Back when the wave of music revues first crested at the Confederation Centre, most of the reno work being done was the hidden, structurally necessary stuff that takes place without ribbon cutting.
Now, the show that first made that high water mark, Canada Rocks! is being remounted in a freshly made-over auditorium.
Gone are the big ceiling things that I had convinced myself at some point were necessary for sound. Overall, the new place has a clean, minimalist look — not so much in line with the period of the building, but functional and sharp.
The highlight is that they’ve cut by half the average amount of times you have to repeat “hi, oops, ’scuse me” to people you sort of recognize, while navigating their side-scrunched knees and feet.
Most importantly, of course, is that the sight lines to the stage are still excellent.
For 2014, Canada Rocks! has been revised to include a whole slew of new artists, as well. Some are big celebrities, whose music is pooh-poohed by critics, but whose worldwide following can’t be ignored. Some are hip and original indie acts. And some are those hard-working dreamers pursuing their passions right here in our Island midst. God love them.
For the other decades, if you were to sit around a table with friends and bang out a list of important Canadian pop artists, it would likely look similar to this.
Perhaps you’d butt heads over which songs to use, however, when dealing with the extensive catalogues of, say, Joni or Neil or Leonard.
Here, the creators have squeezed in as much music as could possibly fit on that stage in the allotted time.
If one (likely newer) song isn’t your cup of tea, a different memorable chorus is right behind it to soothe you with a nostalgic salve.
Music director Craig Fair used some sort of sorcery to make the selections work in a musical theatre setting, and in many cases managed to find the biggest, fattest choruses imaginable.
There are plenty of moments where the vocal power of the group is ignited, but Dr. Music’s Sun Goes By is perhaps my favourite.
There’s dancing too. Lithe, sexy, and, at times, silly dancing. It’s mesmerizing and impressive, and not exactly within the rock and roll ethos. But that’s A-OK. This show is its own massive machine. An unstoppable force that keeps going from point A to exeunt omnes. Like, I don’t know, maybe a train.
Yes, there is a narrative that links the songs together and it involves a train. Specifically, a small town youth riding from coast to nearly coast to see his gal, learning about Canada and its rich music history along the way.
The affable Gabriel Antonacci is the one taking that journey. He meets some wise people along the way, like crowd favourite Terry Gandalf Hatty, who share tidbits of Canadiana.
The story is cute, but pretty lean, as you might expect for a show that aims to showcase such a varied music history.
But there are some moments of insight and laughter. Laurie Murdoch, telling the story of Sam the Record Man, made for a great scene. His Canadian toponym re-purpose of Hank Snow’s I’ve been Everywhere (which was also re-written by Snow for America) was a hit.
Pop music snobs might disagree with the importance of a few newer selections, or worry about how this smiley pack of limber jean-clad wolves will attack their favourite artists, but the music is always handled with love by band and singers alike.
Susan Henley, for example, soared with Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. And Arcade Fire’s Reflektor was, like, perfect, actually.
Mercifully, the production stays away from parody and imitation, and rather, just aims to use the individual strengths of the performers.
I’m not sure if it was the huge energy of the show or the new comfy seats, but it’s worth noting that I didn’t get the restless bum syndrome usually inflicted by a two-hour show.
Canada Rocks! plays at the Confederation Centre of the Arts until Sept. 27