Saturday, July 31, 2010

Celebrating Dave Broadfoot, Nine Years Later

from the archives of “The Muskoka Times”
by Helen Heubi

“Dave Broadfoot’s First Farewell Tour” stopped for three sold-out performances August 30 and 31 at the Gravenhurst Opera House near the end of the Straw Hat Festival of 2001.

This was not the first time that the Dean of Canadian comedy has trod our boards, and we may hope it is not the last. I have muzzy memories of him in earlier Straw Hat days, about the era of the Davis family, Barbara Hamilton and Charmion King, to mention a sparkle of the outstanding theatre folk steeped in the Muskoka tradition.

Oddly enough there was a moment when a lock of my hair near the back of my crown lifted, as if some other personality were also haunting the place, the better to see how Dave is working the audience in 2001, some fifty years after first appearing here.

“He sneaks up on you,” remarked one fan. A master of timing, Dave also manages to be always a heartbeat ahead, still checking our reflexes. “Am I speaking too quickly?”

Another signature jibe, in the middle of a  diatribe, “Am I touching a nerve?”

That’s the whole idea. Dave’s got an irreverent finger on the pulse of Canada and of an audience. This “old dog”, as he calls himself at 75, is always teaching himself, and us, new tricks. For half a century he has been constantly refining his unique vision of our country and its world.

“I think of Gravenhurst as the gateway to -- Bala!” may touch a nerve -- the one on the funny-bone.

A ticket to a Broadfoot show entitles us to what amounts to a three-ringed circus. At centre stage: one spry commentator on our life and times, who has us laughing before we know it at very unamusing topics, like pollution.

Stage right: a parade of real-life animals, notably our politicians, expertly caricatured.

State left: Dave’s own creations -- characters so numerous that he can afford to be selective in customizing each show, and fine-tuning to each audience. The line-up in the current  show includes the fuzzy-minded hockey player, Big Bobby Clobber; the sharp TV evangelist who’ll made sure of your credit card number; the memory expert who plaintively inquires of us, the audience, whether we’ve seen a set of keys. Heroic Sergeant-Major Renfrew of the Mounties copes with California, while, back home, homeless Bartholomew X can’t wait to get deported so he can see the world.

Probably by popular request (or did I strike a nerve complaining that the MP from Kicking Horse Pass was missing from the 2000 show?) the cowboy-hatted parliamentarian was back. You’d never know he’d been in mothballs.

After the warm standing ovation of Dave’s opening performance, a few of us matinée types trickled down to the Trillium Room in hopes of the artist coming out to sign videos, which he graciously did. After a short old home week with a long-time fan from the Beaches and earlier days, Dave was on to preparations for the night’s performance.

And I was out into the sunlight, wondering how I would recreate this delightful afternoon beyond writing, “Wunnerful!” all over the page -- shades of this Canadian icon’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1955.

“We grew up with him,” said one of a group lingering outside. “His timing was always impeccable,” she added. “I thought it couldn’t be improved, but in this show it’s the best ever.”

“But does anyone else know him besides our generation?” piped up an anxious voice. I rather thought so, according to my impromptu survey at the hair stylist’s the day before.

“Hang on a moment, and we’ll see,” I said, and asked two passers-by to help us out. The teenager admitted ignorance, then looked toward her mother as to an oracle. Mother, who didn’t look old enough to have a teenaged daughter, had been waiting with an indulgent smile to settle the matter beyond all doubt.

“Dave Broadfoot,” she pronounced slowly and clearly for us all to hear, “Is the quintessential Canadian comedian.”

Posted in "The Muskoka Times" Sept. 7, 2001

Scroll down to see more reviews of the 2010 Summer, and earlier Seasons

Click on the link below to view future shows.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dinner Theatre with "Pools Paradise"


“Every bell in my belfry is cracked,” complains the Rev. Mr. Lionel Toop early in Act One of “Pools Paradise”, and the stage is set for whacky doings in the vicarage. The same vicarage was the scene of Philip King’s 1945 hit play, “See How They Run”, also inhabited by the same couple - Lionel and Penelope, and occasionally dusted by the same excitable maid, Ida.  

