth’s surface and back onto the moon. Metaphorically, earthshine is a reflection of ourselves that brings light into darkness. Ryan got his deep-seated inspiration from a German poem

I found the music to be like a quiet, soft rain orchestrated in slow-motion. After the show, one of the musicians explained it this way – “it had lots of sounds and colours. The music tended to lose focus, and then regain focus to different sound structures.”

Up next was a Cello Concerto in C Major by Haydn. Barnes made his first appearance at stage front and handled his upright fiddle with aplomb. Helping me describe Barnes’ performance, at intermission, was Okanagan Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rosemary Thomson. “Barnes took a holistic view of this piece,” said Thomson. “It was such fun watching him link with the audience and orchestra. He has extraordinary technique and can do anything with phrasing, contrast, and cadence.”

After intermission came a Barnes-led rendition of The Iron Man, a revised concerto written by Michael Oesterle. Each movement represented industrial progress as seen through ironworking. Near the end of the piece, it seemed like Barnes was toying with his instrument with very light cartoon-like plucks. At one point the audience giggled when he finished with a smile. It was that kind of jovial night because the performances were through-the-roof entertaining.

The final concerto was Symphony No. 29 from Mozart. This lively toe-tapper sent everyone home in an upbeat mood. Post show in the KCT lobby, I asked Maestra Manson (who lives in London) how the evening went. “It was challenging because the acoustics in the building were quite dry and had very little resonance,” she said. “The musicians could actually hear each other. We’re not used to that. Overall, the audience was very positive about the performance and that’s something we always like to hear.”

The Big Finish – You’re next, Vancouver. Twenty-four hours after Manitoba musicians took the KCT stage comes the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The VSO, led by Maestro Bramwell Tovey, will be the Friday night special guest artists of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

Symphonic Rock Evolution - September 23, 2017

I know what you’re thinking – what in the world is Symphonic Rock Evolution?!

It’s not a thesis paper written at the School of Rock. It’s not an app for guitar-playing geologists. It’s not a rock opera about the creation vs. evolution debate and the origins of humanity.

What Symphonic Rock Evolution is, cue the sparkly disco ball and flashing lights, is a 23-piece symphonic rock ensemble that put on one heckuva rock show on the first Saturday night of fall at Kelowna Community Theatre. Leading this monstrosity of music, and I use that term in a very positive light, is composer, arranger, and lead vocalist Ken Hartfield. This long-in-the-tooth Regina, Saskatchewan native with his white locks and baritone voice was the busiest band boy in the building.

At curtain up, he greeted the audience and eventually introduced all 18 songs played as the concert progressed. He was the lead vocal on multiple tunes, delivered a couple sax solos, shared a few stories, and served drinks at intermission (just kidding!). All in a night’s work for Hartfield, who has the creative chops to envision orchestral arrangements for classic rock anthems and blend them seamlessly with symphonic production elements that maintain the complete integrity of the song.

Case in point – Riders on the Storm by The Doors. The first tune after intermission, the sounds guys mixed in rain and thunder while the band captured all the power and transcendence of the brooding beat. Wonder what Jim Morrison would think one of his memorable melodies being embellished with brass and strings? It totally worked and resonated with an almost-sold-out house.

Another humdinger was Another Brick in The Wall by Pink Floyd. This was the final song on the pre-encore playlist; let’s assume Hartfield was saving his best for last. This timeless rock creed used every instrument and voice on stage for an extra-loud, drum-banging finale.

Symphonic Rock Evolution was formerly known as Bandidos Cerveza. Hartfield changed the name years ago because “everyone thought we were a mariachi band.” On this night, the stage lineup included six lead vocalists, traps and percussion, drums, bass guitar, piano, electric guitars, and a brass and string section. Three of the other vocalists were Teena Gowdy, Julie Dorsey, and Monica Tracey.

The Big Finish – the evening’s symphony on steroids playlist also included:  Simply the Best, Baker Street, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, What’s Going On, In the Air Tonight, Get Back, The Light (a homegrown song written by Hartfield in 1969), Stairway to Heaven, Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher, Oye Como Va, Me & Mrs. Jones, a Guess Who Medley, and The Letter.

ABRA Cadabra with the Piano Man - September 15, 2017

“There was Something in the Air that Night…Fernando”

On a cool and crisp Friday night in mid-September, Kelowna Community Theatre hosted a double header of dance beats that featured Ryan Langevin as the Piano Man, a tribute to the music of Billy Joel and Elton John, and ABRA Cadabra, a tribute to the music and magic of Swedish super group ABBA.

If that sounds like a lot of show, it was. The two-hour-and 50-minute performance was a well-filtered trip down memory lane that, by my count, delivered 28 songs. For the 500 or so folks in the building who decided to Take A Chance on this one-night stand, they certainly got their money’s worth.

“You May be Right…I May be Crazy”

Piano Man Langevin kicked off the show in Billy Joel all black. Based on his versatility, I’d describe him as the Swiss Army Knife of three musical acts. In Act I, he sat center stage in his dark Ray Bans, pounding the keyboard and belting out classics such as It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me, Just The Way You Are, Piano Man, and You Might Be Right. During the last song, he exited the stage for about five minutes as the band kept playing. We all kinda knew what was coming next.

In Act II, Langevin reappeared in all white from flamboyant straw hat to toe. Hello Elton John and venerable numbers such as Philadelphia Freedom, Your Song, Crocodile Rock, Tiny Dancer, Saturday Night, and Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. Mr. Versatile sang ’em all, barely taking a sip of water between ditties. He earned his paycheque.

“See that Girl…Watch that Scene…Digging the Dancing Queen”

After intermission, Act III was a whole different ballgame for Langevin. This time he was positioned stage left playing keyboard and providing back-up vocals for the glitzy ABBA throwback machine. Center stage was occupied by Jeanette and Marlie, the two female leads in their floor-hugging one-piece white jumpsuits with gold trim and wide bell bottoms.  Gimme Gimme Gimme – these lovely ladies were high-stepping and twirling and ABBA-lutely having a blast mashing through their 16-song set.

“Money Money Money…Always Sunny…In a Rich Man’s World”

There was no Waterloo moment for these road warriors, everything was a triumph. Right out of the gate the tightly knit ensemble launched into spirited versions of Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen, SOS, Money Money Money (my personal fave), and Fernando. The room was energized. Clap-alongs and sing-alongs were encouraged. Couples and small pockets of attendees took to boogieing in the aisles. This nostalgic dance party was proceeding full speed ahead with a Super Trouper attitude of cutting loose after a long work week.

The Big Finish – it was a Winner Takes It All kind of night. KCT has hosted different versions of ABRA Cadabra in year’s past. It’s the timeless songs and this lively stage performance that keeps patrons coming back. ABRA Cadabra will next be seen in Vancouver on September 25th opening for Boney M.

La boheme - August 18, 2017

It was opera night at Kelowna Community Theatre on a pleasant mid-August Friday evening. A packed house, some dressed to the nines in gowns and tuxedos, assembled at the 851-seat playhouse to take in this Italian standard composed by Giacomo Puccini. Opera Kelowna and its Artistic Director Alexandra Babbel spearheaded the production of this beloved masterpiece, which included Scottish conductor Bernard McDonald leading the Opera Kelowna Orchestra.

Here’s my elevator-speech on what took place over the four-act, two-hour performance:  Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl has a bad cough. Boy gets jealous over time and loses girl. Boy reconnects with girl and she is very sick. Girl dies tragically in boy’s arms. Finito. 

Let’s add a little more meat on those operatic bones. Act I introduces most of the main bohemians – Rodolfo the poet, Marcello the painter, Colline the philosopher, Schaunard the musician, and Mimi the seamstress. They are young Parisians struggling with living, loving, and surviving the cold Paris winter. Rodolfo and Mimi have a chance meeting on Christmas Eve in his frigid apartment and quickly fall in love.

Act II introduces Musetta, a seductive tease with an on-again, off-again relationship with Marcello. She dumps her wealthy older suitor at a fancy club and takes up with her same-age partying friends. Act III takes place outside on a chilly February morning. Rodolfo tells Marcello he has fallen out of favor with Mimi due to her flirty ways. Mimi secretly hears the conversation and the two lovers agree to wait until spring (“a goodbye without bitterness”) before they separate.

Act IV is back in Rodolfo and Marcello’s apartment. They are hungry and laboring with their art. Musetta arrives with Mimi, but Mimi can’t make it up the stairs and into the apartment because she is too frail. Rodolfo carries her in and provides comfort with blankets and pillows. After they admit their eternal love for each other, she succumbs to her illness before the doctor arrives.

Being at the opera was a first. The singing dialogue was insanely entertaining and intense. The sets were bare-bones (reflecting the times) and the sound was outstanding and vivid even in the back of the theatre. Nice work by the production team and stage director. The audience showed its appreciation with a long and much-deserved standing ovation at curtain call.

The Big Finish – since everything was in Italian, Opera Kelowna made it easier for novices (thank you) by adding to large screens on each side of the stage that displayed all the text in transcript form in English (like closed-captioning on television). It certainly helped me follow along. What’s next, Phantom?

Billy Elliot - July 27, 2017

On one of the hottest nights so far of the Okanagan summer, it was truly a pleasure and privilege to sit inside Kelowna Community Theatre on the last Thursday of July. Not because the air-conditioning was in good working order, but rather because there was a cool-as-an-English-morning performance of Billy Elliot the Musical taking place in the friendly barn. The show runs through August 5th.

