Big Band Legends: Oldies but Goodies

Big Band Legends
Conceived & Directed by Alex Mustakas
Orchestrations & Vocal Arrangements by Howard Cable
Song Medleys compiled by Michael Killinger
Transcribed by Martin Loomer
Musical direction by Elizabeth Baird
Choreographed by Gino Berti
Performed by Eddie Glen, Michael Killinger, Ann Mantini, Barbara Mantini, Sandra Mantini, Kimberly O’Neill, Michael Vanhevel, Jesse Weafer.
Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 27 to July 14, 2012
St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, St. Jacobs
July 18 to August 12, 2012

Drayton Entertainment Artistic Director Alex Mustakas has created the next installment in his Legends franchise: starting with the British Invasion and rock ‘n’ roll Legends, he added Country Legends and Dance Legends. Now he brings us Big Band Legends. Like its predecessors, it is a real crowd pleaser, jam-packed with 77 songs from the era of big bands, through the 1940s and 50s, even stretching to the 70s.
On stage are the ever-popular Mantini sisters, Ann, Barbara and Sandra, who can sing the old familiar songs in three part harmony or they can each go solo. Michael Killinger, who is part of the creative team, also sings in this show, joined by Eddie Glen and Michael Vanhevel. Eddie is a favourite at Huron Country Playhouse for his comedic acting, and it’s good to hear his amazing voice as well. Michael Vanhevel is a 20 year old crooner from Grand Bend, and it’s thrilling to see a very talented home-town boy on the local stage. Joining the singers is a pair of dancers, Kimberley O’Neill and Jesse Weafer and a nine piece band recreating the sound of the big band era.

The songs are grouped into various categories, starting off with a crooner set called “Bing to Bublé.” The Mantini Sisters handle the Big Band Ladies which includes favourites such as Peggy Lee and Doris Day. I enjoyed the Bobby Darin Triple Play: Beyond the Sea is my personal favourite. The audience loves the set called “The Italians,” including Dean Martin, Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney. There is even an audience sing-along with the words for “That’s Amore” on the big screen. The second act included, among other sets, “The War Years” with Vera Lynn and Bob Hope numbers. Wrapping up the show was, of course, the Chairman of Board, an entire set of Sinatra.

The Mantini Sisters are always pitch perfect and they shine in this show because it suits their style. Barbara Mantini is a stand-out, when she belts the Ella Fitzgerald song “Gypsy in My Soul” and also in her steamy version of Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” where Jesse Weafer shows off some very hot modern dance moves. Sandra Mantini has fun with Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-A My House,” and Barbara Mantini gives a heart-felt rendition of Vera Lynn’s “White Cliffs of Dover.”

Eddie Glen takes a page out of Neil Aitchison’s comedy book and borrows his hobby horse. When he’s playing Constable Archibald F. Inkster of the Mounties, Neil rides in on a high spirited horse — Eddie Glen, as a cowboy, gallops in on the same horse, er, mop handle, during the Happy Trails set. Eddie’s comedic skills also show in the Tongue Twister set, where he does some Danny Kaye favourites.

The community can take great pride in Michael Vanhevel, the local 20 year old. Just two days before I saw this production, I had the chance to see Neil Diamond onstage at the JLC in London. Unfortunately, I felt that Neil was showing his age, and his voice hasn’t held up. Then I heard Michael Vanhevel singing Sweet Caroline – he sings Neil Diamond much better than Neil Diamond. In fact, Michael is blessed with a clear, smooth voice – he can do all the oldies better than the originators. The audience is pleased to join him in Sweet Caroline and Moon River for a sing-along. Similarly, Michael Killinger sings “Can’t Smile without You” better than Barry Manilow, and is smoother than Bobby Vinton with his rendition of “Blue Velvet”.

The dancers have great versatility: Kimberly O’Neil and Jesse Weafer Latin-dance their way through Mambo Italiano, show their graceful ballroom moves, and even tap through the war years. Jesse also demonstrates his vocal talent, when he joins the three male singers to form The Crew Cuts to create the foursome singing “Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom, Life would be a dream, Sweetheart.”

This is an excellent evening of entertainment, but I was left with a couple of puzzling questions: I’m not sure how the Happy Trails set fits in to the Big Band era. The various artists portrayed would have been more at home in the Country Legends production.

Also, I thought there would be more instrumental numbers (perhaps some jazz or swing music) and the show would make more of the big band itself. I expected the big band to look like a big band — tiered seating for the band members, sitting behind podium-like music stands, with a banner on each stand showing off the band’s initials. Perhaps they could have been BBL for Big Band Legends or maybe HC as a salute the Canada’s big band expert Howard Cable who provided the orchestrations for this show. And I expected the band members to be dressed in tuxedos, Big Band style. It would have been a fine salute to the many big bands that once graced the stage of Grand Bend’s Lakeview Casino.

Big Band Legends continues with eight shows a week until July 14 at Huron Country Playhouse and then until August 12 at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse. Tickets are available at Drayton Entertainment at , or check

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A member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, Mary Alderson reviews shows at area theatres and posts blogs at .

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