Huron County Playhouse Presents BIG BAND LEGENDS Thru 7/14
Start spreading the news! Big Band Legends, a dazzling new production that honors the great crooners and songbirds from Bing Crosby to Michael Bublé, is entertaining theatregoers of all ages at the Huron Country Playhouse through July 14th.
“Audiences are definitely in for a real treat,” says Artistic Director Alex Mustakas. “Big Band Legends is chock full of chart-topping hits from past to present, and the talent on stage is extraordinary.”
Backed by an all-star orchestra, this fun-filled musical extravaganza features a hit parade of songs from such icons as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney to Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond and Bobby Darin, along with Harry Connick, Jr. and more.
As the Creator and Director of this Canadian premiere, Alex Mustakas has assembled a stellar group of performers and top-notch musicians to breathe new life into the big band hits. He does an exemplary job of integrating the elements of music, dance, comedy, and visual effects to create a stunning spectacle that will have audiences singing their way out of the theatre.
Mustakas gives each artist a special moment to shine and the great musical songbirds of the past eighty years are represented by Canada’s own enchanting trio, The Mantini Sisters. Sandra, Barbara and Ann Mantini showcase fantastic harmonies covering such big band classics as The Boswell Sisters’ “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” The Andrews Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,” and The Maguire Sisters’ “Sugartime.”
The Mantinis are equally strong individually. Ann Mantini channels Doris Day in “Que Sera Sera” and Vera Lynn in “We’ll Meet Again”, while Barbara Mantini is suitably sassy in Helen Ward’s “Goody Goody” and Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” Sandra Mantini delivers a playful version of Sarah Vaughn’s “Lullaby of Birdland” and a heartfelt rendition of Connie Francis’ “Where The Boys Are.”
Numerous beloved crooners from the early years of jazz and big band through the popular music of today are embodied by a dynamic group of male performers. Harry Connick Jr.’s “It Had To Be You,” is delivered by the vocal prowess of 20-year old newcomer Michael Vanhevel, who continues to wow the audience with Frank Sinatra’s hits “I’ve Got The World On A String,” and “Fly Me To The Moon.” A native of Grand Bend, Mustakas first discovered the young singer on YouTube when Vanhevel posted videos of himself singing various Sinatra tunes.
Adding ample humour to this upbeat production is Canadian song and dance man, Eddie Glen. An audience favourite, Glen demonstrates remarkable versatility in Big Band Legends and his comedic timing is spot-on. Glen often has the audience in stitches, especially performing Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” and Danny Kaye’s comic tune, “Tongue Twisters.”
Seasoned crooner Michael Killinger stands out in Bing Crosby’s “Learn To Croon” at the very top of the production, setting the appropriate tone for what is to come. His interpretations of “Don’t Fence Me In,” Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo” and Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You” are spot on. In addition to charming theatregoers, Killinger is credited for compiling the song medleys for Big Band Legends.
When Vanhevel, Glen and Killinger effortlessly croon together during a triple play of Bobby Darin’s hit songs “Mack the Knife,” “Dream Lover” and “Beyond the Sea,” the result is magical. The final set, a musical medley honoring the ‘Chairman of the Board’, Frank Sinatra, encapsulates the charisma and sheer enthusiasm that sustains the entire production.
While Big Band Legends is a celebration of music, it also boasts captivating dance routines. Kimberly O’Neill and Jesse Weafer show off impeccable timing and graceful transitions in the unique medley “Come Dance/ Fly With Me”. Their skill clearly shines in a sizzling mambo performance in the Italian Crooners and Songbird section, among many other numbers. Audiences may recognize O’Neill from Dance Legends and Weafer as a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Weafer also displays a fine singing voice in the second act tribute to guy groups as part of a quartet with Eddie Glen, Michael Killinger and Michael Vanhevel.
Distinguished composer, arranger and conductor Howard Cable has masterfully created the orchestrations and vocal arrangements for the production, which includes over seventy songs.
A Member of the Order of Canada, Mr. Cable also received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in a recent ceremony at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.
Big Band Legends is an innovative production that also pays tribute to World War II veterans in a unique segment that salutes the Canadian Forces with a medley of songs from the Department of National Defense Entertainment Shows for The Navy, The Army, and The Air Force. Grand Bend audiences have the rare opportunity to hear the music that was integral in three Canadian Services Shows: “Meet the Navy”, “The Army Show with Wayne and Shuster”, and the “RCAF Captains of The Clouds”.
This incredible musical extravaganza must also be partly attributed to the expert nine-piece live band, under the guidance of Music Director Elizabeth Baird. The talented “big band” includes Baird on keyboard, Kevin Dempsey on drums, Dave Dunlop on Trumpet, Peter Hysen on Trombone, Matthew Lima on bass, and Pol Coussée, Vern Dorge, Paul Pacanowski and Barry Usher on Reed instruments.
Choreographer Gino Berti has done an outstanding job creating an alluring display of dance sequences that highlight the signature style of each song medley.
The effective Set Design by Simon Day, complementary Lighting Design by Kevin Fraser,
eye-catching and era-appropriate Costume Design by Nicole Del Cul convey a whimsical spirit for this production, together with Visual Elements by Dan Payne.
Big Band Legends is the fifth instalment in the wildly popular ‘Legends’ series created by Mustakas. The series began in 2006 with the smash-hit Twist and Shout: The British Invasion, one of the most successful productions in the company’s history. After Twist and Shout: The British Invasion, other ‘Legends’ shows Legends, Country Legends and Dance Legends all followed suit with critical acclaim and record-breaking ticket sales. Big Band Legends is poised for the same success.
“Many patrons have commented to me that the shows in the ‘Legends’ series remain their all-time favourite productions,” says Mustakas. “Big Band Legends promises to meet very high expectations and the music is really infectious.”
Big Band Legends is proudly sponsored by Geo Teck Heating & Cooling Solutions. Media Sponsors are AM 980 and The London Free Press. The Design Sponsor is Burnside. The Orchestra Sponsor is Music Plus Corporation.
Big Band Legends plays eight shows a week through July 14th. Tickets can be purchased online at www.huroncountryplayhouse.com, in person at the Huron Country Playhouse Box Office, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-drayton (372-9866).