It was opening night for Billy and his brilliant cast of bubbly ballerinas and brawny coal miners. From our seats in Row K, wife Elaine and I didn’t detect any big-crowd jitters or flubbed lines. Maybe because Artistic Managing Director Randy Leslie, Musical Director Roslyn Frantz, and Choreographer Jennifer Davies had their thespians primed and performing at peak levels? Or maybe, as in my case, I missed a few things because the thick northern England accents made it hard to catch every word and line?

Nonetheless, the 2.5-hour theatrical production was a refreshing splash in the face. Most of the actors were from the Okanagan Valley and the majority had been funneled through Kelowna Actors Studio. Elton John wrote the songs for this musical version after having seen the original Billy Elliot film in 2000. The sound (most microphones ever used [30] on the KCT stage) and lighting was crisp and timely.

Even for novices, the plot line was easy to follow. Billy Elliot was the 11-year-old son of a coal-miner dad. The miners were on strike and angry. Dad demanded Billy take boxing lessons. Billy somehow landed in a ballet class with eight girls and liked it. Turns out he had dancing talent that didn’t go over well with dad and his ill-tempered brother. Billy finally won them over with his “chance to be a star” and was headed to Royal Ballet School in London for a nerve-wracking audition.

Like the end of a hockey game – here are my three acting stars of the night:

Billy Elliot – played by Jonathan Fraser-Monroe. He’s a grade seven student from Vernon. The kid was spot on and believable in the versatility and showmanship required for the title role. He can tell his junior-high friends he spent his summer at singing-and-dancing camp. 

Mrs. Wilkinson – played by Karlisa Hiebert. She really tarted-up her role as the acerbic ballet teacher who molded Billy and went toe-to-toe with dad about the kid’s future. She lit up the stage every time she appeared with her shaggy blonde wig and animal-print tights.

Michael Caffrey – played by Caden Hergott. He was Billy’s sexually ambiguous friend with the squeaky voice who liked to dress up in women’s clothing. The scene with Billy and Michael wearing dresses and heels and dancing in unison with tap-dancing dresses (you have to see it to believe it!) was the most-entertaining sequence of the show.

The Big Finish – honorable-mentions for excellent acting goes to Desmond Parenteau as Billy’s dad and Susan Skinner as grandma. Bravo to both. As a cautious reminder – there is coarse language throughout. Even the kids let a few bombs fly. On many occasions, the timing and delivery of the bad words brought roaring laughter from the almost-packed house.

Rann Berry - June 30, 2017

Rann Berry – here’s a message in a bottle. You shook me, and pretty much the entire audience, all night long. Well done. Let’s dance.

As I was driving to Kelowna Community Theatre on the last night of June, my mind kept zeroing in on one bewildering point. This was one tough gig. Who booked this concert on the eve of Canada’s 150th Birthday, literally 4.5 hours before the entire country started putting on its Canada Day game face? A lot of Kelowna-ites with show tickets might have been thinking should I stay or should I go?

The concert was Rann Berry’s Time Machine – Back to the ‘80s. That’s the songs of the ‘80s, when MTV and music videos ruled the entertainment world. The musicians were a six-piece band skillfully recreating the hits of in vogue artists such as Prince, David Bowie, The Police, U2, The Cars, AC/DC, Duran Duran, Wang Chung, and more.

The old barn was about three-quarters full when Rann the Mann and his crew took the stage. Berry, the lead vocalist and front man, looked like a combination of The Terminator and Bono – dark sunglasses, long black leather jacket, black jeans, and boots. The first song, appropriately enough, was Let’s Go by The Cars.

Sticking with the birthday party analogy, the first half of the show was mixing the batter and putting the cake in the oven. By the third song, Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears), a few women had crept up near the stage and began dancing in the aisles. This party was starting to heat up like a convection oven.

More dancers appeared in pockets of the theatre during Who Can It Be Now (Men at Work), Don’t You Forget About Me (Simple Minds), and Hungry Like The Wolf (Duran Duran). I was impressed when Rann hit some extremely high notes while belting out Take On Me (A-ha).

After intermission, it was all about icing the cake, putting candles on it, and everyone singing their brains out. Rann came out in a purple jacket and led off with Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, and 1999 (Prince). Then the gang transitioned into three David Bowie favorites – Let’s Dance, China Girl, and Under Pressure. By this time, the atmosphere was total party central with rows full of dancers and rump-shakers.

Everyone was on their feet by the time Should I Stay Or Should I Go (The Clash) and You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC) were sung with electric enthusiasm. Then came the encore, where Rann and the boys finished with Billie Jean (Michael Jackson) and U2’s Pride (In The Name Of Love). It was a powerful finish to a powerful night of new-wave nostalgia.

The Big Finish – In the equality era, the Time Machine needs, in my opinion, to mix in a few girl groups into the show such as the Bangles, Go Go’s, even Janet Jackson or Madonna. Then again, it’s hard to find a spot for everyone in a 22-song playlist. We’ll see Rann Berry again on August 26th for his Soul of Motown Revue.

Glenn Miller Orchestra - June 28, 2017

Pardon me boy – am I turning into my parents?!

On a toasty June Tuesday night a few ticks shy of Canada’s 150th Birthday, wife Elaine and I strolled into Kelowna Community Theatre officially for the first time this summer. Coming off a three-week vacation in the hot-and-humid USA, we were in the mood for some serenading sounds to shake off a snoozy case of jet lag.

All aboard the Chattanooga Choo Choo. We got exactly what we expected, and what our parents would have totally appreciated, a night of big-band melodies and arrangements courtesy of The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra (GMO). Making its first-ever visit to Kelowna, GMO played for one hour and 40 minutes in front of a packed house of grey hairs and great grandparents that arrived early and stayed until the final fox trot.

As a kid, I remember my parents getting all dolled up on a Saturday night to head out to their cotillion ball. They danced the night away, with drinks and dresses flowing, as a live band played all the swing-time favorites. Now I’m listening (but not dancing) to those same numbers by a legendary orchestra and thoroughly enjoying the toe-tapping experience. What in the name of Alice Cooper happened?!

GMO showed up ready to boogie. The 16-piece ensemble was decked out in bright red blazers, black slacks, and black ties. They wielded their instruments with total confidence and finesse – their smooth sounds coming from a mix of saxophones, trombones, trumpets, clarinets, bass, drums, and piano. A few of the members were also versatile enough to put down their instruments and take center stage to sing vocals in a foursome known as the Moonlight Serenaders.

Leading the G-Rated musical masterpiece was bandleader Nick Hilscher from Atlanta, GA. This guy was right out of big-band central casting – tall, handsome, decked out in a tailored suit, and jet-black hair slicked back like a rat-pack socialite. His voice was like “buttah”, and he often shared the stage with equally talented singer Maria Schafer out of Long Beach, CA.

GMO got the crowd in a memory-lane mood by leading off with Moonlight Serenade as its first song. That was soon followed by Chattanooga Choo Choo, In the Mood, A String of Pearls, and Tuxedo Junction. When all these melodies were played, the crowd would let out a joyful “aaaaah” in unison as soon as the first few familiar chords were recognized.

By my unofficial count, the band played 23 songs almost before the sun set across Okanagan Lake. Some of the favorites after intermission were Little Brown Jug, It Happened in Sun Valley, Body and Soul, and Pennsylvania 6-5000.

The Big Finish – the Glenn Miller Orchestra claims it has been playing non-stop (48 weeks per year) since the group was re-formed in 1956. In a historical note, Glenn Miller (at age 40) was traveling to entertain U.S. troops in France during World War II when his aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, his legacy lives on.

Gerry Dee - May 15, 2017

On a rainy and cooler-than-normal May Monday night, actor and stand-up comedian Gerry Dee was the prized pupil sharing a backpack full of academic anecdotes and personal experiences on stage at Kelowna Community Theatre. He was in town for one night, passing through on his current tour while his popular television show was on hiatus.

Dee might be best known for his role as Gerry Duncan, a bumbling high school teacher at a prestigious private school in the CBC-TV school-based sitcom aptly named Mr. D. The show revolves around the eponymous Mr. D, an under-achieving and unmotivated teacher trying to fake his way through work and life. The show, where Dee serves as one of the principal writers, is moving into its seventh season.

Talk about art-imitating-life, Dee can’t erase his own report card. He was a real-life teacher for nine years before transitioning into telling jokes for a living. He has won the Canadian Comedy Award for Best Comic three times. In 2007, he was a finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, Season 5. On that reality joke-fest, another finalist who didn’t make the final cut was Amy Schumer. Hard to believe that both Dee and Schumer lost out to a mystery palooka named Jon Reep?

Before Dee took the microphone, he let a 22-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario named Mayce Galoni warm up the packed house. The kid was funny and self-effacing from start to finish – admitting that he’s not the most masculine-looking man out there and doesn’t have much luck with women. Some of his edgier material was about the perils of living at home with his uninhibited mother, a girlfriend with her own girlfriend, and being an atheist.

Dee opened with tales about when his mother recently passed away. Then he went into a salty dialogue about pedophiles and creepy guys with mustaches. The younger crowd especially seemed to like the dark humor, while the older crowd had a bit more trepidation as this wasn’t the typical TV-teacher they were used to watching on their Sony big screens.

Some of Dee’s audience-pleasing funnier stuff were segments on marking tests for students and reading long-winded essays, smart kids being annoying, fatherhood responsibilities with his three kids (ages 9, 7, and 4), and how marriage is hard and monogamy sucks.

