ENTERTAINMENT Thursday, November 22, 2001
Brit Invasion will make you a believer
By COLIN MACLEAN, EDMONTON SUN FREELANCE
The British Invasion, a cheeky, high-energy production, begins with the old Second World War anthem, There’ll Always Be An England – and, two hours later, you’ll be a believer. Musically, at least, the Empire lives on. Refusing to take itself seriously, but continuously delivering the goods in the music department, The British Invasion is the ultimate seasonal tonic for the baby boomer who fondly remembers Peter and Gordon, danced to Herman and the Hermits or made out to Englebert Humperdinck.
The script by Marcia Kash and Van Wilmott starts off as a musical lecture by ol’ Will Shakespeare himself but soon plants its tongue firmly in its cheek.
So we have appearances by such British stereotypes as Winston Churchill, Twiggy, Henry (“I like a girl with a good head on her shoulders”) VIII, Emma Peel, Austin Powers, Sherlock (“Don’t call me Shirley”) Holmes and Anne Robinson of The Weakest Link. Performer Martin Murphy of the uproarious “the PreTenors” is effective in a number of roles. Even an imperious Queen (“As long as I’m on your money, you’re mine”) makes an appearance to be dragged off at one point after she becomes smitten with a pelvis-thrusting Tom Jones (Roman Pfob).
The premise of the script is that the English have never forgiven the Americans for throwing them out and so, in 1964 with the Beatles, finally launched the counterattack that would win back the hearts and minds of the colonials.
What follows is a slickly produced series of covers of the hits of British acts ranging from the Fab Four to the Spice Girls. I don’t want to get into a laundry list here but you’ll hear well (and often brilliantly) delivered chart-toppers by the Dave Clark Five, Petula Clark, Donovan, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Wham!, the Teletubbies (!) and Elton John. Monty Python makes an appearance with their famous Lumberjack song. Even the legendary concert with Procol Harum and the Edmonton Symphony is re-created. The multi-talented cast changes accent, costume and wigs (adroitly, nostalgically – and often skimpily – designed by Pat Burden) and stage incarnations with bewildering speed. Given the number of costumes we see, the backstage area must resemble a riot in Carnaby Street – circa 1969.
The show is cast well. Standouts include Pfob’s frankly sexual Tom Jones (He’s also got the great pipes), Christian Goutsis’s cock-o’-the walk Mick Jagger, Melissa Veszi’s Memories from Cats and Pamela Gordon’s crockery rattling Shirley Bassey(Goldfinger). The entire cast manages to summon back the shade of Freddie Mercury in a medley of hits from Queen, and there is a heartfelt tribute to John Lennon.
I often find these cover shows rather tatty and sad as talented performers sacrifice their own abilities to re-create someone else’s, but this hard-working troupe seems to be enjoying themselves and manages to keep the familiar songs as fresh as a flounder in Smithfields’ Market. The hits just keep on comin’, and are threaded together by a spare and witty script, very apt choreography from Christine Bandelow and Brewer’s savvy direction. The show ends in a final exhausting 10 minutes and, taken all together, is a tribute to just how good the music was. One can quibble about missing Alfie or hearing nothing from Oliver, but at two hours this invasion is quite long enough.
Good luck getting into this one before Christmas; however, it’s going to be creating its British sunshine until well into the new year.
The British Invasion runs at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre until Feb. 10.
THE BRITISH INVASION — 3 1/2 SUNS (out of 5)th
The British Invasion Rating 31/2
Theatre: Mayfield Dinner Theatre
Starring: Christine Bandelow, Kevin Dabbs, Pamela Gordon, Christian Goutsis, Roman Pfob, Melissa Veszi, Brad Wiebe
Once more unto the Brits, dear friends.
Actually the man himself, Britain’s No. 1 export for the last 2,000 years, opens the revue now rocking its collective buns off on the Mayfield stage. Always a hip observer of the scene, the Bard proposes that the “biggest invasion in British history” redressed ancient grudges, and more modern inequities. After all, “they had Elvis Presley; we had Cliff Richards.”
In any case, the arrival of the Liverpudlian moptops in the U.S.A., 1964, toppled the balance of pop trade as the Olde Worlde became the newest thing. This is the show that demonstrates, exhaustively, that the whole world was prepared to hold her hand, be just mad about Saffron and glad all over, go downtown, and do the hippie-hippie shake. That it arrives onstage the same weekend as the Provincial Museum’s massive Sixties exhibition suggests an alignment of the planets, a synchronicity, a groovy kind of love.
The British Invasion is a marathon musical revue, hours long and give-‘er in spirit, that gathers its set list from more than 50 (!) Brit artistes, starting with the Beatles and the iconic ’60s groups like the Stones and the Animals in Act I and ricocheting around in time to embrace Eurythmics, Wham!, Bananarama, Sinead O’Connor, the Teletubbies and the Spice Girls. This kind of generosity represents a virtual orgy of nostalgia and amusement for boomers, diverse rockers old and young, longtime air guitarists, archivists, flower children, hipsters.
You know who you are. The muse is comic. The accents are atrocious.
The production, which happens under a fractured Union Jack (designer: Terry Middleton), has the hardest-working cast in showbiz. There are eight of them. And they sing, they dance (choreographer Christine Bandelow never lets them off the hook), they wear a hilarious succession of wigs, they change costumes (designer: Pat Burden) every few seconds. And they dig the goofy, shameless sense of humour of an evening in which the segues are provided by famous Brits, among them Winston Churchill, Emma Peel, Twiggy, Sherlock Holmes, Henry VIII, Maggie Thatcher, James Bond, a Coronation Street matron … and, yes, the Weakest Link commandante.
It’s a parody of musical revues. It’s busy. It’s kind of chaotic and scrambly. And it’s fun. All the actors have their moments. Fabulous Pamela Gordon, most recently seen as Sally Bowles in the Citadel’s Cabaret, does a perfectly nasal quivering Shirley Bassey doing Goldfinger, and a pretty funny Sinead. Martin H. Murphy is downright hilarious as Joe Cocker via John Belushi. Christian Goutsis, a Jagger manqué, does Austin Powers and the Queen, with Roman Pfob in the heart-throbbier roles.
© Copyright 2001 Edmonton Journal