REVIEWS & MEDIA
A Really Retro Crooner Christmas show Thursday through Sunday at the Grand Theatre’s McManus Stage
by Joe Belanger
Rick Kish wanted to share his love of Christmas and the crooners who helped us celebrate it “back in the day.”
First it was one show, the next year two, then four, a fifth was added and this year audiences have six chances to catch Link Theatre’s annual Yuletide celebration A Really Retro Crooner Christmas opening today in a sold out preview and continuing through Sunday at the Grand Theatre’s McManus Stage.
“People just seem to love it and they keep coming back and they keep asking for it,” said Kish.
“After every single show, they ask if it’s going to be staged next year.”
Two of the six shows, today’s matinee preview and Sunday’s matinee, already are sold out and there are limited tickets available for Friday night.
From a one-off in 2012, the show - featuring Kish, Connor Boa, the Fabulous Croonettes including Nicola Klein, Jesslyn Hodgson and Maya Lacey, along with a three-piece band, will revisit the 1950s and 1960s specials that featured icons such as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
“I think people keep coming just to hear some great music, have some laughs and get in that Christmas spirit,” Kish said.
“I love Christmas and I love those old jazz standards and singing them and the stories those songs told us about feeling good, about family and love. The message is always really positive and people leave happy.”
The two-hour show includes some dance and comedic routines, Kish said.
If you go
What: Link Theatre’s A Really Retro Crooner Christmas, featuring Rick Kish and Connor Boa, the Fabulous Croonettes (Nicola Klein, Jesslyn Hodgson and Maya Lacey) and a live three-piece band.
When: Thursday, 1 p.m. (sold out); Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. (sold out).
Where: The Grand Theatre’s McManus Stage, 471 Richmond St.
Tickets: $30 general, $25 seniors and $20 students, available at the box office, online at grandtheatre.com, or by calling 519-672-9030.
A Really Retro Crooner Christmas, opening Friday, is a hot ticket
by Janice Wallace
December 5, 2017
The clichés were all there: singers perched on stools spinning out familiar chestnuts, an attentive audience humming and swaying, and decorated cookies set out on nearby tables.
Yes, the Christmas concert was in full swing. But the atmosphere was far from trite ritual. There was genuine joy and hope, the true feelings of Christmas. Rick Kish’s annual holiday show, A Really Retro Crooner Christmas, was casting its spell.
“It is magic,” said Kish, a performer and the artistic director of LINK Theatre. “It’s an experience for the young people to see the way an older audience comes together with the music.”
Those young people are Connor Boa, Jesslyn Hodgson, Nicola Klein, and Maya Lacey. Boa and Kish are the crooners of the title and the three women form the Croonettes. They’re backed up by ace trio Nevin Cambell (piano), Anne Pin (bass), and Jake Schindler (percussion). It adds up to a Mad Men-era Dean and Frankie special.
“I love retro. I love crooners. I love Christmas,” said Kish. He created the first Retro show three years ago and performed in churches. This year’s version ran at Fairmont United as well as Richmond Woods before its six-show run on the Grand Theatre’s McManus Stage Dec. 7-10. Two of the shows are already sold out.
Boa, Lacey, Hodgson, and Schindler are alumni of the Grand Theatre’s High School Project.
“It’s an opportunity for them to do something entirely different,” said Kish. “The Croonettes have a vibe of really good harmony, and the cool of a girl trio.”
With their retro hairstyles and makeup and tight harmonies, they evoke the Andrews sisters.
Kish selects contemporary and original versions of songs. The first half of the two-hour show is taken from the American Songbook; the second is classic Christmas.
Kish’s role is multi-faceted. He performs, directs, and coaches the younger members. He helps them connect to the audience through the music and through their shared stories and between-song banter. It’s a win-win.
“I get to work with excited, interested, passionate younger artists (and) I get to do my schtick patter and interact with the audience,” Kish said. “It’s closer, more intimate, we’re more connected. I love it. It’s a great payoff for me.”