For the rest of the show, Dee paced the stage back-and-forth like a husband in the maternity ward. Go figure, that exact topic was what he ended the night with. His take – men should not be in the delivery room when their wives are giving birth.

The Big Finish: He was the class clown for most of the night, but some of his edgier jokes could easily have landed him in detention.

 

BCABBA 2017 Kelowna Classic - May 6, 2017

Oh, to be tanned, toned, and pumped about it.

On the first Saturday night of May, wife Elaine and I took a “quarter turn to the right” and attended our first-ever gun show. Nope, it’s not what you’re thinking. On this sun-splashed evening, we contemplated doing a few sit-ups before jogging over to Kelowna Community Theatre for the 2017 Kelowna Classic. This sold-out parade of muscle and moxie put a shining light on the sport of bodybuilding and fitness and the individuals in pursuit of titanium abs and tape-measure biceps.

The host organization was the British Columbia Amateur Bodybuilding Association (BCABBA) based right here in Kelowna. The BCABBA is a non-profit association for competitors of figure, fitness, women’s physique, men’s physique, classic men’s physique, and bodybuilding. This contest was considered a Tier One qualifier, meaning that the winners of each category would advance to the Tier Two BC Cup Provincials on Saturday, May 20th at Massey Theatre in New Westminster.

Upon arriving at the theatre, BCABBA media coordinator Rey Damasco offered us seats in the media section in row three. We plopped down right behind the judges at darn near center stage. Talk about getting an up-close look at the beefcake, we could identify every curve and muscle on every thigh and back.

I’m guessing 60-70 competitors advanced to the evening spotlight – women and men of all ages and weight-category sizes. The show was methodically paced. A group of competitors would take a stage and the posturing would begin. Strike a pose. Turn a quarter to the right as you show a side chest. Turn your back to the stage and show a rear double biceps. Turn again and do an abdominal thigh. Face front and do a double lat (latissimus dorsi) spread. Then a final 30-second pose down.

During all this gyrating to music, certain audience members were cheering and clapping for their loved ones. Crowd participation was encouraged. The louder the better. Heck, maybe it’s a peer-pressure way to sway the judges? Don’t think so. The adjudicators in front of us seemed very stoic like they had been there before and knew what they were looking for.

We admired many amazing sculptures throughout the 4.5-hour affair. What exactly were the judges looking for? I asked that exact question to BCABBA president Ross Duncan. “The points of emphasis are symmetry, upper and lower balance, definition, body proportion, and muscularity,” he said. “Good skin tone is preferred. We don’t want shiny bodies. Excessive oil is not allowed.”

The Big Finish: who won, you’re probably wondering? Sorry, I didn’t keep a scorecard. In my mind, every competitor deserved a trophy. It takes a lot of discipline, poise, and guts to train your butt off and then get up on stage in front of a packed house wearing very little. My favorites were those with a little extra charisma and fluidity to their flow.

Canadiana Suite, Ballet Kelowna & OSO - May 4, 2017

World premieres in Kelowna. They were super suite.

On the first Thursday of May, Kelowna Community Theatre was the gracious host site of several world premieres all neatly choreographed and composed into a visual parade of ballet and music. On this balmy eve in front of a packed house, Ballet Kelowna and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO) joined forces to present Canadiana Suite: A Sesquicentennial Celebration and tribute performance in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Yeah, it was that gosh-darn good. “Superb” said wife Elaine at final curtain call. I heard a woman sitting behind us enthusiastically gush “that was absolutely beautiful.” Total appreciation and enjoyment was the common thread for the two-and-a-half-hour show. Combining ballet dancers and superb musicians on one stage was quite an undertaking that showcased Canada’s rich history and cultural diversity. Kudos to all who had to have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to deliver such a stellar production.

Thank goodness there was a program (with detailed program notes) made available to all attendees. It pointed out the evening’s guest artists – the Neville Bowman Trio and soloists Shakura S’Aida and Neville Bowman. It outlined every musical number and the choreographer and composer of each number. Best of all, it alerted us as to which performances were world premieres.

The first world premiere was Unfolding, choreography by Matjash Mrozewski and music by Marjan Mozetich, Postcards from the Sky. The second was Elephant in a Room, choreography by Donald Sales and music by Nina Simone and Oscar Peterson. The third was Eight and Sand, choreography by Gioconda Barbuto and music by Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy. The fourth and final world premiere was Canadiana Suite, choreography by Simone Orlando and Donald Sales, music by Oscar Peterson.

The was so much song and dance packed into one masterpiece that it’s hard to cover all the bases. My favorite part of the show was the high-energy Canadiana Suite and Hymn to Freedom. These compositions were peppered with lively music and had the brilliant ballet dancers in colorful costumes cavorting around like they were having a ball. I kind of got (don’t laugh) a Westside Story vibe from parts of it. Maybe because the female dancers were in frilly dresses and they seemed to be teasing and egging on their male counterparts.

Not lost in all the revelry, the OSO never sounded better. Well done by Music Director Rosemary Thomson to whip her troops into shape for this challenging assortment of new and classic tunes. The OSO is finishing up a stellar season of showcase performances.

The Big Finish: before the show I was wondering how they were going to fit the entire OSO on stage and have room for the ballet dancers?! In a brilliant engineering feat, the OSO was stacked on three tiers (like a metal wedding cake) at the back end of the stage. That left the front half open for the Ballet Kelowna dancers who were absolutely on fire all night.

Celebration of Canada and The Netherlands - April 29, 2017

A couple of musical sisters got together on Saturday night at Kelowna Community Theatre in the name of cultural exchange and educational enhancement.

No, I’m not talking about the Pointer Sisters, the Andrew Sisters, or disco divas Sister Sledge. I’m referring to a so-close-and-yet-so-far tale of two cities – Veendam, the Netherlands and Kelowna. Hold onto your tulips and windmills, these two have had an ongoing relationship for 37 years centered around school-age students and adults visiting each other’s city in order to experience and celebrate diversity.

This gal-pal arrangement was originally established in recognition of the role played by the BC Dragoons and Kelowna-area troops in the liberation of Holland in 1945. In May 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of The Netherlands, the cities of Kelowna and Veendam mutually decided to paint the official sister-city relationship with a broader brush. One result of this renewed commitment was Saturday night’s symbiotic Celebration of Canada and The Netherlands.

Live from Veendam was the Winkler-Prins Harmonie, a community band with connections to the Winkler Prins Public School. The group (harmonie is Dutch for wind band) is an ensemble of 45 musicians comprised on students, alumni, former teachers, and ex-staffers. Band members range in ages from 12 to 68. It’s true, the WPH music director made sure to introduce two 12-year-old boys in the reed section and one 68-year-old Dutchman tooting amongst the horns.

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The home team in this foreign-exchange musical montage was the Kelowna City Concert Band. The KCCB, also made up of students and adults of all ages, has its own long history – it was formed in 1894 and pre-dates the City of Kelowna by 19 years. My question, what was the name of the group back in 1894? I’m guessing it was something more regional than the current moniker?

In the first half of the concert, the Winkler-Prins Harmonie took the stage and performed seven numbers. Highlights were song #1, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, medley #4, Postcard from Amsterdam (Amsterdam has 1,500 bridges and is best toured by bicycle) that featured a student playing actual bicycle bells, and Concerto #5, several favorites from the Broadway production of The Lion King.

After intermission, conductor Dennis Colpitts brought the Kelowna City Concert Band out for four concertos, two of which played tribute to Dutch composers. Then came a short break to bring back the Winkler-Prins Harmonie so the sister-city groups could play as one in the same sandbox. They performed two striking melodies before packing up their tubas and timpani.

The Big Finish: during a music break, a chaperone from the Dutch contingent took to the microphone and raved about his group’s six-city tour of BC and Alberta. Two things he cited, the beauty of Canada (The Netherlands is below sea level and has zero mountains) and the non-stop hospitality. These statements brought the loudest applause of the night.

Ron James - April 24, 2017

Mr. James, take a bow. You earned it.

On the final Monday of April, a nearly packed house showed up at Kelowna Community Theatre and hooted and hollered their way through a comedy goldmine of one-liners and raucous storytelling courtesy of a feisty fireball named Ron James. Not to be confused with hoopster LeBron James, this hilarious (and much shorter and pudgier) Ron James has been heralded by some as “the funniest man in Canada” and a “comedic genius” by many others.

Every witty adjective works. This fella was delightfully devious with his delivery. This fella was fabulously fresh when satirizing modern culture. This fella worked for nearly two hours straight and only needed a few sips of water to fuel his rapid-fire repertoire on the third stop of his Pedal to the Metal Tour.

You get my drift. James hit the empty stage with a microphone in hand and took off into the Okanagan night like the mother of all bombs. He started strong, hit his intended target with maximum impact, and left an indelible impression. This was a polished act perpetrated by a polished stand-up who hadn’t appeared in Kelowna for about three years.

Making up for lost time, the 58-year-old wisecracker’s first few minutes were spent praising the beauty of the local region and a memorable trip to the nearby “pyramid” winery. Then he took a few shots at hockey mouthpiece Don Cherry and praised the Edmonton Oilers for advancing in the playoffs. Game on. No topic or person appeared off limits. James was just getting warmed up.

