Producer Jeff Parry's musical adaptation of a pair of books by author Martin Melhuish chronicling the history of Canada's music scene is a success in the making, judging by the reaction from a hyper-critical opening night audience of industry players and shakers at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto last night.
Wisely avoiding many of the over-played Canadian radio hits of the modern era, a seven-piece ensemble focused on hallmark songs, starting in the late '50s with Canadian teen star Paul Anka's smash hit "Diana" through to the early '90s and Tom Cochrane's "Life Is A Highway."
While the premise seemed sketchy at times, and on-stage opening night bravado was minimal, the audience was on its feet applauding Amy Bishop's powerful and unaffected performance of k.d. lang's benchmark cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and she earned instant applause with her note-perfect recreation of Anne Murray's soaring career-earning hit, "Snowbird."
The same can be said of Jaren Cerf's tribute to Joni Mitchell, Peter Grant's Lightfoot and Kit Johnson's Neil Young. David Michael Moote hit a home run with the audience last night as well when he barrel-housed through Hank Snow's US number-one hit, "I've Been Everywhere."
Judging from pre-show banter, the audience attending last night was skeptical whether a musical parading a collection of Canadian songs on stage could win them over, but the thoughtfully selected repertoire clearly resonated with those attending, and the ensemble cast took turns stirring inner emotions with performances that more than did justice to songs that are part of our national psyche.
It is a show that needs more production values and perhaps needed to be put through its paces in smaller venues before landing in such a conspicuous setting. That said, the audience was on its feet demanding an encore and Trooper's "We're Here For A Good Time" was the perfect choice as it melted any inhibitions this button-down collared crowd had. The troupe then launched into the show's title song (with Crowbar in the audience), and by the time they reprised with Neil Young's "Rockin' In the Free World" the house was on its feet letting its appreciation be known. They were, after all, there for a good time—and what they wished for was delivered with oh, such unreserved feeling!