EXPRESSIONS SCORES WITH SUPER SONGS Theatrical elements familiar and favorable to children were greeted with shrieks and applause Sunday as Expressions Theatre presented "The Witch and the Rabbit King". The lighthearted romp through standard children's territory, written, produced by Stan Davis, contained enough twists and turns to make the journey an intriguing one for both the young audience and their accompaniment of parents. Davis even appears as Oswald, a bilingual, woe-begone bunny with a missing mate in the Sylvia Hosie directed and choreographed production, the first for this new company. Keeping "Rabbit King" from being swallowed by the glut of necessary children's theatre trappings, thus losing its unique spirit in convention, were the witty, hummable songs of Davis, not far from Lloyd Webber and endearing to all ages. His thirteen musical numbers (under the direction of Amanda Snider) are memorably wrapped about a simple libretto telling the tale of good-gone-bad-gone-good. Songs are in the "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" tradition in their spoofing of various musical styles - rockabilly to country, to, weakest of all, rap. Humor abounds with a leather-clad Rabbit King (Paul Donison in his best Elvis), on overblown wizard (Alan Penty) and a suitably evil witch (Pam Miller) each upstaging the other. There's good rapport between the character and audience, inviting involvement, without sacrificing pace. This Expressions debut should be punctuated by an exclamation mark, making us await more with some anticipation.” - David Lennam

— Victoria News

That classic theatre axiom — the show must go on — aptly describes what’s happening at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. Everything old is new at the iconic oceanfront hotel where dinner theatre shows of yesteryear have been revived, starting with Celebration: A New Beginning, a musical revue and love song to the hotel. Bob LeBlanc, founder of Variety Fare, the local showbiz troupe presenting it, wasn’t the only one feeling a sense of déjà vu during a midweek rehearsal in the hotel that has reopened after a six-year, $52-million redevelopment. It’s what you might expect from a showman whose six musicals created for hotel owners Kevin and Shawna Walker between 2000 and 2006 yielded 72 performances in a basement meeting room converted into a small theatre. Patrons would be seated at their reserved tables after assembling by the fireplace in the lobby for libations, a tradition being continued. The new show at the hotel’s David Foster Foundation Theatre musically honours the hotel’s history through a breezy blend of Broadway showtunes and vintage pop standards. Some of the show’s seven-person cast found themselves reminiscing about the “old days” at the dinner theatre. Timothy Kyle laughed as he recalled an incident during a production of Forever Plaid. “We were standing there doing our beautiful harmonies, and it started to rain right in front of us,” he recalled, smiling at fellow castmates Stan Davis and Dwayne Gordon. “Upstairs, the women’s toilet had overflowed and it all came down onstage.” The song they were singing? Three Coins in the Fountain. Hotel manager Michelle Le Sage said dinner theatre allows the hotel to showcase Victoria’s amazing talent. “This unique culinary and live theatrical experience is another enhancement that sets the Oak Bay Beach Hotel apart from its competitors, attracting both local and international guests,” she said. Celebration: A New Beginning runs Friday and Saturday nights until Feb. 16. Admission is $89 for the show and a three-course dinner. Call 250-598-4556. A portion of ticket sales goes to the David Foster Foundation, which assists families of children who need organ transplants.” - Michael D. Reid


BROADWAY DIGEST A WINNER REVIEW What: Hats off to Broadway, Bob LeBlanc's Variety Fare Where: Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra St. When: 7:30 p.m. tonight. Also at 8 p.m. April 9 and 2 p.m. April 10 at Mary Winspear Centre, Sidney Tickets: $25 at Long & McQuade, Ivy's and Munro's books, or at the door. In Sidney at 250-656-0275 Rating: 4 (out of five) How do you squeeze more than 70 blockbuster Broadway hits into one two-hour program, without pressing the fast-forward button or leaving your audience gasping for breath? First you ask pianist Bob LeBlanc to conjure smooth-as-silk segues between each song. Next you find six performers who are able to leap vocally and emotionally from theme to theme and lyric to lyric, switching style, tempo, rhythm and mood, and even adding a few fancy dance steps. LeBlanc's new show group, Variety Fare, does all this while performing Hats off to Broadway in Victoria tonight and next week in Sidney. The kickoff performance Thursday night was a near sellout. I never let people get bored," explained LeBlanc, 77, who plays by ear and admits medleys have been his métier for decades. In a tribute to Irving Berlin, for instance, he donned a sequined jacket and delivered a fast-paced melange of about a dozen hits. In addition to being a snappy pianist, the producer and artistic director has a knack for choosing singers whose voices complement each other as beautifully as the songs, whether taken from Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables, Carousel, Kiss Me Kate, Oliver, Chorus Line, Cabaret, Hello Dolly, Oklahoma or Chess. A highlight among the non-stop entertainment is Fran Bitonti, who at one point is torn between two lovers in a hilarious singing skit featuring just one line from each of no fewer than 18 love songs -- with choreography by Jennifer Saunders. Bass vocalist Stan Davis, assistant musical director, is a talented singer and adds to the show’s comic vibe and comic chemistry with Sarah Carlé, who is also a talented singer, actor and amusing wannabe Ethel Merman. Tenors Timothy Kyle and Dwayne Gordon add rich harmonies and stand out as soloists, while Angela Ireland brings her strong voice and sparkle to the Great White Way mix, especially with Carlé in I Knew Him So Well, from the musical Chess. As the songs say: That's entertainment. Thursday night's show was Some enchanted evening, during which We felt the room swaying and thought What good is sitting alone in your room ... when we could be blessed with the Sound of Music, or at least Putting on the Ritz with a little help from Alexander's ragtime band while floating Way down upon the Swanee River.” - Grania Litwin