Clearly the audience loves it too. At Richmond Woods they sang along to many songs and lingered to chat with the performers after. At the McManus, Kish said they have a large group of people who come every year.
“The demographics are all over the map. We’ll have a couple in their 20s, smiling and having a great experience. It’s nostalgic. Parents bring their parents. My favourite show is the first because we sell it to all the seniors’ facilities and high schools.”
Hodgson said the three-part harmony of the Croonettes is a treat.
“We put a whole new spin on it,” she said.
“I love all this stuff,” added Boa. “I’ve listened to it all my life. There is nothing like singing these songs with people.”
Klein is a confessed fan of the music.
“I have this music playing in my car 365 days a year,” she said, adding that she also enjoys singing in a small group in a small venue. “Being in a group like this is so much fun. After the show, we talk to people and hear their experiences, see them singing along and they’re having fun.”
“The experience is unexpected for a lot of people,” he said. “They feel great after seeing the show. It’s fresh, with a lot of improvised stories and reactions to each other.”
And that’s what makes this concert different from many. There’s nothing fake about it.
As the audience reluctantly dispersed, comments of “fantastic,” “lovely,” and “wonderful” were overheard.
They were certainly spurred to Have (themselves) a Merry Little Christmas.
IF YOU GO
What: A really retro crooner Christmas 2017
When: Dec. 7-10; 7:30 p.m. (matinees Dec. 7 and 10 sold out)
Where: McManus Theatre
Tickets: $20 to $30 at the Grand Theatre 519-672-8800 or www.grantheatre.com
For more information: linktheatre.ca, 519-438-5465 or firstname.lastname@example.org
**** of Five Stars
Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens
I don’t believe in the power of disco.
But it seems to work in Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, the musical comedy now occupying London’s Tabu Nightclub until May 13.
I do, however, believe in the power of laughter and Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens doesn’t disappoint. It’s a wild, sexually charged romp with book and lyrics by London native Michael Fidler (son of London theatre aficionado Art Fidler) and Charlotte Mann and music by Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest.
Director Martha Zimmerman utilizes the entire bar for the show, which begins the moment you walk in with many of the characters milling about, some working as servers and several singing.
The real show begins with the disco anthem, The Hustle, then a spotlight hits John White, who delivers a delicious turn as Dr. Von Whackoff, a sleazy German lounge lizard sitting at the bar who serves as narrator.
The show is set in a bar, Saucy Jack’s, on the planet Frottage III, where a serial killer keeps slaying cabaret stars, each found stabbed with the heel of a sequined slingback shoe.
The audience enjoys a song from Vulva Savannah (Elle Hounse), who announces it’s her last show because she got an offer for a better job. She leaves the stage arm-in-arm with the abusive, villainous Saucy Jack (Stephen Ingram) and moments later there are screams from the back room and we learn Vulva is the serial killer’s fourth victim. Jack returns a little while later, tossing a blood-stained rag to the bartender. (Guess who becomes the prime suspect?)
Moments later, the Space Vixen crime fighters learn about the killings and set off to Frottage III to stop the killer. Art Filder has a fine cameo as an intergalactic news anchor on television screens.
The Vixens arrive singing their anthem, Glitter Boots Saved My Life, then get to work seducing various characters, including Saucy Jack, who we discover is the former boyfriend and magic partner of Jubilee Climax (Alicia D’Ariano), previously known as Honey Tips. There is even a flashback with a wonderful magic trick.
This is a silly, fast-paced and often hilarious show where the audience interacts with the performers, those familiar with the story cheering and applauding in anticipation, not unlike how audiences respond to The Rocky Horror Show Show.
The entire cast delivers strong, larger than life, cartoonish characters, their vocals outstanding, led by Ingram and D’Ariano.
There were a few minor technical issues with the ray guns the Vixens wore and the sound through most of the first act, which was uneven. But the technical troubles were worked out by the second act.
