Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dane Cook leaves them laughing in London

Laughter could be heard spilling out of Budweiser Gardens Wednesday night as the Just for Laughs comedy tour brought Dane Cook to town for one night only. Having been selected as the Bud Gardens reviewer for this event, I went in with an open mind, prepared for an evening of fun, but unsure of what to expect. I need not have worried though, because the 90 minutes that followed were filled with laughter and winks at my other half when jokes were made that fell close to home. I would swear Cook’s rant on one spouse being mad at the other for not doing dishes was directed right at us…only in his story, the wife was the primary dishwasher which really messes up the story I’ve told my husband for years that dishes are and always have been the role of the husband in any loving relationship. Oops. 

Despite being busted for that little white lie, I enjoyed the remainder of Cook’s set which was an entertaining mix of advice and warnings about love, marriage and commitment, and true to any Cook show – sex. It also contained something that is rare for a live comedy show…a question and answer session as an ‘encore’. I’m not sure that I’ve seen that before, and can’t help but wonder how many comedians would be confident enough to answer the most awkward questions on the fly the way Cook was able to. It’s a skill to be sure, and one that Cook has mastered. 

The audience was appreciative of the occasional updates from Cook as to how the historic game 7 of the World Series between the Cubs and Indians was going. I’m quite certain there were at least a handful of people in the crowd who wished both events hadn’t fallen on the same night including one gentleman in particular who was busted by Cook when it became apparent by his helpful yelling that he was sitting in his seat, watching the game on his phone.

Of course, no great entertainer comes out without an opening act, and the crowd on this night was treated to two. Vinny Fasline was the first act up – never an enviable spot – but easily won over the crowd with his jokes and his perspective on living life despite adversity…his, being diagnosed with a brain tumour as a teen. He was funny, real and gained a new fan in me. I hope he goes far in his career. 

He introduced the second comedian of the night, John Campanelli who has been referred to as “a comedian for the people”. His material was fresh, relevant and very, very funny. And, although you would never know it, following the show he shared with his Twitter followers (of which I am now one) that this was his very first arena show ever. You never would have known it! 

All in all, it was a great night of comedy and I’m incredibly appreciative to Bud Gardens for allowing me to be part of this entertaining night. I hope we continue to see more top rate comedians grace the stage of the Bud, as there certainly seems to be the audience for it! 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Welcoming a legend – Reba hits London



 Last night London welcomed a true legend as country superstar Reba McEntire (or just Reba as she’s known now) graced the Budweiser Gardens stage. With a career spanning over 30 years, and the nickname of the ‘Queen of Country’, one might have expected Reba’s concert to be an over the top spectacle befitting such an icon. But concert-goers attending the singer’s “All the Women I Am” tour were treated to something even more special – just Reba. No elaborate catwalk down the arena; no explosive pyrotechnics display; no jumbo screens projecting schmaltzy images during hit ballads – heck, there wasn’t even a sign that said “Reba” anywhere in the place. This concert was only about the music and there was plenty of that to be enjoyed.
 
From her opening hit “Can’t Even Get the Blues” to her encore performance of “Fancy”, Reba fans were treated to a walk down memory lane as she shared the hits, and the stories that went along with them. Those who only know Reba as a singer might have been surprised to learn of all the acting roles she has done, including Broadway (Annie Get Your Gun), feature films (Tremors, Buffalo Girls) and television, of which she’s starred in two series – “Reba” and “Malibu Country”. 

A poignant moment in the evening came just before the band launched into “My Broken Heart” as Reba remembered eight band members who were lost in a plane crash following a 1991 concert. And the crowd received a glimpse into Reba’s personal life as she discussed her friendship with Kelly Clarkson which began when Clarkson, then an American Idol finalist, asked Reba to perform a duet on the show with her. A friendship blossomed from that experience, and culminated this week in Clarkson becoming Reba’s daughter-in-law after marrying step-son Brandon Blackstock. If Reba plans on being a monster-in-law, it certainly wasn’t evident this night as she launched into a tribute to Clarkson singing a hit she wrote when she was only 16-years-old, “Because of You”.

The show-stopping number of the evening, however, was “Does He Love You”, performed in duet with band member Jennifer Wrinkle. Not many singers can match the power in Reba’s voice, but Wrinkle did that and then some. She’s a heck of a fiddle player too!

Reba’s opening act on this evening was Alberta’s own Gord Bamford. No slouch in the music department himself, Bamford holds 16 Canadian Country Music Awards, and reminded the crowd that Canadian country music fans don’t need to look across the border to find amazing talent. Singing hit after hit, Bamford kept toes tapping for a full hour...and even kept one woman in the fifth row on her feet through his entire performance. She obviously hasn’t heard that London crowds are more laid back than that, because her swaying did nothing to encourage those around her to stand. Kudos for the fan spirit though!
 
