Hit show back by popular demand on P.E.I.

Nine years after it was created, Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue returns to the Charlottetown Festival

Sally Cole scole@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on July 11, 2014

Gabe Antonacci’s eyes light up as he recalls performing in the premiere production of Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue in 2005.

“It was my debut at the Charlottetown Festival and one of the first shows I had ever done, and I was just so excited to be a company member,” says the Toronto-based actor who has gone on to make a name for himself in musical theatre productions like The Jersey Boys, American Idiot, The Full Monty and The Who’s Tommy.

Now, nine years later, Antonacci is taking that musical train ride across the country once again in the 2014 production of Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue.

But things are different this time.

“In the first version, I was one of the dancers. Now I’m one of the leads,” says Antonacci of the popular show that continues at the Homburg Theatre of the Confederation Centre of the Arts on selected dates until Sept. 27.

Using scenic and archival video, vignettes and orchestral rock music, Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue tells the tale of an Island boy (Gabe Antonacci) on an eastbound train, chugging home to be with his sweetheart (Jen Rider-Shaw) in time for the P.E.I. 2014 celebrations.

“Coming back to it is wonderful. I love the songs. But I’m a totally different performer than I was back then, and so is the show,” says Antonacci who is in the solo spotlight performing Home by Michael Bublé and Fire It Up by Johnny Reid and joins the company in numbers including Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams and Pull Me In by Paper Lions.

Shawna van Omme, also an original cast member, is pumped about returning to the popular show, which includes a full orchestra and dance troupe.

“People absolutely loved it the last time, and they just couldn’t wait for it to come back. I also think people are excited with the changes,” says the P.E.I. actor, who is also aware of the passage of time.

In the past eight years she has gotten married, performed in Billy Elliot, her first Mirvish show in Toronto, and worked at many other theatres across the country.

“So it’s kind of neat to come back and revisit this now at this point in my career,” says van Omme who recently performed in Annie as Grace and in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story as Vi.

Artistic director Anne Allan says it a was perfect time to revisit the show, which features 30 new rock gems alongside 40 landmark Canadian songs from the original, as well as five P.E.I. songs by Meaghan Blanchard, Tim Chaisson, Lennie Gallant, Paper Lions and Gene MacLellan.

“I always need a theme. So I looked at the season, which was the 50th season of Anne (of Green Gables – The Musical) and, with that, the 150th anniversary of the birth of the idea of Canada.

“I thought it has to be about Canada. It has to be that we allow ourselves to stand up again. We also have to recognize where we came from, from that beginning, with these incredible gentlemen who had the vision and the incredible boldness to do something (like create a country),” says Allan.

And what happens to the show after this season?

“Does it have potential to be somewhere else? We want to make sure we’re honouring the artists, that their name or photograph is always up there (on the screen). Because it’s a musical revue, we’re allowed to do that. But whether we would be allowed to do that somewhere else, where artists could come and do the show would be the big question. The rights become tricky with that,” says Allan.

In the meantime, vanOmme is enjoying the ride as she sings solos, including Dreams by Heart and Hit That Jive, Jack by Diana Krall.

“It’s neat to see the evolution of the show. It’s a very cool experience.”



If you are going

What: Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue

When and where: Selected dates until Sept. 27 in the Homburg Theatre of the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

Creative team: Anne Allan, Doug Gallant, Terry Hatty, Wade Lynch, Hank Stinson.

Tickets: Available at the Confederation Centre box office at (902) 566-1267 or toll free at 1-800-565-0278. They can also be purchased at Order Online at charlottetownfestival.com.