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Homespun Fun

Kitchen Cabaret

Review by Hilary Prince

For a fun-filled, family evening of music, story, and song, Margie Carmichael and Mark Haines entertain at the Kings Playhouse, Georgetown from July to September.

These two well-known singer-songwriter-musicians offer a fresh, humourous, and exciting evening that appeals to all ages right down to tiny tots who can dance in the aisles and challenge the champions in a newly invented, still secret Island game...the potato joust. Children of all ages are encouraged to meet the Mount Stewart Masher (a.k.a. Margie) and the Fortune Flyer (a.k.a. Mark) in a duel using "lethal" spoons as weapons. Children outwit the professionals every time. There's even a prize.

Mark Haines, on fiddle and guitar (usually partnered with Tom Leighton) teams up well with Margie Carmichael on guitar, piano, and bodhran. Both entertainers delight audiences with their own songs, some from Mark's and Tom's new CD, Hand to Hand as well as favourites from Margie's albums, including the ever-popular, "Red dirt road."

The two entertainers instruct the audience in the difference between a gig and a reel, as well as a musical demonstration of the "bloodlines of a tune" which may fascinate young musicians. There is a song about St. Anne's Reel, another wondering "How in the name of God do you become an Islander?" as well as The Old Soldier's Tale (Haines) and a charming Quebecois duet, to name only a few.

Mark's extraordinary fiddle playing and wonderful voice, Margie's instrumentals, story-telling, humour and voice, their combined song-writing talents and special attention to children in the audience make for a happy, relaxing, fast-paced evening that is ideal for Celtic and folk fans of all ages.

Shindig Jazz

The Thom's Experiment

by Hilary Prince

The Thoms' Experiment is a must for jazz buffs this summer. Ian Thoms on guitar, Chris Driscoll on drums, and Patrick Reid on upright bass played at the Lobster Trap, Shaws Hotel last month and give ongoing performances as part of the City Stages Festival on Victoria Row and Peakes Quay where you can catch Ian on Tuesdays to Sundays, 7:30 to l0:00 pm, Victoria Row, and Chris on Thursdays through Sundays, 5:00 to 7:15, Victoria Row, and Pat and Chris, Mondays 7:30 to 10:00, Victoria Row. Check the newspaper for Peakes Quay events.

A recent graduate from McGill with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance, Ian put the trio together and credits former Queen Charlotte teachers Rowan Fitzgerald and Roger Jabbour for his enthusiasm and commitment, especially to jazz. "We had a lot of support from the school system," Ian, who also has math teaching aspirations explains. Chris and Pat who continue their music degree at McGill in the fall agree. "There is a lot of interest in jazz," Ian added. "We're trying to tap into the jazz scene."

This young, already extremely accomplished trio should have no trouble accomplishing their goals. They are dedicated, well-trained, and above all enthusiastic about jazz. Don't miss at least one performance; you'll want to go back for more.

Comedy of a Certain Age

Menopositive The Musical

by Hilary Prince

How about hormone replacement therapy to flamenco music? Want to know the secret of keeping your man despite a sagging body and hot flashes? Would you believe parsley? Did you doubt women “of a certain age” can vamp, sing, dance, act, fool around with the energy of teenagers at a rage? Not if you’ve seen Menopositive The Musical, a delightful hit comedy extraordinarily well acted and directed, which opened to a large and appreciative audience at the Victoria Playhouse Festival September 19.

Directed by Marlane O’Brien, J.J. McColl’s Menopositive The Musical was presented by One Ear Up Productions. It takes us on an hilarious adventure to the 35th high school reunion of four women “of a certain age” who meet for the first time since graduation night. The show previously played to sold-out theatres during numerous tours throughout B.C. and Saskatoon.

The amazingly talented and accomplished cast, well known to Islanders, included Pam Stevenson, Marlane O’Brien (alternate, Judi McLaren), Virginia O’Brien, and Catherine McKinnon. Perry Neatby supplied the musical accompaniment on electric piano with great flair.

Catherine McKinnon gives a consummate performance as Zsu Zsu, a character modeled on Zsa Zsa (you know who) taking us through a range of emotions that leaves us gasping for air. Unjustly described (she’s pretty glamourous) as a Queen-size waterbed mattress and a Psychic Hungarian Pumpkin, Zsu Zsu proves to be the eternal optimist as she keeps the reunion revue show on the road. She reduces us to tears of laughter and sadness as she alternatively revs up “the girls” and confesses her vulnerability and fears. A delightfully lovable character.

Marlane O’Brien is utterly convincing as the high-powered, 53-year-old business woman, commuting from coast to coast, arranging rendez-vous with her long-time lover and, unknowingly, the husband of one of the revue’s cast. She leaves her 21-year-old personal trainer, Harley-riding Buddhist other lover at home. Gymnastics and yoga must also be part of her accomplishments, she is so physically fluid.

