MORRISBURG – Sometimes you just can’t stay in your seat. You absolutely have to get up, wave your arms with the rest of the crowd and stomp your feet.
And sometimes, you just gotta sing along!
Glory Days!, a premiere musical production by Chris McHarge, debuting at Upper Canada Playhouse April 23-28, definitely had that effect on its audiences.
The show played to packed houses for its entire short run: the Playhouse had to add an extra show to try and accommodate the demand for tickets.
Creator and director Chris McHarge built Glory Days! around the Troubadour Club, a West Hollywood icon for several decades, whose open mic Mondays launched the careers of some of the giants of 20th century music. Producers, directors, actors, musical stars, comedians – you could always find the elite of Hollywood lining the Troubadour bar right alongside the ordinary guy in from the street.
“The Troubadour was the place to go,” Chris McHarge told the Leader in an April 17th interview. With its policy of open mic or “Hoot Nights”, where anyone could get up and sing, it was the place where a lot of musical hopefuls got their big chance. “If your set went over well at the Troubadour, you could be looking at instant stardom,” McHarge explained.
The Eagles were launched at the Troubadour. Carly Simon and James Taylor were “discovered” on its stage. Van Morrison, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot played the Troubadour. So did an obscure young Englishman, who would eventually choose the stage name of Elton John, after he wowed the crowds at his Club debut.
McHarge chose the songs in his original production, Glory Days!, based on those artists who leaped into super stardom at the Troubadour. The only problem in designing this show the author faced was, as he laughingly remarked in his interview, narrowing the choices for the final production.
“Every one of the songs we picked is a hit. And I think audiences will love hearing those songs and some of the stories that go with them,” McHarge explained in The Leader interview.
He was right.
From the superb opening number, the Eagles’ “Hotel California”, to the foot stomping closing number, built around Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, the cast in this production excelled.
The major front vocals were delivered by three talented and versatile young artists, Stephen Ingram, Willem Cowan and Julia Dmytryshyn.
The range of distinctive musical styles demanded by a show like Glory Days! is impressive – and those three surely delivered.
Whether it was Ingram wowing with “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondance”, Cowan evoking Diamond in “Sweet Caroline” and “Song Sung Blue”, and Dmytryshyn belting out “You’re So Vain” and caressing “Both Sides, Now” the crowd roared its approval.
The three were great instrumentalists in their own right: they also narrated the vignettes that accompanied the actual artist images appearing on screen during the show.
The “back-up” performers (hardly an appropriate phrase for musicians this good!) were outstanding. Under the direction of band leader Chris Dahmer, Terry Branagh, Kevin Dempsey, Matthew Lima, with musical director Mike Ray sitting in, provided a solid body to every number.
Again, the versatility of the stage band was impressive. Music in this production ranged from rock to folk to blues: this placed a real demand on their talents both instrumentally and often vocally. (I loved a quiet moment with Chris Dahmer soloing on keyboard at the start of Act II, in “Desperado” ).
For one touching section of the show’s closing medley, the cast on stage also provided a brief insight into the singers and musicians’ world: endless roads, nameless hotels, other towns, other concerts – and why all artists will forever continue to follow dreams.
Glory Days! unleashed a lot of rich memories for many in the crowd. It introduced a new generation of theatre-goers to singers who once rocked almost all musical foundations.
It ultimately paid homage to the legendary Club that had launched great artists.
Bravo, Glory Days!