The vicar makes his first entrance with all the dignity that he can summon up, while surrounded by levity and silliness. His wife, a former actress, cannot curb her gift for barbed repartee and her sense of the ridiculous. The maid keeps popping in and out, babbling excitedly about ships coming in. The vicar, exasperated by the frivolity around him, welcomes with temporary relief the arrival of a humourless pillar of the church - the inevitable local spinster. All too soon it is the vicar who will embody the ridiculous - but that is enough from me. Too many further hints of the action to come would spoil the suspense. I can give only a few pencil strokes.

Expect to hear a creative clutch of sound effects - telephones and alarm clocks being mistaken for each other by the characters, with comic  effect, and every degree of decibels from a genteel doorbell buzz to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. Afficionados of the British vicarage farce will not be surprised to see people disappearing into closets, rushing madly in and out, chasing and evading each other and appearing in all kinds of disguises, in a complicated plot that you really don’t need to fathom very deeply.

Not to worry. In Act Three, Mrs. Toop’s uncle, the Bishop of Lax,  appears when everything has gone totally out of control. It is time for this august and kindly figure to save the day, like the British cavalry or the American Marines. He has to go through some amazing new experiences for a bishop before the rescue is complete.

The audience is just along for the comedic ride, having fun, as the actors of the Dragonfly Theatre Company do, under the direction of Pru Davidson.

The show opened on Tuesday 27 July in the Trillium Court of the Gravenhurst Opera House, continues for two more evenings this week, and returns August 3-5 and 10-14. Doors open at 5.30 pm and a mouth-watering dinner is served from 6 pm. Either the beef or the salmon by Riverwalk have been highly recommended by more than satisfied audience members. The show follows the meal.

Scroll down to read reviews of earlier shows.
To see future attractions, click below
on the Gravenhurst Opera House Site:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dick Hyman and Peter Appleyard

by Helen Heubi
with Sharon Acker

We filled the Gravenhurst Opera House on the evening of Monday 26 July 2010 to hear Peter Appleyard and Dick Hyman weave their magic from piano and vibraphone. Overhead a full moon shone, as in the film “Moonstruck” scored by Hyman.

Inside, the 109-year-old rafters rang as never before to splendiferous, expansive sound, and we were moonstruck all over again. Two octojazzarian legends held us in their hands, from the moment “Ragtime Jack” Hutton strolled out on the stage to introduce them, right through to the final two standing ovations.

The air was euphoric, as airs floated, flowed and strode, igniting places of memory in each one of us. Every piece felt personal. We were embraced, enticed and awed from moment to moment.

Peter Appleyard spells out a myriad of notes from two mallets. Dick Hyman has an orchestra in his fingers on the Steinway keyboard. There were moments when I almost imagined hearing brasses, and others when I heard woodwinds in behind the piano sound.

Delighted, my companion said, “They’re like boys jumping big stones across a stream, then skipping little ones, having such fun.” The distinguished, silver-crowned and dapper duo exude energy and charm in their elegant navy blazers with camel slacks. Dick’s tie was red, while Peter’s was yellow. Even more charming were the anecdotes between numbers, delicious memories of meeting the Beatles and Fats Waller. We were drawn in by shared stories.

The combination of piano and vibraphone was beyond belief. Imagine, if you will, two galaxies merging, interweaving, sparking off each other, from intimate meetings of small ornaments to broad creations of near cosmic grandeur. We enjoyed the heritage of two lifetimes and beyond, for our great musicians of today stand on the mighty shoulders of other past and living legends.

The program opened with Oscar Peterson’s “On Green Dolphin Street”, then his “Cool Walk”, followed by three of Cole Porter’s greatest: “Love for Sale”, “You are Everything” and “Heat Wave”.

“Tico Tico”, à la Carmen Miranda, followed “Something” by the Beatles. Then came three gems from Fats Waller: “Ain’t Misbehavin”, Honeysuckle Rose and the glittering “Jitterbug Waltz”, with puckish punctuation as the musicians added well-tuned “blips” to each others’ solos. Waller’s compositions had the occasional Chopin-like moment, I noticed.