Earlier in the day, Bamford had visited LHSC’s Children’s Hospital to meet and perform for the kids, and to donate $10,000 from the Gord Bamford Foundation to the hospital’s Art Therapy program. Being a cause near and dear to this reviewer’s heart, I may be biased, but I truly believe Gord Bamford is a Canadian gem. 
 
Three hours after it had started, as fans streamed from Bud Gardens, the same sentiments could be heard time and again about the event – ‘wasn’t that a fantastic show?’, ‘classic Reba’, ‘didn’t she look great?’  This night was about talent - pure, simple, stripped down talent – and for 7000 or so fans, that was more than enough to make this evening magical.

 
Some observations from the show:
 
1.       When you’re good at what you do, you don’t need to hide behind fancy productions
2.       It IS possible for a crowd of 7-70 year olds to enjoy the same show in their own way
3.       There aren’t nearly enough Stetsons being worn in London
4.       No matter how loud the performer is, your seat neighbours apparently CAN hear you if you’re singing out loud .... oops
5.       It’s intimidating to have a professional newspaper music reviewer sitting behind you as you review a show. Every time I saw him writing something, I felt bad for not bringing a notepad
6.       Budweiser Gardens remains one of the best places to see a concert – great sight lines, good acoustics, and an intimate feeling, even when surrounded by thousands of fellow fans
7.       London is quickly become Nashville of the North...except with snow...and fewer Stetsons

Friday, April 12, 2013

Great Big Kitchen Party comes to London!




On Thursday evening, Londoners were treated to a very special birthday party at Budweiser Gardens – it’s been 20 years since the ‘birth’ of Newfoundland’s own Great Big Sea, and this high energy folk group was in the mood to celebrate their special milestone with the thousands of fans who filled the RBC theatre. 

Opening the show with the up tempo “Ordinary Day”, it didn’t take long for the entire audience to rise to their feet, singing, clapping and bouncing along to the music. Those who are regular concert goers in Londontown know that we tend to be a mellow group who often sit through entire concerts perfectly content to listen in relative calm. Oh we clap, and we sing, but standing....now that’s a lot to ask. Alan Doyle might have remembered that from previous visits, because he encouraged everyone to get up and dance often as the band played hit after hit, and this crowd was happy to oblige.

The evening was a walk down memory lane with old favourites mixed in with a few not so well known numbers. The band’s first big break – a commercial for Newfoundland Telecom – was shown on the big screen behind the band, leading into “What Are You At?” which sold ‘dozens’ of copies in those early days according to Doyle.

One of the most personal moments of the night was also one of the funniest as Doyle mocked bandmate Sean McCann for popping a couple of ribs out of place while sleeping the night before. While the mocking seemed to be a joke at first, the crowd quickly realized it was indeed true as McCann gave a shout out to the Core Medical Group for taking good care of him and his broken ribs earlier in the day. Sharing that he was on so many meds, he couldn’t really feel anything at that moment, the jokes began flying that the band was perhaps starting to show their age. The best joke of the night – “maybe we could land a Cialis commercial!  ‘When Bob’s up, he can’t get down’. If you don’t get that joke...why are you reading a GBS concert review?!

If McCann was struggling, it certainly didn’t show as he performed powerful solos which captivated the audience so well, you could hear a pin drop in between verses.  As much as GBS is known for their high energy tunes, their ballads highlight the group’s incredible harmonies. At times, it was hard to remember if we were on King St. in London, or George St. in Saint John’s, NL.

Original band member Bob Hallett wowed the crowd not only by playing seven different instruments throughout the evening, but also by flawlessly performing ‘Come and I Will Sing You’ which is perhaps one of the most lyrically difficult songs ever written. Think ‘12 Days of Christmas’ on steroids. 

For all the ribbing about the band getting older, the fact that they put on a 3 hour show with one intermission and no opening acts suggests that the group still has plenty of energy left for their fans. I was exhausted by the night’s end, and I didn’t do half as much work as they did! 

This night had something for everyone – a chance to belt out drinking songs as loud as you wanted, some traditional folk songs that made you stop and imagine the vivid scenes being painted for you, funny banter with one of the most down to earth bands out there – but most of all, it allowed the audience, ranging in age from single digit youngsters to octogenarians, to feel like they were part of their very own Newfoundland Kitchen Party. 