Over the ensuing 115 minutes, he veered all over the material-rich roadmap. He took jovial jabs at politicos such as Justin Trudeau, Christy Clark, and Donald Trump. He railed about wine snobs, fancy juicers, and Tim Hortons. He joked about his own snoring, being garden gnome-like in build, and how at certain times at home he “needs his glasses to find his glasses.”

He called Netflix a “digital crack house.” He opined about being back in the dating pool and the boudoir demands placed upon him by younger women as well as the digestive-system perils of being in a body-twisting yoga class. He touched on growing up with hand-me-down hockey skates and summer camp capers. Almost every bon mot was razor-sharp and got a rise out of the paying customers.

Did I mention the audience laughed a lot? I mean A LOT. And mostly non-stop. James’ roll-with-the-punches attitude and spot-on diatribes were infectious. Wife Elaine said her belly was sore from all the laughing. Our row chuckled almost the entire evening. The show was that side-splitting good!

The Big Finish: I would be shocked if anyone in attendance didn’t go home happy. On this night, laughter indeed was the best medicine.

Jazz Masters - April 21, 2017

Nothing like watching The Masters and seeing a wealth of performers at the top of their game.

No, I’m not talking about that prestigious green jacket golf tournament that takes place every April in Augusta, Georgia. I’m referring to another crowd-pleasing event that took place much closer to home, as in Kelowna Community Theatre on the third Friday in April. On this chilly spring night, the 40th Annual BC Interior Jazz Festival hosted its Jazz Masters’ Concert as the centerpiece of festival weekend.

This Masters’ lineup was stacked with a cross-section of jazz and big-band devotees. The featured artist was award-winning vocalist and pianist Carol Welsman. She was accompanied by saxophone artist Dr. Greg Yasinitsky from Washington State University, trumpeter Brad Turner from Capilano University, vocalist/trumpeter Rich Sumstad from Ontario, vocalist Janet Warren from Vancouver, vocalist Kinga Heming from Kelowna, the Michael Garding Big Band, and the Okanagan All-Star rhythm section of Neville Bowman (piano), Sean Bray (guitar), Bernie Addington (bass), and Scott Gamble (drums).

Before extolling the evening’s slick sounds, it should be noted that this year’s BC Interior Jazz Festival was scheduled to host more than 50 jazz groups from around the provinces. The Junior and Senior combos from various performance categories were able perform in front of professional adjudicators, attend free workshops, and in some learning situations, get personalized instruction.

The objectives of the festival are to promote and encourage the pursuit of musical excellence, promote jazz music education in the schools and community, as well as to provide members of the community (by way of workshops and high-caliber evening concerts) with opportunities to participate in the music education experience.

A high-caliber, toe-tapping concert on Friday night is exactly what wife Elaine and I were entertained by. Welsman showcased her versatile pipes and keyboard skills early in the first part of the show with some of her original songs and classics. During each number there were high-energy solos performed by various rhythm section members.

After intermission, the Michael Garding Big Band took center stage and killed it. We learned that the band only had five rehearsals before the show, and several of its performers would be young musicians gaining valuable experience. The mix of seasoned and unseasoned was splendid, especially when the teenagers earned the solo spotlight. There had to be lots of smiling moms and dads in the audience. As the band grooved, Welsman joined in and sang standards Beyond the Sea, It Had to Be You, and Come Fly with Me.

The Big Finish: in a nutshell, the festival helps young jazz musicians hear, learn, and get better under the mentorship of accomplished musicians. With 40 years in the books, the organizers must be doing something right as more and more young musicians are building up their credentials and blossoming on the provincial music scene.

The Naked Magicians - April 18, 2017

I’m guessing in the long and distinguished history of Kelowna Community Theatre there has never been a ‘cheekier’ show to grace the stage than what happened on a nondescript Tuesday in the middle of April.

I mean, no bare butts about it. The performers on this night basically had nothing to hide. They built their reputation on full-frontal illusions and sleight-of-hand tricks. Abracadabra – now you see it, now you see more of it, now you wonder if and when they’ll pull a rabbit out of something?

The Naked Musicians = Christopher Wayne + Mike Tyler

That was the plot line for The Naked Magicians as they bared their souls (and more) in front of a raucous Okanagan Valley audience anticipating a birthday-suit show. As expected, the female-to-male ratio in the room was about 90/10. These ladies came primed for some boy-toy beefcake and got both the steak and sizzle in two lean cuts.

Those two prime sirloins were Christopher Wayne and Mike Tyler, a couple of 30-something blokes from Brisbane who were comfortable shadowing the Magic Mike mystique. They’re currently on a 60-city tour of Canada and the United States with an act described as the world’s naughtiest R-rated magic show. That’s fair. “Sleeves Up, Pants Down” is their tagline. They also believe “good magicians don’t need sleeves and great magicians don’t need pants.”

You get the picture. These in-shape showmen are barnstorming North America with their comedy chops and clever card tricks. Look Ma, no pants. What really goes on, and how “nekkid” do they get? Allow me to briefly uncover the truth.

The 90-minute show started off with both Aussies fully clothed. Hey, that’s false advertising. Nobody was naked. Didn’t seem right. But as the show wore on, clothing started coming off. Audience participation, call them volunteers, was huge. Many of the gags were perpetrated on those volunteers who were more than willing to be lampooned on stage.

The magic tricks were a mixed bag of grinding physical slapstick. The first gag was a big phallic-shaped blowup that was batted around by the audience. That led into a mobile phone trick followed by a card trick that the entire audience could participate in. Wife Elaine and I played along, amazingly it worked.

Then came a straight-jacket routine. This was a key moment because by this time the Boys from Down Under were down to their underwear. Teeny briefs. Two volunteers strapped them into their jackets, they escaped. Then Christopher went The Fully Monty for a rope trick, his privates covered by a hat being held in place by another blushing volunteer. Mike copied his mate (privates covered, cheeks out, ladies loving it) and The Naked Magicians finally lived up to their saucy billing.

The Big Finish: kids, don’t try this at home. The coarse language was repetitious and earned the show its 19+ age status. Elaine was expecting more of a burlesque-type performance that was more seductive and less sophomoric.  Maybe next time.

Oh What a Night! - April 13, 2017

Big Girls Don’t Cry – unless they had something better to do on Good Friday Eve and missed the Oh What a Night! Musical Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at Kelowna Community Theatre.

Let’s be fair. Any female named Sherry should have gotten in for free. Ditto for any attendee who brought a Rag Doll or was inclined to Walk Like a Man. You get the picture, Valli and his Jersey boys cranked out a ton of memorable hits back in simpler times when radio ruled and hashtags didn’t. These oldies-but-goodies were masterfully performed on Thursday night by four clean-cut, well-Seasoned dudes identified as Rick, Andy, James, and Peter.

Well done, gentlemen. This old-fashioned song-and-dance serenade was fast-paced and highly entertaining from start to finish. The gags were a little corny between songs, but they clicked the cod liver oil crowd. As we were briefed during an opening announcement, the suave foursome had just flown into Kelowna that afternoon from Las Vegas on WestJet. This was the first stop on their Canadian tour and they came out blazing hot like Edmonton Oilers hockey fans.

Oh What a Night! brought the heavy lumber early – Oh What a Night, Sherry, and Big Girls Don’t Cry were in the books before latecomers were seated. The Valli Boys were nattily dressed in shiny gray suits, black shirts, white ties, and not a hair out of place. From there they rolled the dice with chart-toppers Candy Girl, Big Man in Town, and Tell it to the Rain.

Wife Elaine especially enjoyed the a cappella version of Silence is Golden as the fab four hit the jackpot with their ultra-smooth rendition. I got a kick out of their performance of the title song from Grease. Rick took the lead and did a somersault and back flip on stage (all without splitting his trousers). He also hit the audience with this factoid – Falsetto Frankie was the lead singer on the Grease title track and the Bee Gees were the backup band.

Right before intermission, the lads killed it on My Eyes Adored You, Working My Way Back to You Babe, and Valli’s biggest disco hit Who Loves You Baby. After intermission, they came out in classic sweater vests and kept up the pace to cover 27 total songs. They hit snake eyes with Let’s Hang On, See You in September, Uptown Girl (tribute to Billy Joel) and dazzler Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

The Big Finish: the four voices were sharp as a tack. The choreography was campy and wouldn’t land anyone on Dancing with the Stars. This show definitely catered to the Early Bird Special crowd – it started at 7 p.m. and was over at 8:48 p.m. At intermission, it was still light outside…and it’s only mid-April!

 

OSO Masterworks V – Italian Airs & Graces - April 7, 2017

Cello. What was your entertainment choice on the first Friday night of April?

For wife Elaine and me, we chose to hang out with a bunch of familiar faces who we’ve never met, don’t know any of their names, and possibly have absolutely nothing in common with. Sounds crazy, but this group has a way of stirring our emotions and putting a dash of allegro in our stride.

This group would be none other than the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO) and its multi-tasking Maestra Rosemary Thomson. For the fourth month in a row at Kelowna Community Theatre, the talented tooters and timpani-ists of the OSO put on a boffo themed performance that mesmerized an easy-to-please audience. This time around the program was entitled Masterworks V – Italian Airs & Graces.

According to Thomson, the evening’s entertainment would “herald in the spring” via the classical compositions of Ottorino Respighi (sounds like a Bond villain), Jocelyn Morlock (a Juno-nominated Canadian composer), and Antonio Vivaldi (I’ve heard of him). I would describe their music as refreshing, rich, and easy on the ears. Even though most of it was 300 years old.

