Sorry… I’m Canadian Conceived & Directed by Alex Mustakas, Additional script by Dave Broadfoot Performed by Neil Aitchison, with music by Duncan Cameron, Bobby Prochaska, Mark Stewartson & Danny Williams Musical Arrangements by Nicole Gusé Visual Elements by Steve Roth Drayton Entertainment Production Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend June 24 to July 12, 2008
Live! On Stage! Review by Mary Alderson
At every opening night at Huron Country Playhouse, you can always count on Neil Atchison for a few laughs. He made the single-clap applause famous – in order to speed up acknowledgement of the sponsors, he asks the audience to clap once when he points, as he announces each donor: “When I give you the finger, you give them the clap,” he says. It turns out that Sorry…I’m Canadian is just more of good old Neil, being, well, just good old Neil. Oh, sure he’s supposed to be RCMP Constable Archibald F. Inkster. But the audience knows and loves him as Neil Atchison. So instead of just a couple of jokes, we’re treated to more than two hours of hilarity, in a good, old-fashioned variety show. Constable Inkster is our master of ceremonies. We see film depicting the beauty of Canada, we are treated to Canadian music, and a family of Ontario kids provides some top-notch step-dancing. It’s another hit for Drayton Entertainment Artistic Director Alex Mustakas. He conceived and directed this show, as he did last year for Legends, and Twist & Shout a couple of years earlier. He also came up with similar shows — Canadian Looney and Canadian Twoonie at other Drayton venues. Mustakas has the knack for creating crowd pleasers—this show will no doubt sell very well as the word spreads. Atchison as Inkster (or was that Finkster?) rhymes off one funny story after the next, sprinkled with a good one-liners. The jokes contributed by Canadian comedian Dave Broadfoot are evident, with some of the political humour reminiscent of early Royal Canadian Air Farce. Atchison himself reminds us of Red Skelton from away back – he tells the joke, the audience reacts, and then he giggles along, waiting for the laughter to subside. We even get a glimpse of his tongue, Red Skelton style. Some of the jokes are as old as Red Skelton, too, but they are all funny, so it’s quite forgivable. Like the plumber who advertises: “Don’t sleep with a drip, call me.” Material is also borrowed from David Letterman’s Great Moments in Presidential Speeches, where George Bush is mocked. The opening night audience roared as Atchison read a posted list of Bush-isms. Atchison’s strength is his ability to make it seem like he’s just chatting directly with you, and you’re good friends sharing a joke. He is completely comfortable on stage, whether he’s playing a Mountie or he’s Anne of Green Gables in ridiculous red pigtails. Music is provided by a great group called the K-9 Four including Bobby Prochaska, Danny Williams, Mark Stewartson, and Duncan Cameron. You’ll recognize Williams as the wonderful voice behind “He ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother”, and “Whiter Shade of Pale” in Twist & Shout (both at Huron Country Playhouse and The Grand) and also “Bridge Over Trouble Waters” in last year’s Legends. In this show, Williams treats us to a moving performance of Burton Cummings’ “Break it to Them Gently”. The music is actually a travelogue across Canada west to east. We enjoy Susan Aglukark’s “O’Seim”, a Gordon Lightfoot medley, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, and even some Stompin’ Tom. “Fox on the Run” is a crowd-pleaser. The first act closes with a sing-along of Canadian favourites, and the second act moves into lively East Coast hits. Rounding out the show is a family of step-dancers: The Ballagh Bunch, featuring Devon, 17, Michael, 15, and Paige, 13, with 8 year old Matthew and Mom joining later. The audience loves them – what could be cuter? Nothing is sacred in Sorry…I’m Canadian. There’s a dart board on the wall next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s portrait – and you know that all the darts don’t hit the dart board. The Mountie rides in on a hobby horse. Still, despite all the jabs and pokes made at the Canadian establishment, this show makes us very proud to be Canadians. Sorry…I’m Canadian is the best way possible to celebrate Canada’s 141st birthday. If you didn’t get there on July 1st, you can still make it in the next two weeks. Sorry…I’m Canadian continues with eight shows a week until July 12 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000, Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or check out www.draytonentertainment.com.
Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.