Two Short Reviews from The Blyth Festival: Mr. New Year’s Eve: A Night with Guy Lombardo and The Berlin Blues

by Lynn on August 2, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

In the beautifully renovated Blyth Memorial Community Hall

Mr. New Year’s Eve: A Night with Guy Lombardo

Written by David Scott
Directed by Gil Garratt
Musical Director, George Meanwell
Set and Projections by Beth Kates
Costumes by Gemma James Smith
Sound by Verne Good
Cast: Klaus Anselm
Rebecca Auerbach
Jason Chesworth
Nathan Howe
George Meanwell
J.D. Nicholsen
Birgitte Solem
James Thomson

A sweet play about a Canadian icon.

Guy Lombardo, from London, Ontario, was a Canadian icon. He loved music. Studied it. Practiced and eventually created a band of which he was the band leader. His brothers: Carmen, Lebert and Victor were also members of the band. Carmen was also a songwriter. Eventually the band grew and became the Royal Canadians. Lombardo and his orchestra played many dates in the States, most notably The Waldorf Astoria in New York City. They were most noted for their New Year’s Eve shows.

David Scott hits all the highlights and low points plus those in between in Guy Lombardo’s life. The play begins with us being told that Guy’s demanding father hit him over the head with his violin when he played a wrong note. Such bullying tactics are played out over Guy’s career. He was a dutiful son but it was never enough for his father who was also something of an amateur musician.

For all the information, the play seems a bit thin. We are told in Act I that Carmen wanted to write songs. But then that whole idea is dropped until Act II when we are told that in fact he did write a song with another songwriter. I thought more of a moment should have been made of the song he wrote and his abilities as a songwriter. It just seemed to go by unremarked.

Many of the cast also play instruments in Guy Lomardo’s orchestra in the play and they are terrific. Sophie Tucker (Rebecca Auerbach—great style and strong voice) makes an appearance with the orchestra but with practically nothing else to note her presence.

Ron Kennell plays Guy with an even disposition and a quiet duty as a son who never can do right by his stern father (Is that really George Meanwell with short hair playing the father?? Wonderful). Kennell has such charm as Guy, quiet, appealing and gets the girl in the end.

Gil Garratt directs with conviction and confidence. The scenes change with ease and the actors glide from character to orchestra musician without a hitch.

Presented by the Blyth Festival

Began: June 28, 2017.
Closes: Aug. 19, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours.

The Berlin Blues

Written by Drew Hayden Taylor
Directed by Brad Fraser
Choreographed by Megan Alfano
Set and costumes by Kelly Wolf
Lighting by Louise Guinand
Sound by Verne Good
Cast: Nyla Carpentier
Jonathan Fisher
Catherine Fitch
Nicole Joy-Fraser
Tony Munch
James Dallas Smith

A comedy that plays on stereotypes and is almost smarmy in its efforts to be funny.

Otter Lake is a small community with indigenous citizens. It’s visited by an aggressive group of Germans who want to create a Disney-like theme park called Ojibway World.
First Nations playwright Drew Hayden Taylor got the idea for the play when he toured Germany and realized that they had an obsession with North American First Nation Culture.

Everybody in the town it seems is employed by the conglomerate building the theme park, even Trailer, a First Nation with a glib joke about everything; who lives in his trailer and doesn’t do much other than that. And drop one-liners.

As the project gets bigger and bigger and generally out of hand when it comes to stereotyping everything it seems, from First Nation to Germans to even single women, more and more of the town’s folk begin backing away from it. Drastic changes happen to restore order.

Brad Fraser, a gifted playwright in his own right, directs this with his own sense of sophisticated humour. Drew Hayden Taylor’s humour, mainly through Trailer, just seems like cheesy stand-up and not really from a character. That said, it’s delivered with dead-pan aplomb by Jonathan Fisher as Trailer. Catherine Fitch plays a stern, brittle Birgit, a stereotypical German woman in charge of the project. Tony Munch as Reinhart has moments of warmth and self-deprecating humour.

As matters escalated from improbably incident to improbable incident, I just found the whole thing tedious, in spite of the herculean efforts of the cast and director.

Presented by the Blyth Festival

Began: July 5, 2017.
Closes: Aug. 19, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours.

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