Review by Bryan Dearsley
It’s certainly true that what goes around, comes around. Or in the case of the next summer theatrical hit being staged at the Gravenhurst Opera House, perhaps “what goes around, swings around” might be more apt.
Why? Well, not only was one of the writers of Swing!, the latest show in the 2017 Muskoka Summer Theatre season, a former resident of Gravenhurst, but two of the show’s stellar creative team were actually involved in an earlier production of the show 17 years ago, one as a cast member, the other as director.
And while the role as director of this fast-paced tribute to the swing music that kept places like Dunn’s Pavilion (now The Kee to Bala) and Bigwin Inn hoppin’ has come full-circle for Caroline Smith – this is only the second time she’s directed it in her prolific career – things have perhaps circled around a few times more for Gravenhurst’s Dave Campbell. Now artistic director of the Opera House’s hugely popular summer theatre program, Campbell recalls being part of the cast when Smith last took the helm of Swing!
“Having danced in this show myself, I certainly have a lot of respect for the cast and all the hard work they put into their performances,” says Campbell. “Dancers are really the glue that holds a show together, and that’s especially true of Swing! It really is an ensemble piece, as they’re not just dancing, they’re also singing and acting. And then of course there are the musicians, who have to work just as hard. They’re all stars really!”
Swing is king
Written by Canadian theatre legends Alan Lund and Howard Cable (it was the latter who once called Gravenhurst home), this must-see show really does put the cast of six – as well as the six members of the band – through their paces. From the opening instrumental number to the stunning all-out tap-dancing numbers, you’re left in little doubt that swing is, as we’re reminded throughout, still king.
The band – consisting of Greg Gibson (piano), Caius Howlett (Drums), Cole Joduin (bass), Richard Lamoureux (clarinet and sax), Rick Pauzé (Trombone) and Jeff Plumbley (trumpet), and directed by Mark Camilleri – effortlessly work their way through a vast repertoire of over 40 tunes from the period, each seguing seamlessly into the next. Highlights include an amazing early-on medley based around the tune Travelin’ Life, as well as some slapstick centered around the attempts to pen a love song by the three men in the troupe (Jak Baradell, Kevin Forestell and Ian Simpson) that all fail – not surprisingly, Cement Mixer didn’t impress the ladies (Debbie Collins, Heather McGuigan and Shawna van Omne) one bit. Thankfully, the day is saved when the ladies themselves choose to sing I Want to be Loved.
In the humble opinion of this writer, Muskoka truly is blessed with an amazingly high caliber of theatre programming that’s as good as anything you’ll find in the big cities – in fact, probably better when you consider it’s all happening in beautiful cottage country! Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that so much great talent with so much experience in professional theatre has been tempted north to live. For example, not only does artistic director Dave Campbell call Muskoka home, so too does:
- Production designer Tim Webb – it’s his wonderful sets that set the scene and create that evocative swing-era mood
- Costume designer Chris Crisotbal – this talented fashion-guru’s designs not only enable the cast to move freely and elegantly, they add an authenticity that so perfectly captures the unique styles of the 1940s
- Stage manager Jeff Braunstein, whose rich experience in stage, TV and film help keep the show on the road.
Swing is playing until August 25th. For tickets or information, please visit www.GravenhurstOperaHouse.com or call the Box Office at 705-687-5550.
Bryan Dearsley is a Muskoka-based writer and editor