During the Morelock (Aeromancy, Concerto for Two Cellos) and Vivaldi (Concerto for Two Cellos in D Minor) pieces, out came the brother and sister duo of Arnold Choi and Estelle Choi. They’re award-winning cellists with Calgary roots and the evening’s featured guests. After watching them do their dueling-cellos thing while seated side-by-side on stage, they brought a little “Choi to The World” with their plucky-good talents.

At intermission, I wondered about the cello. According to music sources, a cello looks like a violin but is much larger (around four-feet long) and has thicker strings. Of all the string instruments, the cello sounds most like a human voice. It can make a wide variety of tones, from warm low pitches to bright higher notes. Because it’s large to put under the chin, you play it by sitting with the body of the cello between your knees and the neck on your left shoulder.

After intermission, Thomson piqued my interest again. This time, while the OSO was playing Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major “Italian”, she instructed us to listen for the distinct tones of the glockenspiel. The what? More research needed. A glockenspiel is a funkier xylophone – a percussion instrument having a set of tuned bells mounted in a frame and struck with small hammers. Guess this means they had “Hammer Time” back in the Baroque era?

The Big Finish: the Mendelssohn and Vivaldi stuff sounded very familiar.
Next up for OSO at KCT is the May 4-5 Canadiana Suite – A Sesquicentennial Celebration in honor of Canada’s 150th Anniversary. The program will celebrate some of Canada’s most important and influential musical icons such Gordon Lightfoot, R. Murray Schafer, and Oscar Peterson.

Colin James - March 29, 2017

Nothing better than being treated to an electrifying performance by a Hall of Fame performer on a rainy Wednesday night.

That absolutely, positively describes the privilege wife Elaine and I had sitting center stage at Kelowna Community Theatre for Colin James and his Blue Highways tour stop. The Regina native, along with his smooth-as-silk six-piece Little Big Band, knocked it out of the park with a bluesy jazzy musical catalogue that left many in the sold-out crowd clamoring for more of that Voodoo Thing.

Let’s be honest, James and his posse could have easily skipped this Kelowna gig. They were scheduled to play earlier this month on March 4th, but the set was cancelled when James was silenced with laryngitis. Their Blue Highways tour ended weeks ago, but they were generous enough to reschedule and bring a boatload of fresh energy to the Okanagan. “It’s good to be back,” offered James.

After more than a quarter century in the music silo, James found himself inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2013. Three years later, he accepted the same honor from the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Those accolades speak directly to him being a consummate professional, superb guitarist, and having a maturity in his voice derived from age and experience.

His chops have been honed and should be cloned. Right off the bat, the James gang came out swinging their bluesy, jazzy, and dixieland best with Forty Four and Boogie Funk. Two songs later was Bad Bad Whiskey…..and the accompanying chorus “makes me lose my happy home.” That gem resonated with me for unknown reasons. I haven’t tasted whiskey in decades. Maybe because it (and a few other songs) had a ZZ Top groove. Those bearded balladeers are one of my favorite bands of all time.

Another fave was Why’d You Lie because the beat was lively and the sax solo superb. It led straight into Freedom/See It Through and the classic chorus “nothing is better than freedom.” At James’ behest, the audience serenaded that line many times and you could feel the passion of the words.

Final charmer – “When You Got a Heartache, There Ain’t Nothing You Can Do.” During this crowd-pleaser and Just Came Back (To Say Goodbye), several women and a few dudes crept up to the stage and were dancing up a storm. Blame it on the Blue Highways boys. They rocked for almost two hours and had the entire crowd on its feet before the grand finale and Five Long Years.

The Big Finish: anytime you employ a harmonica player and saxophonist in your band, those distinct sounds are a welcomed change-of-pace.  It’s easy to understand how singer-songwriter Colin James has achieved Hall of Fame status. He showcased an authenticity and deep reverence for his musical lineage that continues to spark his impressively long career.

The Tea Party - March 27, 2017

Them three boys sure make a lot of dark, progressive-rock noise.

That was my sophomoric takeaway after spending the last Monday in March watching The Tea Party perform at Kelowna Community Theatre. The Tea Party (TTP), comprised of Jeff Martin, (lead vocals and guitar), Stuart Chatwood (bass guitar and keyboard), and Jeff Burrows (percussion), are a long-standing Canadian rock band with blues, Celtic, and Middle Eastern influences sprinkled in. Some in the media have dubbed their sound as “Moroccan roll.”

The Tea Party’s current 28-city swing is an anniversary celebration entitled the “20 Years of Transmission Tour.” In 1997, the enigmatic trio released their most-successful album called Transmission. For this innovative chart-topper, they added electronic instruments to their beats which resulted in a distinctive industrial edge.

Transmission achieved tremendous success by earning double-platinum status in Canada, reaching #3 on the Canadian music charts, and receiving a Juno nomination for “Blockbuster Rock Album of the Year.” Being such a clutch performer for them, it’s no wonder why TTP is on the road dusting off their old Transmission and blowing out their greatest hits.

To me, TTP’s music was loud, dark, and borderline ominous. After arriving on stage 30 minutes late to start the first set, their first screamer was Army Ants. Whoa. Army ants are nature’s foraging hordes that kill and eat anything in their way. What a pleasant visual. Martin’s vocals were equally as foraging and relentless as he attacked the lyrics.

The rest of the long set included favorites such as Babylon, Psychopomp, Gyroscope, Emerald, Alarum, and Release. How dark were these shady singles? Some of the words/phrases that I could understand were:  salvation, redemption, pleasure of pain, nothing’s for real, black magic, sea of rage, and lost all control. That’s a lot of aggression and angst wrapped up in a lead singer whose stage presence reminded me a lot of a combo Eddie Vedder and Jim Morrison. That’s a compliment.

When Transmission and Temptation were played to rousing ovations from the almost-sold-out crowd, you could definitely hear the Middle Eastern inspiration. I almost expected belly dancers to appear and shake things up.

Because wife Elaine and I had early-morning appointments, we ducked out at intermission. Lame, I know. What revelations did we miss in the second set? According to the playlist provided by the production manager, TTP blasted through Writings, Bazaar, Ocean, Heaven Coming Down, and Save Me. Sister Awake was the only encore listed. Someone write me if there were more.

The Big Finish: amongst all the darkness, Martin did shine a bright light on TTP’s involvement with The White Ribbon Campaign. WRC is a global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls. Maybe they could write a song about this uplifting global message on Transmission 2?

 

Kelowna Fan Xpo - March 25, 2017

Kelowna Fan Xpo (KFX) is nerd nirvana for cosplayers.

My wife and I went to a geek festival and witnessed our first “Cosplay Contest.” I know what you’re thinking. Why are self-proclaimed geeks gathering in Kelowna and what is cosplay? Allow me to enter the Stan Lee science fiction/fantasy world of artistic expression and spell out all the details.

On Saturday, March 25th, Kelowna Community Theatre was one of the host sites for a “Comic-Con” style event called Kelowna Fan Xpo (KFX). Now in its fourth go-round, KFX transports participants into the fan-culture world of comics, manga/anime, Sci-Fi, fantasy, horror, toys, movies, and video games. The KCT stage featured celebrity improvisation, entertainment seminars, and costume parades. Out in the lobby were tables of exhibitors and merchandise.

Under the guidance of Artistic Director Bonnie Gratz and Producer Joseph Otoo, KFX has grown significantly in attendees and vendor sponsors. Other venues utilized for booth space, gaming areas, and autograph signings were the Rotary Centre for the Arts, New Vintage Theatre, and Okanagan Regional Library – Main Branch.

From what we observed, KFX was designed as an all-ages earthly experience for adults, millennials, and youngsters who want to dress up and morph into full-fledged fantasy mode.

Speaking of fantasy, the word cosplay is a contraction of the words costumes and play. Cosplay has garnered worldwide attention as a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. It’s costumed role-playing. When in costume, many cosplayers seek to adopt the affectations, mannerisms, and body language of the characters they portray.

Walking between venues was a colorful cast of multi-genre characters. These folks take fantasyland seriously. We could identify Batman, Wonder Woman, and Harry Potter. The others, no clue. But according to script, we could have seen the likes of Harley Quinn, Vixen, Powergirl, Katana, Black Canary, Captain Marvel, the Green Lantern, and the Scarlet Witch. 

The Cosplay Contest we watched on the KCT stage was the kiddie parade. We’re talking very young to barely teens. All the costumes had to be homemade. Creative stuff. Later in the evening was the Teen and Adult Cosplay Contest. Due to prior commitments, we missed this much-anticipated masquerade ball. Judging from what we saw strolling down Water Street, competition was Sasha Fierce to pick the best-of-the-best costumed crusader.

The Big Finish: Kudos to KFX for making a significant effort to keep its show G-Rated and family-friendly. Having out-of-town cosplayers showing up is an encouraging economic indicator that geek weekend could get bigger and more Marvel-ous. KFX 2018 will take place on March 23 and 24.

 

Tanya Tucker - March 23, 2017

Here are three words you probably never thought you would hear in the same sentence – Tanya Tucker and Kelowna.

Well well well, grab your cowgirl and hold her tight. It happened. Right there in the middle of the stage at Kelowna Community Theatre. On a school night. In front of an enthusiastic crowd that wanted to saddle up for a hayride down Delta Dawn lane. Country music legend Tanya Tucker belting out her signature hits and classics in a toe-tappin’ version of March Madness.