This is a very racy show, fit for mature audiences only, considering sexuality is a central theme of the show. But it’s an absolute delight to experience at least once, although I suspect some will return for a second show. Oh, and for those who do believe in the power of disco, there’s glitter everywhere and even a disco ball.
IF YOU GO
Rating: **** (out of five stars)
What: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, presented by Link Theatre, with book and lyrics by Charlotte Mann and Michael Fidler, music by Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest, directed by Martha Zimmerman and musical direction by Eric Charbonneau and Alex Chen.
When: Friday and Saturday. May 3-6 and May 10-13, 8 p.m.
Where: Tabu Nightclub, 539 Richmond St. (under Jack’s).
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 at the door, available online at saucyjack.eventbrite.com. Tickets are $20 each for parties of 10 or more.
Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens:
Unabashed, Unashamed, Unquestioned—and Sexy—Fun Set to a Disco Beat
Reviewed by Jay Menard for Theatre in London.ca
What do you get when you combine the interplanetary funksmanship of Parliament, the fluid and overt sexuality of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the bell-bottom-infused passion for disco of Saturday Night Fever? You get the over two hours of ribald revelry and energetic entertainment of Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. Listen, this isn’t Shakespeare. It’s not high art. But it’s unabashed, unashamed, and unquestioned fun. It’s a musical that will have you moving to the beat and—for a select few—even dancing up out of your seat.
The story? Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens is a story of love, murder, betrayal, duty, respect, and, of course, disco and glitter boots. The story takes place in a bar on planet Frottage III called Saucy Jack’s. It seems performers keep finding themselves murdered, all by slingback-force trauma. The Space Vixens, a trio of intergalactic police arrive to solve the crimes. And each of the bar’s regulars has his or her own story to tell—and dreams to realize.
It’s campy, sexy, and hilarious.
The entire cast is spot on. The singing is magnificent, from the soloists to the harmonies. And while there are honestly no weak parts of the cast, there are a few people who need to be recognized.
Stephen Ingram, in the titular role, has become a must-see performer in London. In the past year alone, he has made an otherwise abhorrent production tolerable by the strength of his performance (Manuel); he has stood out in a strong ensemble production (The History Boys); and now he continues to show the strength and power of not just his voice, but his very presence in Saucy Jack.
Alicia D’Ariano stood out last year as one of the Heathers in the play of the same name. In Saucy Jack, as lead Space Vixen Jubilee Climax, she takes command of the role—both through singing and acting—and brings a mixture of sensitivity and power to a woman torn between love and duty.
And can we take a moment to appreciate the force of nature that is Jenn Marino. In another tour de force performance—much like as Magenta in Rocky Horror—Marino stole every scene in which she appeared. Continuing the Rocky Horror parallel, Marino’s entry is reminiscent of Meatloaf’s both in terms of bravado and vocal power.
But it almost feels unfair to not recognize the other actors. Everyone in the cast had their moment to shine. Nicola Klein hit some beautiful high notes and showed incredible vocal power; Tatyana Austrie more than held her own in a passionate duet with Marino and had a wonderful moment of sadness; Sam McEwan not only won over the hearts of us ’80s kids with a fantastic Careless Whisper sax solo, but he effectively developed his character and kept the story progressing, even during the intermission, through his interaction with the crowd; Connor Boa and John White had a hilarious—and revealing—scene in the second act; Rick Kish brings an entertaining combination of heart and humour to his role of Booby Shevalle; and Isabella Majewska, Margaret Martin, Jesslyn Hodgson, and Elle Hounse all provided pitch-perfect background support and movement. Hodgson, in particular, drew applause for some inspired and athletic pole dancing.
The location is inspired: a play about a bar, taking place in a bar. From custom-named drinks to neon coaster marks on the tables, everything is near letter-perfect in design. Even the use of A/V contributes to the sense that we are not just watching a play, but rather patrons of Saucy Jack’s, with a front-row seat to the shenanigans.