Thank you, Budweiser Gardens, not only for allowing me to attend and share my personal reflections on the night, but for continuing to bring quality shows to town. I look forward to celebrating many more milestones with Great Big Sea and Bud Gardens as we all age gracefully together. 

“Long may your big jib draw Great Big Sea”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Canada's London shines!



Before I start this review of the World Figure Skating Championships – Ladies’ Free Program, let me point out something important. I am not, nor will I ever be, a figure skater. In fact, the last time I wore skates at the age of 8, I ended up with a broken wrist after completing the highly difficult move of STEPPING ONTO THE ICE

I am, however, a figure skating fan, although more for the artistry of it, than for the technical aspects. I have to be honest – I don’t know a lutz from a sow cow from an axel when I see them, but I do know when a performance moves me vs. when it just seems like a series jumps strung together into something robotic. I also know that if I fell as hard as some of the women I watched last night at Budweiser Gardens, I would still be on the ice moaning and possibly crying, waiting for some sort of sympathy ice cream cone or something. 

I was excited to be chosen as the #BGreviewer for this final competition of the World’s, not only because of my love of figure skating, but because curiosity was starting to get the best of me as to what was happening in our downtown. Was it really alive with excitement? Were thousands of tourists really checking out the shops and restaurants that I take for granted daily? What did they think of Canada’s London? And what was this light show all about? 

I need to thank Bud Gardens for allowing me to explore the answers to these questions, because in doing so, I came away with a new appreciation for my city and what we can accomplish when given the opportunity. 

First though, let’s talk about the ladies’ final. There were 24 skaters vying for top spot, representing 17 different countries and it was clear from the looks on their faces that each one was in it to win it. The top two tiers (each tier had six skaters) took to the ice and performed lovely routines that drew cheers from the supportive crowd. But when tier three got underway, it was clear the level of difficulty was beginning to ramp up. Jumps were more difficult, falls were harder, spins were faster and that gracefulness that only comes through experience was obvious.

At the close of this tier, it was clear that something big was about to happen. Chatter among audience members got noticeably louder. Flags began appearing around the arena for USA, Japan, Italy, Canada and Korea. And in a move that delighted my tech loving husband, iPads began popping up out of nowhere. Apparently if you're a figure skating enthusiast, you come prepared to follow every aspect of a skate, right down to watching the judges scoring breakdowns in real time as they’re posted online. Who knew? I didn’t. The row of 12 women in front of me clearly did! 

Our seat mates to the left from Rochester, NY – who up to this point we hadn’t really chatted with – began filling us in on some tidbits of information on the upcoming skaters. Mao Asada from Japan was apparently going to attempt a quad, Yuna Kim of Korea who was currently in first place after the short program was looking hard to beat. I tucked those tips into my back pocket and resolved to watch Asada closely in case the quad materialized – hoping I would recognize it if it did. We didn’t chat with our seat mates to the right due to language difficulties, but the rapid pace of their chatter during the fourth tier warm up led me to believe they were getting excited for this final group. 

I could tell you about each skater in this tier...who got the loudest cheers...who fell multiple times...who had the coolest outfits. But instead, the one thing that stands out for me that I want to share is the determination and spirit of one woman – Carolina Kostner of Italy. It was obvious during warm up that something was wrong. Carolina was skating around with her head tilted back, skating over to her coaches from time to time before heading out to warm up a little more. As it came time for her performance, the audience has started to figure it out – Carolina’s nose was bleeding...a lot. But it was her slot to perform, and I imagine when it’s your time, you have to just get out there and do your best. It seemed there were no time outs allowed in this competition. Well, to the amazement of the packed crowd, not only did this brave young woman skate, but she skated almost flawlessly. Blood drops appeared on the ice as she flipped and spun through the air as if nothing was wrong. Moans of sympathy and amazement filled the arena when Carolina performed a complex set of spins flawlessly, all while pinching her nose, head tipped back to try to slow the flow. A well deserved standing ovation followed this brave performance, as the young flower girls were sent out on the ice to clean the spots before the next performance. 

That brave performance earned Carolina Kostner a silver medal. As our new pals from NY predicted, Yuna Kim did, indeed, win the gold, and Mao Asada (who incidentally did not attempt the quad) earned the bronze. Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, who went into the free program in fourth place, fell to eighth spot after a few unfortunate falls. 

The medal presentations quickly followed the event, and I was pleased to see that most people remained in their seats for the ceremony, regardless of what skater they were cheering for. I had read stories during the week of the wonderful Amabile choir learning over 30 national anthems for the week, but still gasped a little as the spotlight was turned onto the group all dressed in flowing white, and they began singing the Korean national anthem as if they had known it for their entire lives. Kudos Amabile singers – you did London proud this week! 

We wrapped up our night outside Bud Gardens watching the final “Tree of Light” show which really was a sight to see. We stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of Londoners and tourists from around the world watching images of figure skaters then and now, mixed with highlights of Canada’s London. If you missed your chance to see it in person, you can watch it here although I guarantee it won’t be as exciting as standing under a light snowfall, listening to the oohs and aahs of the crowd. 

As my husband and I returned home, we chatted about how glad we were that we had the opportunity to be part of this once in a lifetime event in our city. We had started the week with a resolve to stay away from the ‘craziness’ that we expected downtown, but now realize that had we done that, we would have missed being a part of London’s shining moment. 

Well deserved kudos need to go to:

Budweiser Gardens – not only for allowing us this opportunity, but for consistently making London a better place. I remember a time not that long ago where I would lament all the ‘cool’ shows going to Toronto, and wishing that London had that kind of excitement. Well, we do now, and this was just one more shining example! 

To Londoners for showing the world that we are a classy, hospitable city which was worthy of this event. I know that local businesses and restaurants didn’t see the huge bump in business that they were hoping for this week – and after being ‘on the inside’, I can understand why with very short breaks in between competitions – however, I have no doubt that some of those heading home today will leave with an intention to return to London one day. There will be a return on this investment  - I’m sure of it. 

To the London Police Service – last night I watched thousands of fans pour out of Bud Gardens, as hundreds more gathered for the Tree of Lights and still hundreds more gathered outside downtown bars to starts their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations early. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but instead it was a calm, orderly evening and that’s because of you. Our visitors thank you and so do I. I have never crossed a downtown street easier than I did last night! 

To our visitors from far and wide – I hope you enjoyed your time in London and are taking back good memories of your time here. We can sometimes forget how big this world really is as we go about our day to day lives, but this week, you reminded us that there’s a whole world out there to explore, as you explored our little city. We look forward to hosting you again as visitors and as new friends. Don’t be strangers.

To all the naysayers – if you were speaking this week, no one could hear you over the music, and for that I am thankful. Our city isn’t perfect – no city is – but when we have a chance to shine for the world, we owe it to ourselves to put our best foot forward. There are more great things about London than there are negative. If there weren’t, none of you would be here. Continue to stand up for what is right – we owe ourselves that too – but don’t forget that it’s ok to celebrate when London does something right. And boy, did we do something right this week. 

PS – covering this event didn’t come without regrets. Not being brave enough to speak to Toller Cranston and Joanie Rochette as I walked past each of them, not seeking out Kurt Browning to tell him he’s the reason I love figure skating the way I do, not getting a soft pretzel even though they looked so yummy, not asking my seat mates to teach me how to say “hello” in Japanese so I could confuse friends and family...the list goes on. I guess these will have to wait until London hosts another international skating event – except the pretzel – that’s going to happen sooner – I guarantee it. 

さようなSayōnara – goodbye world!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Johnny Reid Fires Up London

I have to admit, I was not only entertained watching Johnny Reid last week at the John Labatt Centre...I was charmed. Maybe it doesn’t take a lot to charm me... maybe I’m a pushover for an adorable Scottish accent...perhaps the sly smiles and winks got to me...it could have been those pink pants and shiny white shoes.  All I know is that I wasn’t the only one with googly eyes and a melting heart that evening. It was me...and several hundred senior citizens.  

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had much in common at all with the retirement set, but on this night, it seemed, age didn’t matter one bit as the young and the less than young swayed along in unison to familiar tunes like ‘Let’s Have a Party’, ‘Change the World’, ‘Fire it Up’ and ‘Let’s Go Higher’. 

If Reid was feeling at all fatigued from this 28 city whirlwind cross-Canada tour, he certainly wasn’t showing it this night. A bundle of energy right from the outset, he tested his endurance – and the quality of his security team – with a walk around the entire arena, venturing up into the stands where his adoring fans were waiting with outstretched arms to welcome him to London.  

It was the soft and slow ballads, though, that Reid is known best for, and that got hearts beating a little faster on this evening.  

One of my personal favourites has always been ‘Thank You”, a love ballad that has the inevitable effect of making you want to hug those closest to you and ... well... thank them. Seeing it performed live, in person, though made me hold my husband even tighter than usual...although I’m not sure if it was the song that caused that, or my instinct to protect him from the estrogen crazed women surrounding him, loudly shouting their love toward the stage. 

There were two highlights of the show that stood out above everything for me.  The first came early on thanks to a highly intoxicated elderly couple sitting next to the stage who decided that any and all open space around them was their private dance floor. Reid took little time pointing them out to the crowd, and his camera crew used them as comic relief throughout the evening, showcasing their unusual dancing style and complete oblivion to everyone and everything around them.  I’m not even sure they knew it was a live concert at times!  

The second stand out moment came late in the show during my other favourite Reid ballad, ‘Dance With Me’. By this point in the show, the crooner had made his way to a small stage located near the back of the floor, under the requisite spinning mirror ball (if only the couple at the front knew the REAL dance floor was to be at the back). As he sang, the camera projecting to the large screens around the arena was focused on Reid who was crouched down, clearly singing to someone in particular. My assumption at that point was that it was a 60+ female as they tended to be winning the jackpot of kisses and hugs on this night, but when Reid jumped down off the stage, cameras followed him to a lovely young woman singing along to this sappy sweet tune. My first instinct was ‘how sweet’.  My second thought was ‘why are those two guys behind her crying?’ I mean, I wanted him to dance with me too, but I wasn’t about to cry about it.  And then it hit me....I watched as Reid took the white cane from the young woman’s hands, placing it on the stage behind him, before wrapping his arms around her neck, and swaying like two high school teens at their first dance.  She couldn’t see him, but she knew how special this moment was.  Her tears, her companions’ tears, my tears....all of us knew how special this moment was.  

Reid may be a charmer, but at that moment it was clear that his charm was authentic and genuine...and an entire arena was more in love with him than ever. 

Reid’s show was rounded out by an incredibly brave opening set from Carolyn Dawn Johnson who held the entire JLC captive with a guitar, a microphone and a strong, soulful voice. Hard to believe that Reid used to open for her in his early days, but it’s certainly nice to see him sharing his success with her now. 

There was also a lovely, albeit short, performance from a couple new to the mainstream Canadian music scene, The Stellas. Their one song set left me wanting to hear more from this talented duo, but I guess in a way that was a good thing because theirs was the first name I typed into YouTube when I got home that evening. Count me among their newest fans. 

I left the John Labatt Centre that night knowing that I had been charmed by the best, and loving every minute of it, right down to Reid’s parting words:

May the sun shine on your shoulders
May luck and love be your friends
For now, always, forever; ‘til we meet again

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Fair Lady a Rainy Day Treat

Thanks to my favourite entertainment venue, the John Labatt Centre, and their Broadway in London series, I had the chance to attend the one-night-only performance of the classic “My Fair Lady” in the highly coveted position of JLC Reviewer. Those who know me well know there are two things I love: live musical theatre and free date nights. Needless to say, next Wednesday evening will not be nearly as fun as this one was!

I will admit that going into this show, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never seen My Fair Lady, nor had I yet experienced a “Broadway in London” performance, however I was pleasantly surprised by both.

First, the theatre – how the staff of the JLC is able to take a hockey rink and transform it into an intimate live theatre venue is nothing short of remarkable, but by George, they did it. It seemed like every seat would be a great one, and other than the side boards, the jerseys hanging from the rafters, and the patrons enjoying plastic cups of beer, I could have imagined myself sitting at the Grand. It was charming to see the typical ‘theatre crowd’ all dolled up and ready to take in a dose of culture as well...not what I expected, but adorable to witness.

As for the play – I will admit I have become a bit of a theatre snob, spoiled by big, modern, flashy musicals with grandiose sets, people flying across the stage and stars who are household names, so I had to put all that aside for this production. Once I did that, and was able to focus on the talent in front of me, I realized that for a cast that spends each night on a different stage in a different city, this group was incredibly talented. I have been told by others that if you’re a fan of the movie version of this show, featuring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, this production paled in comparison. If, however, you were experiencing it for the first time like I was, it was a perfectly ‘loverly’ show.

Many of the cast are relative newcomers to the live stage (some recent college grads) according to the program, but they clearly were far from amateur caliber. I couldn’t imagine being on the road away from friends and family for weeks and months of the year, but the strain of that certainly didn’t show on stage. The voices were well trained, the lines committed to memory and the orchestra in fine form.

The story was a love story of sorts, which I'll leave you to read about on Wikipedia as I did prior to the show, however, I will suggest that in modern times I think you would be hard pressed to find a woman willing to endure what I would describe as a mildly abusive relationship. I am, however, a princess, so perhaps I just have a lower tolerance level for being yelled at constantly?

Once again, the John Labatt Centre has proven itself as a versatile venue catering to all Londoners. While it was strange sitting in the audience without a cowboy hat on for yet another A1 country concert experience, I would not hesitate to take in another Broadway in London performance at the fabulous RBC Theatre. And ‘with a lil’ bit of luck’, perhaps I will again soon!