Darn tootin’. No brackets needed. Her songs were soulful and sassy and fans were gobblin’ them up like a bison burger with cheese fries. While Tucker was never billed as the coal miner’s daughter, she persevered through self-inflicted hard times and clawed her way to country music’s penthouse. Along the way she lassoed 23 Top 40 albums, 56 Top 40 singles, 10 #1 Billboard hits, and at age 15 was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

That’s a lot of material. That’s a rich history. By her own admission, Tucker was not going to win any music awards on this Thursday night. She arrived in the Okanagan coming off a stomach virus and was not firing on all cylinders. Her voice was strong, but between songs she mumbled a few stories and accolades and seemed, in my opinion, to be weary and slightly over-medicated.

But the show must go on. And it did. Tucker’s six-piece band (all dudes) was outstanding. I especially enjoyed the fiddler – this guy picked like a pro and roamed the stage like he was having a total blast. His enthusiasm was infectious. Oops – maybe not the best adjective to use on this night?

According to my count, Tucker warbled through 18 songs in an 80-minute set. They came from different decades and writing partners, and included: If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight, San Antonio Stroll, Texas (When I Die), Love Me Like You Used To, Would You Lay With Me, What’s Your Mama’s Name, Strong Enough To Bend, Little Things, Ramblin’ Fever, and finally…Delta Dawn.

Opening the show was up-and-coming cowboy crooner Ben Klick. The kid, and I mean this guy was barely out of high school, lives in Kelowna and came on stage in classic cowboy gear. It was his first time to sing at KCT and first time in front of such a large crowd. He sang three original songs, one of which was called 'What’s Going On'. It will be released as a single in June 2017. For a young pup, he had excellent stage presence and communicated confidently with the crowd.

The Big Finish: we didn’t get to see or hear the best of Tanya Tucker. I would describe her as a balladeer who wrote a lot of lyrics about a lonely life. What I was most surprised about was the lack of cowboy hats, boots, and big belt buckles being worn by the paying public. Guess there aren’t that many cowpokes riding around the lakefront and wineries.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings - March 11, 2017

Okay, help me out here. Which one was Blackie and which ones were the Rodeo Kings?

I’m still not sure of the answer, even though I saw Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (B&RK) perform live on stage at the Kelowna Community Theatre. The three front men – Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson – were guitar-playing wizards who took turns singing lead vocals. Behind them were bass player Johnny Dymond and drummer Gary Craig. Blackie – will you please step forward and identify yourself to us commoners? Maybe I’m being a little too anal about this unsolved mystery?

Moving on, the seasoned quintet brought a little bit of everything to the Okanagan. That included nepotism, a deep-rooted social message, and a playlist of folk, alternative country, and country rock music. You guessed it, I couldn’t accurately define which songs were from which category. Didn’t matter. B&RK entertained for two hours straight and defied their long-in-the-tooth status.

If you think you had a grueling work week, check out B&RK’s road schedule from Saturday to Saturday – Winnipeg, Swift Current, Saskatoon, Calgary, Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Kelowna. Eight consecutive nights on a snazzy tour bus out promoting their new Kings and Kings album. Wilson described the bus as a giant purse containing a lot of personal items that were hard to find.

The opening act was a handsome young fella named Thompson Wilson. He sang five songs with just his guitar and soulful voice. Turns out he was Tom Wilson’s son, a roadie, and tour bus driver. The audience ate up a couple of his “I’m short on cash” sentimental solos and wanted more.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings are true believers in affecting social change. The band has been working with CARE Canada to defend dignity and fight poverty, especially among young girls and women. Same goes for bullying and hate. The group cares so much about making a difference that on stage behind the drummer was a large banner that shouted: "This Band Kills Hate".

This band also sings for a living and belted out 15 homespun songs sandwiched around sassy storytelling. Fan favorites: Water or Gasoline, Stoned, Shelter Me Lord, Acadian Driftwood, Gotta Stay Young, Remedy, and White Line.

Before the evening’s final number, papa Wilson reiterated the band’s unifying message. “People can do anything,” he opined. “Let’s talk about love. Let’s live in a world where there’s patience, grace, tolerance, honesty, and love. Everyone has to do their part.” Amen, brother.

The Big Finish: B&RK may be getting older (Tom Wilson admitted it), but I could see them sharing a triple-bill with Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. On their Kings and Kings album, featured singers included Eric Church, Rodney Crowell, Keb′ Mo′, Raul Malo, Vince Gill, and the “Men of Nashville” from the Nashville television show.

OSO Masterworks IV Colours of Russia - March 10, 2017

Based on global events garnering headlines, perhaps a more accurate name of Friday night’s show at Kelowna Community Theatre might have been "From Russia with Love."

I mean that in a positive way. The only operatives peddling influence on this delightful evening were the musical tacticians in the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO). Led by Music Director Rosemary Thomson, the OSO presented its "Masterworks IV – Colours of Russia" showcase to a sold-out house. The orchestral compositions were mostly upbeat and invigorating, and according to wife Elaine, the OSO performed at the top of its game. High praise from the boss.

For the record, and I mean this in a humorous Anderson-Cooper-kind-of- way, I don’t believe there were any Trump appointees or KGB agents in the audience. Nyet to spy games, leaks or political tomfoolery. Instead, there was love and admiration in the old barn and the Russians were mostly behind it.

The evening started off with an Ontario discharge. After the Canadian National Anthem, the first composition played was called Eruption. It was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and supported by the Canadian Government as part of TSO’s Canada Mosaic celebrating Canada 150. The composer was Edmund Top, described by Thomson as a "millennial who likes heavy metal and Gregorian chants." That explains the 12-minute piece’s driving rhythm.

Next came the first Russian – Sergei Rachmaninoff and his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op 43. It was highlighted by a piano solo, which led to the arrival of guest artist Minsoo Sohn. He sat down at the Steinway at stage front and thrilled with his 10-fingers magic show. With no sheet music, he deftly marched up and down the keys with virtuoso efficiency. It was impressive enough to deserve the extra-long standing ovation he received at music’s end.

After intermission, there was a poignant homegrown "aw shucks" moment. Thomson introduced Edmund House, he was retiring as Principal Horn in the OSO after 30 years. House shared a few anecdotal stories about his supportive family and the life of a horn player being unseen behind a music stand. Later this summer, he has been invited to be a contributing artist at the 49th International Horn Symposium in Natal, Brazil.

The back end of the show was devoted to Tableaux d’une Exposition (Pictures at an Exhibition) written by Russian Modest Mussorgsky and orchestrated by Frenchman Maurice Ravel. This work has been played the world over and tells the story of 10 art pieces (paintings) being turned into music. The OSO nailed it and earned its own standing O.

Next up for the OSO at KCT will be Masterworks V: Italian Airs & Graces on April 7.

The Big Finish: According to Thomson, the colours of Russia were displayed in the sounds of the instruments and shifting rhythms. I was expecting darker and more ominous-sounding overtures. Perhaps I got the wrong idea by watching too many spy thrillers?

Alonzo King Lines Ballet - March 7, 2017

Have you ever had the experience of watching a movie or TV show and said to yourself “I’m not really following the plot but like what I’m seeing?”

That was me on the first Tuesday night of March at the Kelowna Community Theatre. In town for a one-night floor routine was the Alonzo King LINES Ballet from San Francisco. Based on this touring group’s reputation and global rave reviews, wife Elaine and I viewed this opportunity as a chance to flex our deltoid muscles and expand our cultural biceps.

Who wouldn’t be intrigued after reading this marketing nugget:
“Alonzo King LINES Ballet, now in its 33rd year, nurtures dynamic artistry and the development of authentic, creative expression through dance. The group is dedicated to exploring the possibilities of movement from a global perspective, and to renewing, and transcending, traditional ballet. Alonzo King is a celebrated choreographer who actively develops original new works with other artists from diverse disciplines and cultures. He understands ballet as a science – founded on universal, geometric principles of energy and evolution – and continues to develop a new language of movement from its classical forms and techniques.”

While it snowed outside, the ballet bonanza inside was divided into two programs. First came ‘Shostakovich’, music by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. After intermission came ‘Sand’, with jazzy beats from saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran. Don’t ask me to interpret what took place on stage during each program. I’m not qualified.

The company was comprised of 10 dancers – five women and five men. One of the men was Robb Beresford, the only Canadian and an alumnus of Ballet Kelowna. The women mostly wore leotards with open backs. The shirtless men wore tiny shorts, stretchy long pants, and the occasional wrap-around skirt. Never once did we see a tutu – this was contemporary interpretive ballet.

What was my number-one takeaway from 90 minutes of explosive athleticism and steely expressionism?

These elite performers were ripped! We’re talking six-pack abs, tiny waists, muscular backs and well-defined arms and legs. At every twist, turn, jump, and spin there was an awe-inspiring chiseled muscle group or sculpted torso on display. Were these long-limbed laborers photo shopped? Someone needs to patent the ballet diet. It works. And you’ll look fantastic in tights.

On May 4 and 5, Ballet Kelowna and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra will be performing together at Kelowna Community Theatre for a special show entitled Canadiana Suite –  A Sesquicentennial Celebration.

The Big Finish: What are the must-have attributes to becoming a bona fide ballet bestie? Here’s what I scribbled in my notes near the finale:  acting skills, good posture, flexibility, fluidity, charisma, elegance, poise, strength, balance, power, healthy knees and ankles and toes, a strong back, and an on-demand masseuse. That’s all. Sign me up, Alonzo.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt - March 5, 2017

Now that was entertainment at its highest and twangiest form.

