Legends Conceived, Written and Directed by Alex Mustakas Orchestrations and Vocal Arrangements by Robert Foster Choreographed by Gino Berti Musical direction by Mike Lerner Originally produced by Drayton Entertainment Grand Theatre, London April 20 to May 22, 2010
Entertain This Thought! By Mary Alderson
If you enjoyed “Twist and Shout: The British Invasion” when it played at the Grand two years ago, you’ll love “Legends”. It’s 1975 and Roy Solomon (who was the Ed Sullivan-like character in “Twist and Shout”) is retiring after 20 years on television. In his honour, emcee Sheldon Lubliner has brought together the best rock and roll acts of 1955 to 1975. The Grand Theatre becomes a TV studio — don’t sit in the first row, unless you’re willing to be singled out as a celebrity: Richard Nixon and Jackie Onassis were introduced on opening night. Lubliner, played by the hilarious Tory Doctor, keeps the audience in stitches throughout the show. Doctor provides the comedy – he comes dressed for each occasion; for example, he wears water wings and flippers during the Beach Boys set. He also gives his impression of the almost forgotten Tiny Tim, a dashing James Bond, or a crypt-kicker in the “Monster Mash”, among others. During set changes, commercials are shown on big screens on either side of the stage. Some of these are unintentionally funny, like health benefits of smoking menthol cigarettes being touted. A couple of old movie trailers are over-the-top hilarious, even thought they weren’t meant to be funny at the time. What makes “Legends” actually, well, legendary are the 58 musical numbers in the show. Several numbers are medleys by favourite artists, so it’s likely that there are over 80 songs presented in 2 ½ hours. Non-stop music of a generation: From Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”, to Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT”, with all kinds of familiar favourites in between. Audience members squeal with delight as they recognize the next song after a few bars. Tunes like “Whole Lotta Shakin’”, “Johnny B. Goode”, “Mony Mony”, “Heard it Through the Grape Vine”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Takin’ Care of Business” and “American Woman” evoke memories for the baby-boomer audience. There are medleys from Buddy Holly, Four Seasons, Elvis, and more – a particular audience favourite is the Monkees medley, where the performers include typical Monkees’ high jinks. Another crowd pleaser is the Sonny and Cher impersonation by Duff MacDonald and Michel LaFleche. Without giving away too much, let’s just say the laughter got louder with each visit. With a cast of 15 taking turns singing lead and back-up, the harmonies are wonderful. Danny Williams, who wowed the audience with “A Whiter Shade of Pale” in “Twist and Shout”, continues to be the favourite with his fantastic voice. He brought the house down with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and The Hollies “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. His powerful voice can send shivers down your back. I’ve seen “Twist and Shout” and “Legends” three times each, and I enjoy them more every time. However, I did miss Christine Glen and her belting voice on songs like “Son of a Preacher Man” and “River Deep, Mountain High”, as well as Ange Pagano and her raspy “Me and Bobby McGee”, both of whom were in earlier productions in Grand Bend and Drayton. Frequent costume changes take us back to the satin suits of the Temptations, and the big hair-dos and sequins of the Supremes through to the tie-dyed hippie-wear of The 5th Dimension and The Mamas and the Papas. Kudos to Bill Layton for the colourful and historically accurate, though exaggerated, clothing. Gino Berti’s impressive choreography really makes the audience feel like we have gone back 30 or 40 years, and the dancers’ energy is incredible. Credit must go to musical director Michael Lerner and the talented musicians in the band for their diverse sounds and ability to perfectly recreate all the old favourites. Too bad the scrim didn’t rise when we were applauding so they could receive the recognition they deserve. “Legends” offers a good night of superior entertainment and definitely the best nostalgia trip one can take. We look forward to more from creator/director Alex Mustakas and his Legends franchise.
Legends continue at the Grand Theatre in London until May 22. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593, or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
A member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, Mary Alderson reviews shows at area theatres and posts her reviews at www.entertainthisthought.com.