Is it perfect? No. Although the bar venue adds much to the production, it can also make it challenging to see everything—and, trust me, you want to see everything. Performers intermingle with the audience,including clever use of socializing both before the play starts and during the intermission; songs and dances take cast members all around the bar. Some dance numbers have three points of interest, which forces the viewer to pick and choose. For those with mobility issues, it may be better to sit towards the back of the venue to ensure you see everything. If you’re up front, be prepared to have your head on a swivel.
Is this a play that everyone’s going to love? No. It’s clearly one that’s intended for those who enjoy a little levity in their productions, don’t mind a healthy dose of raunch, and are willing to laugh along with the cast. Like I said, it’s not Shakespeare, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a production featuring talented singers and performers that will have you clapping your hands, tapping your toes, and walking out with a huge smile on your face.
Jay Menard is a writer by trade and by passion. He has over two decades of experience in both media (news, sports, entertainment writing) and business communications and strategy. Jay has no aspirations to act or direct, but has a history of embarrassing himself on stage for his daughter's dance school.
Saucy Jack: Rocky Horror For The New Millennium
Things are getting pretty saucy here in London with the Space Vixens...
Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens is an energetic show about a gang of glitter-booted space vixens trying to harness the power of disco to solve a series of stiletto murders in a nightclub.
It sounds exciting.
So then why is show director Martha Zimmerman so exhausted?
She laughs hard when I tell her I heard her barely suppressed yawn.
“Well there’s been a couple of late nights”, she chuckles. “At the end of our rehearsals I usually feel more energetic than ever. It’s only in the morning I’m exhausted!”
Zimmerman has good reason to be a bit tired. She and her cast and crew have been hard at work at the Tabu Nightclub below Jack’s for several weeks leading up to their opening night.
“Tabu is really coming alive: it’s now a space bar,” she chuckles.
Although Zimmerman is new to the play, her Link Theatre partner Rick Kish is a veteran of the previous 2010 London show, part of that year’s Fringe Festival.
“I have never seen it so I was really curious to find out what was so special about this show,” she explains. “So I came to understand why once you get into it, you come back to see it again and again.
A post-millennium Rocky.
“One of the show’s tag lines is that it’s like Rocky Horror for the new millennium.”
The play was created in the latter part of the last millennium, 1995 to be specific and it’s a fascinating story in its own right.
Four former University of Kent students banded together to stage a version of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide for the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. They were thrown when they realized there was already another troupe doing the production. Pivoting quickly, they wrote Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens which went on to win a Fringe Award that year for innovation in theatre and outstanding new production.
In an interesting side-note, one of those four students was Michael Fidler, son of London, Ontario theatre legend Art Fidler.
Since then, the play has been produced many times, mainly in the UK and occasionally in this country.
Zimmerman suggests that one reason for the show’s continuing relevance has to do with the world catching up to the LGBTQ subtext of the play.
“It’s a great time to do it because it has to do with gender fluidity and sexuality. It’s just part of the world they live in.”
The cast is the energy.
As director, Zimmerman has been energized by the young cast members, most of them from Western’s music and theatre programs.
“They’re classically trained and letting their hair down a bit, doing this funky, quirky show,” she chuckles.
“Alicia D’Ariano is Jubilee Climax, the leader of the Space Vixens and she has the most theatre experience of the three of them. She was in Heathers and also Little Mermaid.”
Zimmerman notes that although Tatyana Austria as Bunny Lingus and Nicola Klein as Anna Labia have less theatre experience, ”it has been great to watch them grow.”
“And of course Jenn Marino is a rock star in this city and she plays a rock star in this too,” she laughs. “Jenn plays Chesty Prospects, a space smuggler dealing in illicit plastics.”
“I never knew why Saucy Jack was a big thing but I totally understand it now. People love it.”
And now it seems, so does Martha Zimmerman.
“I can’t wait for new audiences to come and the people who love it to come back to see it again.