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Amazing Gracie

Review by Treva McNally

Gracie Fields was born in 1898 in England and she was a recording star, a film star, and at one time the highest paid entertainer in the world. However, she is unknown to most people born after 1950. Fortunately, Pamela Campbell and Nancy Beck have chosen to reintroduce her in their new show, "Amazing Gracie" playing every Saturday until August 30 at the Arts Guild. The show is a collection of Nancy and Pam's favourite Gracie songs, interspersed with the story of her life and career.

It is a small cast-just Nancy Beck, Pamela Campbell, and pianist Andrew Zinck-but the result is much larger. A full house was on hand for the opening night of "Amazing Gracie" at the Arts Guild, and the audience was treated to a selection of music that ranged from funny music hall tunes to old favourites which many were unaware had been her songs, such as "When I Grow Too Old to Dream" and "Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye." Andrew Zinck arranged the music and began each act with an overture, as well as accompanying Campbell and Beck on the piano.

Beck and Campbell make good use of props and costumes throughout the show. A huge harp made out of swimming noodles for the song "I Took My Harp to a Party" was hilarious, and a bagpipe made out of tartan and bamboo canes for "Grandfather's Bagpipes" resulted in more laughter. For the costumes, they gave credit to Froggies, Value Village and the dollar stores, but it was their wild imaginations that created the often zany costumes highlighting the songs.

The sentimental wartime tunes resulted in a quiet buzz in the audience whenever Pam or Nancy were singing them. It took a while to determine that the buzz was the sound of many older people in the audience being unable to refrain from mouthing the words or quietly humming the melody to songs that had been so meaningful to them more than half a century ago. Nancy told the story of Gracie performing for the troops in the Pacific near the end of World War II when word was received of the Japanese surrender. Immediately following the announcement, the Commanding Officer asked her to sing the Lord's Prayer, and all 20,000 men removed their hats and bowed their heads. Gracie said this was the most memorable performance of her career. Then, when Pam Campbell sang the song, the same hush fell over the audience.

The show is reminiscent of the old Carol Burnett Show on television. It is a mixture of comedy and pathos, stories, characters and songs. Nancy Beck and Pam Campbell are both very funny, capable of many characterizations, and are good singers. The resulting show is a very pleasant evening of entertainment.

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