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Review: Oh Canada Eh? – A Cheesy Expedition to Canmore

Last Saturday I led an expedition out to Canmore with the Calgary Musicals Meetup Group to see the Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Show at Cornerstone Theatre, now in its 11th season. This is one of those shows I’d heard about for years but I’d always been too lazy to jump in my car to go see.  As a proud Canadian I figured it was time. We decided to make a day of it by checking out the Ammonite Factory (nice showroom but skip the $5 tour), having a nice lunch at a French restaurant, strolling the shopping strip and checking out the lakes above town. 

Oh Canada Eh? is an unashamedly cheesy revue of Canadian music (mostly English-Canadian) set in a casual log-cabin setting, with original script and score by J.Sean Elliot and a revised script this year by Kathy Zaborsky, Jamie Mahn, Joe Morris and Stephen Keppler. The show uses the premise of the Trivial Pursuit game (developed by Canadians, of course) to categorize songs as relating to History, Geography, Entertainment , Sports, Arts and Science and Nature. It includes everything from traditional French folks songs such as “Chevalier de la Table Ronde” and “Alouette” to songs by Steppenwolfe (“Born to be Wild”), The Arrogant Worms (“Canada’s Really Big”) and  Michael Buble (“Just Haven’t Met You Yet”). I particularly liked the “Log Drivers Waltz“, sung by Kate and Anna McGarrigle and made famous by the National Film Board. I also enjoyed the whole Science and Nature section. I am a scientist by training, and perhaps by nature, but it probably had more to the music, which included tunes from Bryan Adams, The Guess Who, BTO, Galt McDermot (music from Hair), and Gordon Lightfoot.

The characters include a Pierre, a French-Canadian coureur-de-bois (Joe Morris in his 9th season in the role), Rose Marie (Kathy Zaborsky, who took over from J.P. Thibodeau as director this year, along with Jamie Mahn and Gina Power), a Mountie (Joel Lahaye), Klondike Kitty (Jennifer McLaren), and Anne of Green Gables (Madeleine Suddaby, recently seen in Avenue Q and Guys and Dolls). I never tire of seeing Suddaby on stage and was sufficiently inspired to watch her YouTube videos when I got home, even though it was quite late.  There was also a Fisherman (Kevin Clarke). My companions were excited to recognize him from the current Cineplex “favourite movie moment” advertisement. I apparently need to get out more, or at least out more to movies.

The dinner is a set menu served “family style.” You sit at large tables and they serve platters of food for the main course and you pick what you want and pass it down – kind of a cross between a buffet and table seating. The food was nothing to write home about, but there was plenty of variety so no one went home hungry. There are no intermissions, but there are musical interludes while food is being served to keep the action going while you eat.

While Oh Canada Eh? wouldn’t fall into the class of high theatre, it was a fun night out and performances were strong across the board. The format is much like you’d find at a place like Jubilations dinner theatre with lots of audience participation (if you can’t say “eh” by the time you arrive, you will by the time you leave) and corny jokes – pretty much what you’d expect from the image below. If you like that style, you’ll probably like Oh Canada Eh? too. It’s a show worth considering when you have out-of-town guests or just want an excuse to get out of town yourself.

Joel Layahe and Kathy Zaborsky in Oh Canada Eh?

Oh Canada Eh? plays every year from April to October. This year, it runs nightly except Thursdays until October 20th. For more information go to Cornerstone Theatre. If you happen to be in Ontario, it also plays every year in Niagara Falls (Canada, of course, eh?), where it’s in its 19th season – same concept, different cast and presumably some different songs.

Let’s Declare May “Calgary Musical Theatre Month”!

I had every intention of  posting my April interview or another 2012-2013 season launch tonight, but with one thing and another, I have decided to get some sleep instead (one of many things to migrate lower on the priority list since taking on this Calgary Musicals blog and the associated Calgary Musicals Meetup group).

Nevertheless, I can’t let May Day pass by without noting how many musicals are playing in and around Calgary this month  – 13 by my count,  and I’m probably still missing some high school and other amateur productions! Anyone who thinks this isn’t a musical theatre town, might want to think again. Check out the 2012 Schedule page – if you can’t find something worth seeing, then you’re just not trying.

I will be taking in 8 (!) shows myself, starting with Jubilations’ Jump for Glee! and Cappuccino Musical Theatre’s Frankenstein this week and ending with Storybook Theatre’s Avenue Q and Front Row Centre’s Gypsy (with Theatre Calgary’s Cats* (couldn’t make it early in the run, which is why you haven’t seen my review yet), Vertigo Theatre’s Sweeney Todd, Youth Singers of Calgary’s Museo, and Central Memorial High School’s Beauty and the Beast in between). I already saw Stage West’s Summer In The CityStorybook’s Little Women and Dewdney Players’ Rodeo and Julie-Ed, which are still playing, and plan to see Oh Canada, Eh? in Canmore and Anne of Green Gables in Rosebud once this wave is over, since they play all summer.

This will certainly be a record for me, and maybe for just about anyone except for some of our more enthusiastic volunteer ushers/ticket-takers (one of whom I will be interviewing in a future article). I’m not sick of musicals yet, but I am kind of looking forward to June (resisting the urge to break into the score from Carousel)… I realize this time of year works well for rehearsal schedules, but if only some of these theatre companies could move their musicals to the dry months of February and March, they’d have way less competition and it would help us musical theatre aficionados get through the dark days of Winter, not to mention the merry, merry musically packed month of May.

So what musical(s) are you going to see in May and why?


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