THEATRE REVIEW BY KEN CHISHOLM
Even though some of the young cast of The Cape Breton Summertime Revue: The Next Generation would have no memory of any performance of its original run, they, with the help of director Maynard Morrison and chief writer Ed Macdonald (both veterans of the original Revue), have fully captured the riotous spirit of the popular song and skit show.
In this second year for the Next Generation, the performances are more assured and the comedic material is updated to include jokes about legalized marijuana and “Chase The Ace”, while the song list of fiddle favourites and ballads is augmented with tunes by a “next generation” of Cape Breton songwriters, including Breagh Mackinnon and Jordan Musycsyn.
The capacity audience at the Savoy Theatre for the Thursday night performance of the Revue, loved every second of it. And the majority of them would have definite memories of the Revue: The Original Series, and The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island, the pointedly-socially aware show the Cape Breton Summertime Revue was launched from in the late 1980’s.
There are some scathing jabs, especially at the current Nova Scotia premier, but the emphasis is on the more folksy humour and over the top characters of the original Revue: Stephanie Hennessey and Margaret MacPherson return as a pair of nursing students, one unfailingly overconfident (“Don’t worry, Miss, I got this!” is her all-purpose catchphrase) and the other given to impromptu retching when under stress.
Peter MacInnis, the Mabou writer and actor with a popular Internet comedy series and perfect comedic timing, seems more at home this year with his brand of contemporary Island characters: they have a reality to them that makes them all the funnier (although I did miss his old lady character). And a welcome addition to the performing cast is stage veteran (and founding member of The Accents) Jenn Sheppard who brings several new characters including Ellsa, a distant relation of Bette MacDonald’s iconic Mary Morrison, as well her formidable singing voice.
Jordan Musycsyn returns with three original tunes and a likeable comedic presence. Two other new performers bringing their musical talents to the show are fiddler Rachel Davis and multi-instrument virtuoso Darren McMullen. Both brought fresh takes on several traditional sets and held their own with their more experienced cast mates in several of the skits.
Vocally, this is one of the strongest Revue casts in my memory. Musycsyn, for his young age, has a road-tested baritone that can handle everything from pure old-timey country to hip hop. Sheppard has a lovely, emotive moment in a ballad she composed with Fred Lavery and Stephen Muise (her husband and co-musical director with Lavery). MacPherson, not to spoil the surprise, demonstrates her vocal power and range through the entire show, but especially on “We Rise Again” when she sent chills down my spine. These are all talents to build on with future productions of the Revue.
The show is a savvy mix of old and new: for every nod to classic Revue, like the musical political barbs of The Coaltones, there is a contemporary character like MacInnis’ shiftless pothead with his hiphop swagger and reliance on “Ma” to fight his battles for him. Even the Coaltones, it must be mentioned, got an update on their patented brand of oldies with the inclusion of one the most popular Top 40 hit of the last year (and they crushed it).
And The Next Generation has a cute factor the original series didn’t: The MacArthur Dancers, a quintet of Highland steppers (Drea Shepherd, Olivia Burke, Bradie MacKay, Isabelle Pilling, and Zoe MacIsaac), who brought a touch of grace to the stage with every appearance.
Along with musical directors Fred Lavery and Stephen Muise, director Maynard Morrison kept the energy high and timing razor sharp. He built on the strengths of his cast and brought alive old memories of the Revue while making new ones for its appreciative audience. Two years into its new incarnation, The Cape Breton Summertime Revue: The Next Generation should enjoy a run at least as long as its predecessor.
The Revue plays the Rebecca Cohn in Halifax Friday and Saturday and returns to the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay for two final performances on Wednesday, August 24, and Thursday, August 25.