On the first Sunday of March, nobody at Kelowna Community Theatre delivered the wrong envelope or read the wrong name. The headliners on this memorable night were two talented technicians – Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt. As advertised, these premier American singer-songwriters joined forces for an acoustic evening backed by nothing but their high-octane voices, incredible guitar playing, and friendly banter between songs that came off as unrehearsed as two chums sitting in grandma’s basement.

Let the record show that these highway-tested road dogs delighted the packed house with 23 songs in two-and-a-half hours of live theatre. No intermission. No backup singers. No frills. They were on their own on the dark stage, pickin’ and grinnin’ with amazing grace and dignity across various musical genres. Both have deep roots in blues, folk, and country. Both brought star power and noted résumés.

Lovett has released 14 studio albums, won four Grammy Awards, and has more than 40,000 Twitter followers. Hiatt has released 22 studio albums, been inducted into Nashville’s Songwriters Hall of Fame, and has his own star on Nashville’s Walk of Fame.

When the twangy twosome was about to be introduced, wife Elaine and I could sense the mostly Gen X audience was geeked-up like a hockey horde. This was no run-of-the-mill walk down memory lane. When the blues brothers (my nickname for them) took the stage, they were dressed in their Sunday best. Suit and tie and white shirt. Classy move. I found it especially compelling how one would watch the other sing with a look of wonderment and respect.

I won’t pretend that I knew most of their songs. Not even close. My goal was to soak in the lyrics, get lost in the warbling, and watch these gents handle a guitar like Sidney Crosby handles a stick. It was magical and mesmerizing. Better yet, it seemed effortless. These were master craftsmen.

What stood out? Their distinctive voices. These were not two axe-wielding peas in a pod.

I would describe Lovett as hitting all the high notes with ease and harmonizing the heck out of every stanza. The guy can elegantly carry a tune. Sitting only a few feet away from his touring partner, Hiatt showcased a raspy, twangy voice with, one can assume, a lot of miles on it. He was more of the bluesy storyteller who belted some notes not heard on any scale. Playing the harmonica and whistling were also part of his repertoire.

Here’s a playlist sampling that spanned the decades:  “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”, “Fat Babies”, “She’s No Lady”, “Thing Called Love”, “Have a Little Faith in Me”, “Memphis in the Meantime”, “Cadillac with Tennessee Plates”, “Crossing Muddy Waters”, and “My Baby Don’t Tolerate”.

The Big Finish: My wife described the performance as intimate and authentic. I couldn’t agree more. Lovett and Hiatt put on a spectacular show and defined the meaning of true professionals.

One-derful - Feb. 25, 2017

On the final Saturday of February, a full house at Kelowna Community Theatre got to sit back and be entertained by youthful exuberance in a show entitled “One-derful – a Tribute to the One-Hit Wonders from the ‘70s and ‘80s.” It wasn’t jukebox karaoke, it was students of all ages, genders, and races at Wentworth Music belting out songs and jamming on every instrument imaginable.

Neat School of Rock format. Terrific execution. Play that funky music, young phenoms.

There was also a philanthropic angle to the festivities. This was the 11th year and 21st concert production that the Wentworth students have put on to raise money to benefit the local community through the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation. Proceeds are specifically steered toward supporting youth issues and dealing with access to mental health services, education, housing, and employment opportunities. Youth mental illness is the second-largest hospital care expenditure in Canada.

Most notably, Wentworth Music, along with sponsors, have raised more than $146,000 through these concert events. The ringleader is Noel Wentworth, Vice President of Education at Wentworth Music. Halfway through the concert, he delivered a captivating quote about his students and staff: “we are the makers of music and dreamers of dreams.”

During the more than two-hour show, I put on my nerd fedora and noted every one-hit wonder played. Here they are in order, with the singer or band. Try humming a few verses of these oldies-but-goodies:

Funky Town……..by Lipps, Inc.
Fantasy……..by Aldo Nova
Missing You……..by John Waite
Tainted Love……..by Soft Cell
99 Red Balloons……..by Nena
Video Killed The Radio Star……..by The Buggles
I Ran……..by A Flock Of Seagulls
Hot Child In The City……..by Nick Gilder
New York Groove……..by Ace Frehley
The Warrior……..by Patty Smyth and Scandal
Mickey……..by Toni Basil
Play That Funky Music……..by Wild Cherry
Come On Eileen……..by Dexys Midnight Runners
I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight……..by Cutting Crew
Spirit In The Sky……..by Doctor and the Medics
This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide……..by The Kings
Your Love……..by The Outfield

The Big Finish: Bravo to Wentworth Music and its roster of talented musicians for elevating their game and putting on an uplifting rock concert.

The Wild! - Feb. 18, 2017

Remember that familiar adage – “there’s a first time for everything.”

That’s what we experienced on Saturday, February 18th at the loudest and wildest show we’ve ever seen at Kelowna Community Theatre. We got “patted down” by security guards inside the front entrance doors. This wasn’t the airport. These weren’t TSA agents. This was theatre management making sure the evening’s entertainment went off smoothly in a mostly controlled environment.

Why the extra muscle? Rock-and-roll, baby! Three bands and a sold-out gig. Let’s assume that many of the attendees came lubed-up and ready to blow off steam. This was their night to let demons fly and luxuriate in the in-your-face brashness of the vocal assaults. It worked. I don’t believe there were any security issues. I don’t believe anyone went home disappointed.

Headlining the night was Kelowna band The Wild! and their official Wild at Heart album release show. Let’s cut to the chase and say these rockers have a strong local following. And what about those band-member names – Dylan Villain (vocals/lead guitar), The Kid (guitar/backup vocals), Boozus (bass/vocals), and Reese Lightning (drums). Did I mention this was in-your-face music?! That’s the kind of amplified attitude you get when you mesh delta blues and rock-and-roll with punk rock.

The two other bands of the night were opening act Hired Guns and then Aviator Shades. Both groups rocked the house with mind-numbing guitar and drum riffs. The louder the better. As soon as Hired Guns got three verses into their first song, a few fans rushed to the stage and stayed put the entire night. Some danced. When Aviator Shades got cookin’, more fans stood and moved stage side. Both foursomes were rock-tastic on the undercard.

The Wild! finally took the stage at 10:10 PM. By then the audience was ripe for the hometown boys and wanted to flat-out party. Almost everyone stood for every song. Those near the stage were head-bobbing to each thunderous chord. I believe by the end of the night the old barn may have moved a few inches off its foundation?! Did I mention the music was mind-numbing?! Dylan Villain baited the crowd with salty shout-outs and playful admonitions.

We learned that The Wild! has shared the stage with Buckcherry, Monster Truck, and Korn. Breaking news stated that the group had recently nudged past Metallica for the #2 spot on iTunes Canada.

The Big Finish: This rock-and-roll smorgasbord reminded me of MTV’s Headbangers Ball. It came on late at night and featured name bands and lesser-knowns. If you tuned in, you knew what you were getting into. Elaine and I knew what we were getting into once we cleared security. Our ears may still be ringing, but we had a bloody-good time.

OSO Masterworks III Latin Fiesta - Feb. 17, 2017

The third Friday of February at Kelowna Community Theatre was the whole enchilada as the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO) got spicy and performed Masterworks III – Latin Fiesta.

This night of colorful instrumentation and syncopated rhythms paid homage to Romance-speaking countries like Spain and regions such as Latin and South America. For a nearly packed house hungry for multi-cultural cuisine, there was a full menu on stage that featured three appetizing entrees: flutist (or flautist) Christie Reside on loan from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, two tango dancers from a Vernon dance troupe, and 80 members of the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra (OSYO).

The evening got off to a spirited start when OSO Maestra Rosemary Thomson took the stage and asked the audience to stand for the Canadian National Anthem (in honor of Canada's 150th Birthday). These were the last non-Latin notes to be heard for the next 90 minutes.

First on the program was Three Latin-American Dances written by Gabriela Lena Frank. The music was slow, ominous, and not the fast-paced tempo I was expecting. I did like the distinct sounds of the bongos and trumpets, they brought some lively oomph into a low-volume storyline.

Things turned upbeat when Rodrigo’s Concierto Pastorale was introduced as a movement featuring the flute, English horns, and oboe. That’s when Reside came out to stage front with her shiny woodwind tool and proceeded to dazzle with her talents. She was magnificent, her solos were crisp and intoxicating. Bravo. How did she learn to breathe and toot at the same time? I appreciated how she rhythmically bobbed her head and shoulders while playing.

At intermission, wife Elaine and I met up with her friend Sarah. I asked Sarah, who played the flute, what she thought about Reside. Said Sarah: “She covered all three octaves in three notes. How did she get her fingers to move that fast? She made it look effortless.”

Local talent dominated the evening’s second half. During part of the Piazzolla movement, two dancers from City Dance in Vernon appeared. Dressed in red and black, they performed an Argentine tango in front of the orchestra. The visuals matched the sounds.

Before the big finale, Thomson had to stall for a few minutes as more stage chairs were added. On came the OSYO, some as young as nine years old and all dressed in white shirts, to sit next to their protégé/mentor playing the same instrument. Well executed, OSO. The 120-person orchestra played Danzn No. 2 by Márquez. It was rousing and well-received. Olé and adios!

The Big Finish: Kudos to OSO for putting in the time and effort to develop the next generation of fledgling instrumentalists. It must have been a thrilling stage experience for all the kids. Youth is being served one note at a time.

