By JUSTIN GILBERT
“COUNTRY SUNSHINE” opened on the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia stage on Friday, JULY 20th to a Sold-Out house.
The show was conceived, written and directed by VPP Co-Artistic Director David Rogers with assistance from Musical Director Mark Payne and Choreographer, Adele Mackenzie.
From the opening scene, “Country Sunshine” was destined to be a major crowd pleaser. The talent included Canadian Idol Runner-up Jaydee Bixby together with other young entertainers familiar to Lambton County crowds – more about those individuals later.
The set was designed by D2 Entertainment and built by Walt Farr and crew. There was no doubt that I was in the house to see a Country show when I entered and was greeted by a set that reminded me of the days of “Hee Haw” – barn doors and open rafters, bales of straw, wooden barrels and the stage floor painted like the wooden floor of an old barn. I felt like I had stepped back to my Grandpa’s farm.
I grew up with country music so this show was bound to hold a special charm for me and I was not disappointed. The songs were familiar although some of the singers were not. Newcomer Callandra Dendias opens the show with Michael Hogeveen (who also performed in Godspell) and she immediately captured the heart of the crowd.
She is the most “country” sounding of the three amazing ladies and man, can she yodel!
Jaydee Bixby is that “good ol’ boy” whose charm and engaging smile make him an audience favourite. Some of his own songs are featured in the show including “Tailgate”, “Boys in the Band” and “Old Fashioned Girl”.
It was great fun to see Mark Payne out from behind the piano and showing us some of his other talents. We already knew he could sing but he also played the guitar, jew’s harp, harmonica, spoons, trumpet – what a musical genius and he’s funny too.
Janelle Murray, Jenn Kee and Callandra sang a tribute to the Grand Ladies of Country music that had me wishing the show could be longer so they could perform each song in its entirety.
Jesse Grandmont and his incredible fiddle playing brought the crowd to a frenzy when he performed “Devil Went Down to Georgia”. The young man has a style that sets him apart as an entertainer. Alex Baerg who has played guitar in the Starbright band for the past three summer seasons in Sarnia joined the cast and exhibited his comedic and vocal talent and performed a particularly moving rendition of Garth Brook’s “The River”.
Jenn Kee who wowed local audiences with her performance in Starbright’s “Let the Sun Shine In” last summer sang a beautiful acapella rendition of “Down in the River to Pray” accompanied by the entire ensemble.
Act One, which was approximately 70 minutes long, featured some of the characteristic humour that David Rogers injects into all of his shows. Laughter rang through the house several times especially during Janelle Murray’s hilarious delivery of “The Auctioneer” and the Drinking Medley which featured some of country’s favourite tunes.
Act Two was a little more reserved but incredibly entertaining as well. As I write this review, I know that technically, there should be something for me to criticize about this show but honestly folks, I can’t find it. I loved every minute and everyone around me said they did too. Don’t miss it! Even if you don’t think you like Country music – you can still enjoy this production. After all, it was written by the consummate Broadway Guy.
Country Sunshine runs through July 28th and tickets ($38 each) are available through the box office at 519-882-1221 or online at www.thevpp.ca.
Pictured, left to right: Jesse Grandmont, Michael Hogeveen, Mark Laidman, Jaydee Bixby, David Klinger and Alex Baerg. The ladies in the back of the pick –up truck from l to r – Janelle Murray, Callandra Dendias and Jenn Kee Photo courtesy of Clouse Photography, Petrolia