Roxanne Tellier: Oh What a Feeling!
I don’t get out much. Living in suburbia is bad enough; being unable to drive only compounds the isolation. Still, there are times when I brave Toronto’s transit and hit the big city. This is about one such time, just this week.
I was lured from my smoky den with tickets to “Oh, What A Feeling(Part One,)” the musical odyssey that has been playing at the Princess of Wales since August 11. (Sadly, today was their last show, as they begin touring cross-country.
Based on Martin Melhuish’s book Oh What A Feeling: A Vital History of Canadian Music, the revue takes us down a Canadian musical memory lane, from Guy Lombardo to Bryan Adams. Luckily, there’s an intermission after the first hour, because the energy and electricity pouring off the stage was leaving me breathless!
First stop,Paul Anka, our very own and very first teen idol. David Michael Moote ably summons up the suave crooner as he performs Anka’s mega hit “Diana,” and then tells us a little about the man and the legend, noting that when Frank Sinatra asked Anka to write him a song, he gave him the hit forever linked to Sinatra – “My Way.”
The pace picks up from there, each performer and performance moving us forward through our heroes, while images and video clips created by Turbine Studios of Montreal create a layered experience of sight and sound.
The cast evoke the styles of the times and bear some resemblance to the actual performers, but this is far from a tribute or clone act. They’ve been chosen for their vocal and musical chops, and the choices were wise.
From producer Jeff Parry, “My litmus test is that you should be able to close your eyes and think you’re experiencing the original. People want to relive their past. It’s all about hearing something they recognize, not looking at some guy who looks like Gino Vannelli but can’t sing. That’s short-lived.”
The full breadth of stellar Canadian music is touched upon. Hearing your favourite songs live is a more visceral experience than listening to the radio. In this extravaganza, the works of Gordon Lightfoot, Hank Snow, The Guess Who, Loverboy, Rush, Bryan Adams , Céline Dion, Gino Vanelli, Joni Mitchell, Ian and Sylvia, The Band, Steppenwolf, Neil Young, and April Wine brought the audience to their feet, time and time again.
Every member of the cast is scrumptious. American singer-songwriter Jaren Cerf gave me chills as she channelled Joni Mitchell’s original version of “Woodstock.” This clip I found on Youtube shows Jaren’s pre-show work shopping.
And her portrayal of diva Celine Dion blasting out “The Power of Love” was spot on, right down to the chest pounding and the hint of a French accent.
You could hear a pin drop when Amy Bishop began KD Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja.” She’d wowed us earlier with her take on Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” but now her rich and supple voice brought her a well-deserved standing ovation, and several “Amen!”s from the crowd.
This video shows Amy performing “Halleluja” live for a church audience.
There are far too few videos of Amy available, despite her six solo albums. She needs someone to help her capitalize on the attention “Oh What A Feeling” is bringing her. I did manage to find this video for her song , “I Am, I Am.” For more music, see her website.
Just watching Jeremy Koz and Jeremy Rush tackle some of the high octane tributes to The Guess Who, Steppenwolf, April Wine, Loverboy and Tom Cochrane is exhausting. They never stop, they’re running across the stage, and then Jeremy’s in the audience high-fiving the crowd. And all without ever seeming to need to stop and catch a breath!
You may remember Jeremy from 2006, when he was a contestant on the fourth season of Canadian Idol. (Please don’t call in your votes now, the lines have closed …) He also made the top 50 for Rock Star: INXS in 2005.
The entire cast is terrific. Kit Johnson does a marvellous Neil Young, while Peter Grant, no stranger to Toronto musos as a fantastic vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and producer, wonderfully channels Gordon Lightfoot.
Cast of Oh Canada What a Feeling with Martin Melhuish and Erica Ehm
While this is a theatrical revue of Canada’s musical history, aimed squarely at the boomers who lived through and sang along to these songs, I was struck by how much more musically adventurous we were in the past. A song like Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” would never enjoy the airplay and patriotic enthusiasm today that it did in 1967. These days, the 80’s cry of “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” has been superseded by a global attention span less than that of a goldfish’s.
(“This song was commissioned from Lightfoot by the CBC for a special broadcast on January 1, 1967, to start Canada’s Centennial year. It appeared on Lightfoot’s “The Way I Feel”album later in the same year along with the song “Crossroads,” a shorter song of similar theme… In 2001, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” was honoured as one of the Canadian MasterWorks by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada.”) Wikipedia.com
The capacity audience loved every moment of the production, standing for the anthem, clapping enthusiastically, and cheering on the performers at the beginning and end of nearly every classic tune. You couldn’t help but feel proud of what our country’s legends have wrought. It was no surprise to see fellow DBAWIS writer and photographer Pat Blythe joining the dancers flooding to the front of the stage as the show built to a riotous conclusion with a rousing romp through Tom Cochrane’s classic “Life Is A Highway.”
The audience, exhilarated and wrung out from the extravaganza, still found the strength to rally and join in on Neil Young’s tune “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.”
And you’d have had to be in a coma not to stand up, clap and sing along to the titular and ultra-Canadian singalong song “Oh What A Feeling.”
What a rush!
The good news? The show was terrific, and left me wanting more. The better news? This is just “Oh, What A Feeling” Part One!
Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday
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Roxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.