The landscape of Scot Joplin is all his own, from delicate femininity in “Heliotrope” (a Hyman solo) to manly stride sequences. After “Solace” we heard a Slow March, which sounded like a lazy march powered by barely contained energy, and seemed to be telling one of those Joplin stories.

Peter Appleyard brought out four mallets for his solo tribute to “Twilight World” by another jazz legend, Marian McPartland. If our two performers that night have been called Octojazzarians, then she is a Nonojazzarian, still active.

Then came the strong duo manifesto of Peterson’s magnificent “Hymn to Freedom”, and we knew the concert was coiling its energies to wind them up. 

Peter Appleyard announced what was to be the final number as an arrangement for twelve fingers - “Dick’s ten and my two”, whereupon he moved over from the vibraphone to the treble end of the Steinway. I muttered to my companion that “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the “Flight of the Bumblebee” seemed to have joined forces. “Yes, she’s got a bee in her bonnet,” said Sharon.

After the standing ovation, we were treated to Benny Goodman’s “Airmail Special”. Another standing O was inevitable.

Usually when I review a  memorable concert, I start out wondering how I’m going to find the words for this experience. I could simply write “Wonderful” a thousand times on a blank page, but that wouldn’t be fair to my readers. All the same, to honour properly last night’s event, I’m allowing three of these words to spill over.

Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful.

The performers' links:

To see what's to come at the Gravenhurst Opera House:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Alfie Zappacosta, Contemporary Minstrel


by Helen  Heubi

Hear singer song-writer Alfie Zappacosta once, and chances are you’ll want to chance more of his romance. This was evident at the Gravenhurst Opera House on the evening of Wednesday 14 July. From the opening chords on Alfie’s guitar, audience members recognized songs they knew, and applauded in warm anticipation. They had experienced this music and artist before, and so they already knew that you never know what nuances, colours and fireworks he will invest in any particular composition of his, any time. On Wednesday evening, the mood, announced by Alfie at the beginning, was romantic.

Colour comes first to mind as I revisit last night’s performance, from the subtlest tones of guitar, viola, accordion, keyboards and voice to rich tapestries of melody interwoven by rhythm, to rhapsodic explosions of high intensity. Half the time I didn’t know where the three musicians on stage were going with their improvisations, and even then, it didn’t matter. That, according to keyboard virtuoso Ross Wooldrige, is Alfie’s intention - to send spirits floating on a plane of infinite possibilities.

Claudio Vena’s viola was a perfect voice to work intricate patterns with Alfie Zappacosta’s amazing instrument - his flexible voice with its wide range in pitch and flavours.

The Zappacosta voice is probably what singing teachers have in mind when they try to get pupils to realize. “Your voice isn’t just a voice; it’s your instrument.” Alfie Zappacosta’s 1984 Juno award recognized him as “Most Promising Male Vocalist”. Another Juno in 1988 was for the "Album of The Year".

During a career of more than 30 years, and still going strong, Zappacosta has been known as “rock to some, smooth to others, AC to many. Alfie is established enough that he's just Alfie - an incredibly gifted talent beyond any genre tag”, to quote his website, which continues: “In 1995, Zappacosta left his pop stardom behind to pursue a more intimate style of writing and performing. 

“The roots of his new sound started when Zappacosta began playing solo before crowds at a Toronto club. Playing only guitar, he explored new harmonies and melodies, later combining rootsy elements such as harmonica and accordion, which eventually manifested itself in a contemporary Jazz/AC sound.” 

Zappacosta derives his own creations from a deep well of invention that is as personal as it is universal. The concert in Gravenhurst was one of many based entirely on his own compositions, like “Passion”, “When I Fall in Love Again” and my personal favourite “Adelina”. Some of his hits are collaborations. “Nothing Could Stand in Your Way”, which he sang last night, was written with David Foster.

His American Music Award is for contribuing “Overload” to “Dirty Dancing”. He has played the lead in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Che Guevara in “Evita” and the lead in “Hair”. He has several films to his credit, has performed for troops in Afghanistan and added his voice to the African famine relief project “Tears Are Not Enough”. Even this brief list cannot encapsulate the Alfie who appeared on the Gravenhurst Opera House Stage.