Playwright Pam Stevenson (The Haunting of Reverend Hornsmith) plays Kate, single mother of a 30-odd-year-old son who just left home—a blessing in disguise as she finds out. Pam gives a truly hilarious performance especially as the frost-bitten 92-year-old in the reunion’s revue who feels “twenty-two inside.”

Virginia O’Brien plays Cynthia, a “Typical housewife” who never wins with her faithless husband no matter how she tries. Her former classmates finally help her discover she is a wonderful person anyway and she dances a titillating, raunchy number that leaves no doubt about her sexual attraction.

This play is much more than an entertaining musical, it is an insight into the joys, sorrows, frustrations, and delightful discoveries of aging. These four women bring magic to the production.

Life and Death on the Farm

Raining Cats & Daughters

Review by Hilary Prince

Margie Carmichael’s first play, Raining Cats & Daughters, opened with 10 performances in Nova Scotia and a single performance at Georgetown’s King’s Playhouse, PEI, to a packed house that brought the audience to its feet with calls for “author, author.”

This is a play “about death” according to Carmichael. However, it is also a play about family life—with all its raw, emotional dynamics, its warmth, and wonder—which takes place on a typical PEI farm. Its universal theme and brilliantly conceived script could undoubtedly take this play anywhere as audiences observe the foibles and weaknesses of our all too human condition.

The play’s MacDonald farm family, neighbours, aging bachelor brothers Bill and Bert, and rock solid Flora Hill, could be members of a rural community anywhere in North America although they are also unmistakably “Island.” Their everyday lives come spiced with wit, humour, and, at times, vicious barbs that keep the audience laughing and applauding as they recognize their own vulnerability in the characters.

Sixty-five year old George MacDonald, (Robert Seale) yearns for his Ontario-based vegetarian daughter Molly (Stacy Smith) to come home and “build a little house down the road” so that one day she will inherit her share and work alongside Kate, (Kiersten Tough) the daughter who already manages the farm and their stubborn, ailing father.

Molly arrives with her own emotional baggage to pay a belated birthday visit to Dad but really to borrow money to prop up her drought-stricken organic farm. Kate deeply resents the apparent favouritism Molly enjoys and sparks fly as old resentments and hurts surface, tempered by the kindly and wise Flora, who helped raise the girls for widowed George.

Family arguments ring true. Frustrations and anger mixed with love and caring towards those who share blood but seldom much else, let alone world views, are brilliantly portrayed by Carmichael’s characters.

Hilarious performances are given by Bill, played by Craig Wood, who was recently featured as vocalist and musician with the Don Messer’s Jubilee show in Summerside, and his brother Bert, played by David McClelland, last seen as Grandma in The Maritime Way of Life. The play then takes on a sombre mood with the sudden death of farmer George.

Inevitably pettiness and misunderstandings give way to compassion and caring. Despite the sombre occasion hilarity abounds, provided ingenously by Bill and Bert. They proudly offer bologna quiche to the family at the wake and “enjoy” planning who will die first as they keep overnight vigil beside George’s casket, which by this time contains a little bit of red earth and a dead mouse to ensure its safe return to its Maker.

Directed superbly by Mary-Colin Chisholm, also an actor and author with a string of credits to her name, Raining Cats & Daughters brings to the stage a cast of illustrious actors. Their impressive credits include theatre, television, and movies—performances with Mulgrave Road Theatre, Neptune Theatre, Theatre New Brunswick, and the Atlantic , Toronto, and Vancouver film festivals. Hats off to the productions crew—stage manager, technical director/lighting designer, costume designer, and set designer of duct tape fame.

Let’s hope this play returns to PEI for a long run. My traveling companion declared he had never seen anything better on Broadway and he would have “walked all the way to Georgetown” to see it. He wouldn’t have been alone.


Ireland Meets Scotland

Review by Hilary Prince

The Celtic music and dance show, Ireland Meets Scotland, written and produced by Kevin Jeffrey, played at the BIS and Orwell Corner all summer. This "Celtic Fiddle & Dance Show" takes us back in time to Ireland in 1689 when Protestant forces landed in the north to subdue the Catholic forces of James II.

The Jeffrey twins, Colin and Tristan, set the scene with poignant fiddle playing as their father, Kevin, narrates W.B. Yates' poem, "The Fiddler of Dooney." They help us imagine the wild, lonely hills of Scotland's west coast, the deserted beaches and glens in a time of turbulence and fear.

After the 1745 rebellion, when Bonnie Prince Charlie suffered defeat at the infamous battle of Culloden, Scots were robbed of their culture. In the show this is where 11 year-old Brittany Banks performs the "Sky Boat Song" in a pure, clear voice. Already an accomplished performer, at ease on stage as she goes from song to step dancing to Highland dance, this young lady also shows her athletic ability, a necessary skill in Highland dance that until the turn of the last century was the province of men only.

If the first half of the show reflected the sadness of rebellion and defeat the second half is filled with wit, fun, and humour as "the immigrants" board ship for new horizons.

