A Night Of Swing and The Hamilton Phiharmonic Orchestra

There are many nights with the Hamilton Philharminic Orchestra that are memorable: The musicians are a finely tuned team and their conductor, Gemma New, is fresh and engaging. But there is the occasional concert that surprises. 
A Night of Swing, with guest conductor Lucas Walden, was one such event. The performance coming the day after Remembrance Day, was designed to honor the men and women who gave their lives in WWI and WWII, and it succeeded. The evening began with an enthusiastic pre-concert dance lesson and demonstration by the Hammer Hoppers, a group of dancers committed to vintage swing. The surprises continued as the evening evolved. Guest artists included the Regimental Band of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in their bright red uniforms, vocalists Cpl. Erin Wideman of the RHLI, and Michael Vanhevl. 

It was Vanhevl’s interpretation of classic numbers from the Big Band Era that made me decide to write up A Night Of Swing. I’ve never been a fan of the crooning vocal style associated with the period, so when Vanhevl come on stage looking smooth and sexy, I winced at the cliché that seemed to be appearing before the audience. I could not have been more wrong.  

Vanhevl put a keen new edge on classics: Night and Day, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and You’ll Never Know. By the time he reached Beyond the Sea and Mack the Knife his point was made. His style may be reminiscent but he has his own signature energy. And if that is not enough to celebrate in a young performer, the duet with Cpl. Erin Wideman—In The Mood—brought the audience to its feet.

A night of Swing satisfied on many levels: the rich visuals of the RHLI’s uniforms; Lucas Waldin’s commentaries on Irving Berlin’s contribution to the war effort and the back-story for You’ll Never Know. And finally there was the music, and the musicians and vocalists who safely took the audience back to a time  when people still found reasons to sing and dance even when their hearts were aching. A Night of Swing was a captivating evening—one that I’ll be remembering whenever I play Vanhevl’s CD.  

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands.

A Theatre Buff Reviews: Alice In Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland 1

Aspiring set and costume designers will love the Shaw Festival’s Alice in Wonderland, as will anyone who remembers the book with fondness. Others not so much.

The production itself  is spectacular. There is a stunning merge of audiovisual effects with the stage that is playful (the drinking of the potions), eerie (the pop-up appearances of the Cheshire Cat), terrifying (Alice drowning in her ocean of tears), and peaceful (the skiff on the river). The technology magically extends the meaning of ‘set.’ The costumes match the quality of the production. They are colourful, richly designed and creative.  As one expects at Shaw, the actors are uniformly superb in their roles. Alice (played by Tara Rosling) is onstage for the entire production and never once flags.

So why my reservations? Once into the play I remembered I had never really enjoyed the book. There are points of clever wordplay but the story has always lacked an emotional core for me. How Alice emerges from a dream believing she has  grown up is as much a mystery to me today as it was decades ago.

If you have fond memories of the story, then see the play. If you cannot recall your impressions of the book, then take along an observant, artistic and inquisitive child. Had I done so, I may have enjoyed the production more than I did.

Alice in Wonderland is playing at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 16, 2016.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of one family’s journey through palliative care.