The poet, composer, musician and singer has written, “I wanted to get back into a form of music that I knew I was not only capable of doing but also a style of music that would fulfill me both artistically and spiritually. I realized that chasing down fads is really a losing proposition.”

This courageous manifesto works for Alfie Zappacosta, and worked on stage and for the audience of the Gravenhurst Opera House on Wednesday evening. I want him back, so that I and my friends can experience anew the magic that he and his colleagues weave out of the air together.

For more on this artist, with list of his CD’s, see his website:
A reminder of the Gravenhurst Opera House link:

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Since the Staw Hat Players' 1949 production of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" no other performance has compared with it for me - until the summer of 2001, when former members of the troupe returned to the Gravenhurst Opera House with the same play. For me, the acid test of any performance of "Hay Fever" is the final few second of Act One. It's all about tea cups.

Here is my review of the 2001 show, ably edited by the late Doug Specht, and published in "The Muskoka Times". Click once to reveal the link that will take you to a scanned copy from the online edition :
Just in case that doesn't work, here is my re-typed copy:

The opening of the 2001 Straw Hat Festival on Tuesday was a special event in the life of the 100-year-old Gravenhurst Opera House. Former Straw Hat Player Ted Follows has returned, along with seven other members of his own theatrically gifted family, plus Robin Craig, in a freshly reminiscent revival of Noel Coward’s 1924 comedy, “Hay Fever”.
Fifty-two years after performing the part of the very juvenile Simon Bliss on our stage, Ted Follows plays the novel-writing Bliss family patriarch, David.
Lawrence Follows takes his father’s earlier role of Simon Bliss.
The project originated with Lawrence’s inspiration to “pay tribute to the Straw Hat Players, Canada’s very first professional summer theatre”. Despite their busy schedules in film, on stage and at home, the Follows family pronounced themselves thrilled to assemble for this historic even, co-produced by Lawrence follows and Robert Missen.
An appreciative and elegant audience established the tone of the evening the moment the curtains parted, by warmly applauding the set, with opening actors Samantha and Lawrence Follows fetchingly draped about it. Stage right: French doors open to the unseen garden with a punt moored on the river. Upstage right: the front door, whose translucent glass allows us to see the silhouette of each arrival. Ivy trails above both doorways, with effects of light and shadow on the leaves.
The sizeable hall of the Bliss’s house in Cookham breathes lived-in, pastel charm. A sturdy stairway with halfway landing leads upstage centre to the novelist’s study, and an unspecified number of bedrooms. “The Japanese Room” -- full of offstage character, is reserved for guests of honour, of whom, this June weekend, there are to be four.
When I first saw the Straw Hat Players do “Hay Fever” here in 1949, I didn’t particularly notice the plot -- having too much fun, I guess. I suspect it was the playwright’s intention to conceal with apparent frothiness how well-woven is the story line.
The plot is simple, neatly squared off. Four members of the Bliss family, bored by country life, invite four guests for a quiet weekend in the country, the complication being that nobody bothered to inform anyone else about the chosen guest until it was too late.
Once the theme is established, the play seems to romp along, heedless of convention. Actually, the pace does vary, giving actors and audience a respite from time to time, and preparing them for the next escalation.
Quiet moments alternate with bright, busy or downright noisy scenes, depending how many characters are present. The dialogue varies from softly intimate, briskly witty, or becomes a simultaneous family quatralogue,  all in full cry.
The guests arrive during the first act  - the dashing American in his automobile, the “femme fatale” by the only local taxi from the train station. After a suitable interval, the diplomat and shy young lady are deposited at the Bliss home by the same taxi. They are respectively welcomed, ignored or insulted by Bliss family members. Shortly before the first act curtain, all assemble around the tea tray except Clara, the servant, who prepared it, brought it in and plunked it down  without ceremony.
