Don Messer's Fiddle
Review by Treva McNally
Summerside really knows how to throw a party, and the Jubilee Theatre is a beautiful place to do it. Where else for opening night would all the theatre patrons be treated to fresh crepes with strawberries and cream prepared in the lobby by chefs from Seasons in Thyme? It was a lovely idea.
The occasion was the world premiere of Don Messer's Violin, starring Frank Leahy and featuring Don Messer's violin, given to Leahy by Messer's daughter. The premise for the show is a rehearsal for the first television taping and it is interspersed with scenes many years later of Don Messer watching television while Knowlton Nash is announcing that CBC has canceled the show. As we listen to Nash report how angry viewers are and that the cancellation it is being debated in Parliament, it made me wonder why CBC continues to tamper with shows which have achieved great popularity and loyalty, such as Don Messer's show or Compass, and then be surprised when viewer numbers are down. But I digress.
The show has all the people viewers loved on the old TV show-Don Messer, Marg Osburne, Charlie Chamberlain, the Islanders and the Buchta Dancers. Frank Leahy, who plays Don Messer, is an incredible violinist who has captured Don Messer's quiet personality and his perfectionism very well. Melodee Finlay really looks like Marg Osburne, and when she sings "Smile the While" with W.J. Matheson who plays Charlie Chamberlain, the memories of Marg and Charlie came flooding back.
Choreographer Jim White has assembled six very talented performers as the Buchta Dancers, and they almost steal the show. Christian Barry and Shawna Vanomme are standouts, both singing and dancing, in a troop which includes Kerry Gage, Melanie Phillipson, Jay Schramek and Brent Moss. The dancers' step dance numbers held the audience spellbound, and their multi-crinolined routines were so reminiscent of the original dancers.
Although the sets are minimal, it is a very attractive show. In the second act, Don Messer and his band are dressed in red tartan jackets and the dancers are very colourful. As they move into the Irish and Scottish medleys and then the barn dance numbers, the show really picks up speed.
There is a scene in the show where Duke Neilson (Randall Kempf) explains that although Don Messer and the members of his band were all accomplished musicians who could play any style music, Don would never let any other type of music be incorporated into his repertoire because it wasn't what the audience was expecting and he didn't want to disappoint his audience. It was a good practice because I expected the show to be nearly entirely traditional Don Messer music and I was a little disappointed that only part of it was. The other music is good but the Messer-style tunes were wildly applauded by the audience, giving me the feeling that perhaps some others wanted more too. If you closed your eyes when Frank Leahy plays Messer music, you would swear you were listening to the original. After you've heard the finale and encore of old Don Messer tunes and are walking out of the theatre, you know that Don Messer's violin is in good hands.