Victoria Times-Colonist

Review: Broadway Nostalgia delivers the goods with aplomb If you were to close your eyes during Broadway Nostalgia, Variety Fare’s new dinner theatre show at the Ambrosia Centre, you’d swear you had been teleported to a Catskills resort, famous for their cornball entertainment. Bob LeBlanc, founder and music director of the vocal ensemble, got things started with a joke about a Donald Trump sandwich — made with sourdough bread and full of bologna. It was, to quote a lyric from a South Pacific tune, “as corny as Kansas in August.” Quoting a showtune to describe the gag seems appropriate when you consider this taut, briskly paced 75-minute musical revue revels in resurrecting recognizable tunes from Broadway hits. Dishing out a formula likely to be best appreciated by older crowds fond of dinner theatre and musical blasts from the past, the company delivered the goods with aplomb the other night. The sextet, accompanied by LeBlanc — the pianist who, as Stan Davis deadpanned, “plays by ear, but sometimes also uses his hands” — got down to business with a medley highlighted by rich harmonies. Indeed, there’s nothing like an early dose of rousers such as Put on a Happy Face and Another Openin’, Another Show from Kiss Me Kate to get you in the mood for this kind of entertainment. A spirited, albeit too abridged, version of Hello, Dolly served as an appetizer to such selections as West Side Story’s Maria, which showcased Timothy Kyle’s robust baritone before it segued to another “Maria” classic — How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? from The Sound of Music. These selections also functioned as a device to give the smartly dressed ensemble an excuse to belt out other songs featuring characters whose names start with M, including the South Pacific classic Bloody Mary, an ideal vehicle for Davis’s impressive bass, and the title tunes from Thoroughly Modern Millie and Mame. Another thing these songs had in common was that they were conveyed with a high level of vocal talent and assurance from the performers — a hallmark that compensates for the show’s structural limitations. While Broadway Nostalgia might not win awards for theatrical innovation, it succeeds on its own terms by the sheer force of the variety of talents the cast collectively brings to the table. LeBlanc, for instance, performs a beautiful instrumental version of Climb Every Mountain amid a medley that features a lovely rendition of Till There Was You from The Music Man and Memories, the Cats classic. Kyle’s other noteworthy contributions include stirring versions of My Fair Lady’s On The Street Where You Live and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables during the Les Miserables medley. The melancholic beauty of that number contrasts sharply with the comedic exasperation Kyle unleashes with And Her Mother Came Too, an amusing element of the ensemble’s tribute to Ivor Novello, the legendary British composer and actor. Other highlights include Leaning on a Lamppost as performed by Katya Delancey, who also impressively showcases her flute-playing skills; Merissa Cox’s soulful version of If He Walked Into My Life; a brief but affecting take on Bring Him Home from Les Miserables by Darren Rathgaber, an appealing presence throughout; and Rebekah Janzen’s achingly beautiful interpretation of You’ll Never Walk Alone, the classic song of solace from Carousel that became a 9/11 remembrance anthem. Davis, consistently expressive, also shines as Sky Masterson while fronting Luck Be A Lady, one of the Frank Loesser tunes that energize an enjoyable Guys and Dolls medley. Which brings us to this show’s most jarring ingredient, but one that evoked nostalgia for theatregoers. It was a musical tribute to the Carpenters who, as LeBlanc, now having swapped his tuxedo for a glittery silver, red-collared jacket, pointed out had recorded some Loesser melodies. They had us at Close To You, punctuated by snippets of one Carpenters hit after another, including Yesterday Once More and Top of the World. Cheesy? Perhaps, but the capacity crowd dominated by boomers and seniors ate it up. Some simple but creative choreography by Kelley O’Connor and Jennifer Sanders effectively utilized the small stage, with the performers donning costumes and props such as top hats, a bridal veil and flowers.” - Michael D. Reid

Victoria Times Colonist