Big Wreck - Jan. 30, 2017

Can someone recommend a good audiologist in the Central Okanagan? 

Kelowna Community Theatre put its revamped sound system to a three-hour test with a rock-and-roll double bill that put the amp in amplifier and tinn in tinnitus. The headliners on this loud-and-proud evening were platinum-selling rock blasters Big Wreck. This four-person crew was touring to support the release of “Grace Street” – the group’s fifth full-length studio album. Ascot Royals were the special guests and mild-by-comparison warm up act.

When we settled into our seats a few minutes before show time, we were flying blind with an open mind. We didn't know what to expect from these Canadian crooners. We didn’t know Big Wreck from The Big Lebowski. Ascot Royals might as well have been the Kansas City Royals. Entertain us with your best stuff, boys.

Ascot Royals opened with a bellowing message – this was gonna be a night everyone’s ears might regret. The five-person group, led by lead singer Jimmy Chauveau, cranked out seven songs that were all guitars and drums. Chauveau flitted around the stage with his white high tops, black skinny jeans, and white tee. His curly-on-top mop reminded me of Prince in Purple Rain. No doves cried during the set.

Big Wreck took the stage stylishly late around 9:10 p.m. Cool move, because anticipation was building in the barn from the late-arriving fans. Let’s just say many of them came extra juiced for this ear-splitting jam session. Between sets, a theatre staffer told me that bar sales were brisk for brewskis and mixed drinks.

The Big Finish: Big Wreck did not disappoint. Lead singer Ian Thornley was captivating with his booming voice and wide range. Each number seemed to get louder and louder and the loyalists were loving it. They were standing and screaming by the third song and stood for the rest of the evening. As I’m typing this, my ears are still ringing a little bit. No worries, no major Wreck-age. A younger-than-normal demographic filled the seats. This throng came to unwind, scream friendly vulgarities, and wallow in the music. They played right into Thornley’s experienced hands. He knows how to command a room. Big ups to Big Wreck.

Ken Lavigne's Christmas Roadshow - Dec. 12, 2016

Ken Lavigne – now that’s the way to close out a Christmas roadshow.

On a chillier-than-normal Monday, December 12th, we hustled over to the theatre to have a listen to the Ken Lavigne Christmas Musical Roadshow 2016. This holiday mixer was put together with a nostalgic twist and described as an enchanting musical tour through the golden age of radio. Helping evoke the Vaudevillian variety shows of days gone by was a vintage-style microphone that Lavigne sang into. He called her Myrtle. She was straight out of a 1920’s radio studio.

Joining Lavigne, and Myrtle, on stage were dashing talents Alison MacDonald and Daniel James White. These two were not just two elves decking halls and jingling bells. They were stage-tested artists who sang solos, told jokes, and grooved to the music. Credit to the headliner for filling his stocking with a strong cast of versatile performers.

Not to be lost in the holiday shuffle was the four-piece ensemble that cranked out the familiar sentimental sounds. They were pianist Andy Slade, bassist Casey Ryder, violinist Llowyn Ball, and percussionist Matthew Atkins.

After metaphorically coming down the chimney to begin the show, Lavigne and his carolers started by unwrapping classics such as Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells, It’s a Marshmallow World, I’ll be Home for Christmas, and Winter Wonderland. With the audience thoroughly greased for more, things slowed down for storytelling and comedy bits.

What I noticed throughout the show was how the singers enunciated into their microphones. Reminiscing back to radio’s golden era, it was imperative to speak clearly, speak loudly, and create different voices and intonations for the audience listening at home. In Vaudevillian style, the cast used clever props, sound effects, and read voice over sponsor commercials. They had their schtick down and it was entertaining in an old-fashioned way.

After intermission, the song-and-dance serenade turned into a snowball fight. No really, it’s true. After Lavigne turned up the heat by singing Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka, he switched back to the Canadian cold and initiated a snowball fight with the audience. All the singers and band members threw nerf-like white balls into the unsuspecting audience and expected to those same balls to be thrown back at them. Never seen anything like it at a concert? Organized chaos. It worked.

For the much-anticipated encore, Lavigne belted out a tenor version of Hallelujah to honor folk singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. The crowd silently soaked it in. But wait, there was more. In a flash, Lavigne turned his blazer inside out to a gold-shimmery number and crooned Elvis’ Blue Christmas. Hip-action included.

The Big Finish: Nothing blue about this rowdy-at-times roadshow. It entertained until the last snowball found its way back on stage.

The Nutcracker - Dec. 11, 2016

Hold onto your Drosselmeyer – that was one impressive ballet bonanza.

Exactly two weeks before Christmas, we had the privilege to take in a Sunday matinee showing of The Nutcracker at Kelowna Community Theatre. To be more specific, and to please many of the parents, grandparents, cousins, and siblings attending the sold-out production, the official all-inclusive title was The Canadian School of Ballet (CSB) presents The Nutcracker featuring dancers from Ballet Kelowna.

This dance card was packed with Kelowna kids of all ages, sizes, and abilities to glide on their tippy-toes in front of the hometown crowd. It gets better. The CSB had two featured dancers playing the lead role of Clara. One (who performed at our show) was Hannah Zobel, a grade-10 student at Okanagan Mission Secondary School. The other was Kendra Haskett, a grade-11 student at Kelowna Secondary School. A weekend to remember for these young ladies.

Time for me to put all my fairy-tale cards on the table. After being on this planet for 60 years and one day, I had never seen The Nutcracker. That goes double for a ballet. All dancing – no dialogue. Ho ho ho. When strolling into the theatre, I was an open canvas ready to be enlightened with fancy footwork and folklore. Two hours later, I had visions of pirouettes, Snow Queens, and Mouse Kings dancing in my head.

Don’t ask me about specific dance numbers - I wouldn’t know a plié from a plea bargain. In my note-taking, I penned that the choreography was highly entertaining, the sets bright and cheerful, and the costumes colorful and crisp. There had to be some serious coin pumped into the skirts, tutus, tights, and props. You certainly can’t get all those on sale at the mall.

What struck me most was the power of the music. Credit to Tchaikovsky. Five minutes into Act I, a very familiar overture of his was pounding through the theatre’s sound system as the performers circled the stage. I couldn’t name that tune – but I’ve heard it a zillion times before. There were more familiar compositions emanating throughout the performance. Shoot, where’s a classical music teacher when you need one?

My favorites were the Russian Dance, Dance of the Candy Canes, Grande Pas, and Waltz of the Flowers. Somewhere in this mix the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier (prince) cavort together as a duo.

The Big Finish: They nailed it, just like the rest of the good-posture cast.

Danny Bhoy - Oct. 29, 2016

If laughter is indeed the best medicine, then a whole lot of folks were feeling a whole lot better after Saturday night’s “Just for Laughs” comedy twin bill at the Kelowna Community Theatre.

Headlining the evening was Scotsman Danny Bhoy, billed as the “Commonwealth Comedian” known for his observational storytelling and razor-sharp wit. This was his sixth tour of Canada (he loves Canada and apparently Canadian audiences love him!), and on this late October evening, this show was the final stop of his current tour. No rest for the weary. He was hysterically electric for 85 minutes, especially when spontaneously engaging audience members.

The opening act was equally talented and mega-funny Ivan Decker. This Vancouver native could be billed as one of the most clean-cut comedians on the planet – dark blazer, belted slacks, shined shoes, and a boy-next-door haircut right out of the Mormon playbook.

On this chilly pre-Halloween evening, the Kelowna Community Theatre was hot with anticipation. The giggle-fest was slated to start at 7:30 PM, but for some reason the inside doors didn’t open until 7:20. That left a major traffic jam in the front lobby. Nobody got out of sorts. Folks were jazzed about the show, and a few had come from as far away as Nelson, BC to take it in.

By the time Decker confidently took the stage, the hall was packed and attendees juiced. He launched right into a foray of fast-food follies and mysteries of the microwave. The crowd was eating it up and howls of delight were echoing fast and furious. By the time he ended his bit with the perils of juicer ownership, the audience was a slushy in his hands. Well played, voice of the millennial generation.

Bhoy introduced himself from off stage, in the dark. It was audacious – and set the tone for the saucy zingers and punchlines to come. Upon first hearing his voice, it sounded exactly like Scottish-American actor and television host Craig Ferguson. Hopefully that’s a compliment?

Bhoy’s chops took him all over the storytelling landscape. A sampling of his targets included Justin Trudeau (gushing praise), Brexit (not a fan), Canadian politeness, B.B. King, buying underpants, and men getting their manhood stuck in their zipper (ouch!). Through all of it the building was consistently loud and filled with guffaws at darn near every payoff line. Polished act. Reputation well-earned.

The Big Finish: I don’t believe anyone left KCT without a smile on their face or a favorite line stuck in their head. Bhoy was at his bhest when he easily could have mailed it in. Decker was a delight and might be headlining his own tour in the very near future. Too bad this touring tag-team is tapping out – I would highly recommend it to anyone who needs a healthy dose of laughter.

About Regular Guy Reviewer:

Regular Guy Reviewer is exactly as described – a regular guy who likes to go out for an evening and be entertained. Truth be told, he's never watched Annie on Broadway nor does he know all the songs in Fiddler on the Roof. But he knows what he likes and can describe it in a well-balanced and witty manner. If you're looking for a review for the everyman when it comes to concerts, shows and performances at the Kelowna Community Theatre, you've come to the right place.