Marlys Hamilton, senior dancer, gives a truly professional performance-alone and with the young dance members. Marlys also performs extremely well on bodhran.

Amanda Mark, a classically trained flute player, equally adept on guitar and other instruments, is a member of the PEI Symphony. She teaches music privately and in the PEI public school system.

Already well trained and at ease on stage, 8 year-old Gwyneth, daughter of Nan (the show's "much appreciated stage manager and moral support") and Kevin, delights the audience and in the final scenes steals the show.

Colin and Tristan, already accomplished, mature performers are in their final year of Memorial University's music programme. One suspects that other musical challenges might appeal when plans for next season roll around. Let us hope they will find time for some Island performances otherwise they would be greatly missed.

Putting on a Show


Review by Hilary Prince

For a unique musical experience no need to visit the Grand Ole Opry, the Caribbean, or a jazz club in New Orleans. The newly formed show band, Westmoreland, performing until the end of August at The Millstream Barn, Brackley, has it all. Their fast-paced, high octane, theme-oriented performance covers a wide range including Path of the Hurricane: A Carribean Country Celtic Cruise, Jazz & Cocktails, Opry North, and Home and Away, the latter a celebration of the Maritimes through music and stories.

Westmoreland features Marlane O'Brien, well known for her Patsy Cline interpretations (A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, Charlottetown Festival) and sister Virginia O'Brien, a Southern Ontario native, who authored and starred in Patsy Cline: The Sweet Dream Fantasy Tour. Completing the female vocal trio, Judi McLaren, belts out "Cowgirl Boogie" in a high-energy performance that adds zest and spice to an exciting evening filled with colour and vitality.

Guitarist Gordon Belsher adds his own particular brand of humour with an anecdote of a never-to-be forgotten ride on the Shetland Islands ferry.

Jon Rehder, songwriter and bass player extraordinaire, treated the audience to an amusing rendition of his own work, the raunchy "Single Man" inspired by a visit to a Montreal bar where unfortunately for him the women were "too pretty, too much, and too young."

Reg Ballagh, drummer, clowns across the stage, long grey hair and beard flying, dancing and drumming with the air of an animated marionette-a great performer with sticks and feet.

On keyboard, Megan Bergeron (daughter of Hélène of Barachois fame) shows great musical skill and charm. Her quiet, demure appearance is enchanting and her own composition, as yet untitled, is hauntingly reminiscent of tranquil beaches and ancient landscapes.

Westmoreland have outdone themselves with highly imaginative, extensive costume changes. Their amazing talent and combined sixty years of entertainment experience makes this group unique. If you missed them at the Crapaud Exhibition, they perform every Wednesday in August at The Millstream Barn, Brackley, and at the Delta Prince Edward Hotel, Charlottetown.

Spirits at Play

A Musical Tribute to L. M. Montgomery

Review by Hilary Prince

Hank Stinson, playwright and composer, and Heidi Jury-Giles, on piano and keyboard, present A Musical Tribute to L.M. Montgomery, at 8 pm every Thursday, until August 30, at Orwell Corner where there is absolutely no doubt Lucy Maud's spirit is alive and well, inspiring and nourishing the amazingly fruitful creativity of so many who live on her beloved Island.

After invoking her guiding spirit Hank and Heidi take us through an enchanting musical revue of Lucy Maud's novels Blue Castles, Emily of New Moon, and Rainbow Valley. They help us see the world through the eyes of wise children and, disarmed by their charm, some compassionate adults. The pomposity of stuffy adults as observed by Emily as she sees the similarity between fussy, strutting chickens and some people in her community is hilariously interpreted by Hank in "The Chicken Song" and would be particularly appealing to children as well as adults, stuffy or otherwise. Hank wrote the lyrics to all the songs in this production.

Together Hank and Heidi, especially in their duets, transport us to another, gentler world where Lucy Maud's characters help us see beyond the surface of things to magical landscapes where trees and the wind talk to us in a language that soothes and delights. Heidi's interpretation on keyboard of "The Wind Woman Song" spirits us away to another, peaceful place. Her clear, pure voice is a joy.

In narrative, song, and dance, Hank introduces us to favourite characters from the three novels. Cousin Jimmy Murray, from Emily, the ill-used Mary Vance from Rainbow Valley, and the imaginative Valancy Sterling from Blue Castles come alive.

Hank succeeds in his endeavour to bring insight into the relationship between the Island and the creative process. He conveys the idea that there are indeed special spirits at work on PEI. The evidence is in this enjoyable, entertaining, and informative presentation which makes us want to renew our acquaintance with all of Lucy Maud's characters and the special, compelling charm of PEI.

Dean Bury and Helen MacRae collaborated on the production and Hank acknowledged them with gratitude. Hank and Heidi with the help some members of the audience served lemonade and home-made cookies during the short interval. I highly recommend this Musical Tribute to L.M. Montgomery, suitable for children and adults alike.

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