For the, the acid test for any performance of “Hay Fever” comes just before the curtain falls on Act One, as the cast do, or do not, lift their cups in unison. If they don’t, I feel something vital is missing. “The teacup thing” is all I remember of the Straw Hat Players’ 1949 production. The synchronization of teacups here is not only pure comedy; it can also mean resignation, rebellion  and a host of other feelings boiling beneath the surface, as four desperate hosts and four disparate guests face a weekend together.
The second act opens with muted lighting on a tableau of everyone dressed for dinner, frozen in place as in a snapshot. When the stage lighting comes on full, animation kicks in. Dinner is over, apparently to everyone’s relief, but the drinks go on.
The family is determined all shall join in their favourite guessing game, one that happens to require histrionic ability natural to a Bliss, but excruciatingly painful to the guests. After muddling through this ordeal, people scatter, escaping in surprising couples to engage in mild flirtations. Judith Bliss, mother and retired actress, escalates her own and everyone else’s romantic gestures -- offstage and  on -- into high drama.
Scenes from her meatiest roles in past plays somehow work their way into the dialogue, to confuse everybody but her own family, “acting up to Mother” as usual.
The third and final act shows the guests sneaking down  one by one the following morning to the tune of rattling rain and thunder, to snatch a bite of toast or scrambled egg and a gulp of coffee. Agreeing that the family is quite mad, they feverishly plot a group getaway, than steal upstairs to pack.
The family replaces them at the deserted breakfast table. Soon absorbed in  vigorous criticism of the patriarch’s latest chapter, they do not notice the four guests filtering down the stairs and out the door, until it slams.
Each character is a perfect foil for all the others, and has its own section of the human psyche to prowl or march around in. Robin Craig as Clara, the theatrical dresser turned maid, steals the scene every time she stalks on stage, and nobody minds a bit. Her character is supposed to steal the scene anyway, as are all the dramatic personae in this cleverly crafted play.
Clara’s brash voice and hearty accent contrast with the flutelike, often querulous, tones of the Bliss children, who keep petulantly  ringing for her. Her uncompromising grey print house-dress and beige cardigan or pinny set off the butterfly  colours of the fashionable family and guests. And when she sings and dances “Tea for Two” as she clears the table, she brings down the house.
Ted Follows’s lovely former wife Dawn Greenhalgh is superb as Judith Bliss, retired actress and mother. Her timing is particularly effective on a stage where everyone masters that art. When she sings the first verse of “J’attendrai”, you can hear a pin drop. Hers is a pliable, true alto voice capable of doing justice to the piece made famous by Edith Piaff and Charles Trenet. This is, however, no mere imitation. Dawn Greenhalgh’s interpretation comes with her own depth of pathos and wry smile.
Megan Follows slinks gracefully from charming pose to alluring pose as the sophisticated Myra Arundel, she of the subtly seductive cigarette-holder. Her pose of cool detachment beaks down when her host calls her bluff, and the wary woman behind the siren’s mask reveals herself momentarily.
Former child actress and current screen-writer Edwina Follows if Jackie Coryton, bashfully uncertain why David Bliss invited her in the first place. We see her character struggling to deal in a ladylike manner with rejection, rudeness, demands to do a solo dance “after the manner  of the word” and, finally, having to face dragons all night. We feel for this girl pitch-forked into what, for a sensitive, shrinking violet, must be at worst a den of demons and at best a social  ordeal. There is hope for her stiff upper lip to relax a little, as she tries to cure another visitor of the hiccups.
Lawrence Follows bounds boyishly about as Simon Bliss, while son-in-law Sean O’Bryan makes a divinely sculptured, very American, admirer of Judith  Bliss. Stuart Hughes is the stiff-backed British diplomat Richard Greatham who says just the right things in the midst of unabashed bluntness.
The costuming flows with the setting and the play -- ah, those Twenties fashions, for both men and women. Garden hats, fedoras and cloches off to co-ordinators Hilary Corbett and Judy Cooper-Sealy for the clothes, wigs and hair ornaments.
Thank you, Director Follows, for that elegant lifting of teacups, in near perfect unison, that took me back to your 1949 “Hay Fever” with Araby Lockart, Charmion King, Kate Reid and Donald and Murray Davcs. It made your family triumph of 2001 all the more delightful.
(Posted in The Muskoka Times July 6, 2001)

And now, back to the official Gravenhurst Opera House link: