By Valerie Hill
When director, David Rogers, conceived of his newest production “Good Ol’ Country Gospel” he wanted it to stand out from other tribute shows.
He succeeded as was evidenced by the outstanding opening in late September at the St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre. First of all, he asked the seven performers for some of their musical memories growing up, particularly memories of singing gospel in church. Each of the performers then prefaces songs with those memories, giving the show an authentic, homey feel. Next, Rogers decided the cast would sing the entire song. Most musical tributes try to fit in a lot of music and must present bits of songs in a medley. Hearing the full song, particularly those familiar tunes such as “Peace in the Valley,” sung by such a powerful cast reminds us just how beautiful this music is.
Everything about “Good Ol’ Country Gospel” is uniquely homespun, so you feel like Rogers wrote the production for an audience he knows very well: the Drayton audience. And he chose the perfect cast, several of them new to Drayton audiences.
Mark MacRae, a fabulous baritone, sang “Rock of Ages” and it was simply spine tingling. Kate Suhr is new and her big voice belies her small frame. Paul Jerry Schwarz, also new, is a big guy with a lot of power in his voice and such charm on stage you instantly like this young man. He was the first one in the lobby after the show greeting everyone.
Ben Cookson told a story of when he and his brother were young and were quite the little red headed hellions in church, crawling under the pews while their parents were distracted singing hymns. He must have absorbed some of that music because he sang each song with such emotion.
Daphne Moens, a Drayton veteran and recording artist, just melted that stage with her powerful vocals. She loves Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline and did both singers proud with her rendition of their hits. Yes, the show also has a little bit of country, too.
Sweet and multi-talent Leah Grandmont returned to the Drayton stage after a successful run of “Fiddler on the Loose.” In this show, she gets to show off her fiddle playing, natural humour and vocals.
Last but not least was Zachary Knowles, another Drayton regular and a performer with an instinct for comedy as well as a good voice.
Most of the performers are multi-instrumentalists, switching between singing, playing keyboard, piano, organ, mandolin, guitar and double bass plus a tambourine. There is not a moment when the audience isn’t caught up in the thrill of this wonderful cast.
Rounding off the music, sitting not so quietly in a back corner of the stage, was drummer Kevin Dempsey. He’s been with Drayton since 1994.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Drayton show without a bit of humour and this came in the form of the performers reading funny excerpts from church bulletins.
The show will run until Dec. 22 in this 1867 building that for this show has been cleverly converted into a wooden country church by Rogers who was the set designer. It’s truly a little brown church in the wildwood.
– Waterloo Region Record