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Transcript: Connie Meng Review aired Friday, August 9, 2002

Jasper Station
1000 Islands Playhouse, Gananoque ON
Sunday, August 4 through Sunday, September 1, 2002

JASPER STATION, an entertaining new musical running for the month of August at the 1000 Islands Playhouse, has a book by prolific Canadian playwright Norm Foster and music by accomplished relative newcomer Steve Thomas. Both writers had a hand in the lyrics. Set in the Canadian Rockies in the Jasper railroad station, the six ill-assorted characters begin their journey of self-discovery well before the train arrives.

Dennis Horn has given the show a lovely airy set, and Dan Rider has lit the show very effectively. Mr. Horn's costumes are just as good as those he created for THE SECRET GARDEN, even if, perhaps, not quite as beautiful.
The cast is exceptionally strong and well balanced and as a whole immensely likeable. Their vocal blend is excellent on the group numbers, and they do justice to the interesting harmonies of composer Steve Thomas.
Heather McGuigan is good as the tough-talking Nikki. She adds a sparkle to the ensemble numbers with her obvious dance ability. Derek Marshall is equally good as Henry, the recently drafted NHL player. The audience loved his song about Mahovlich of Toronto Maple Leafs fame. He and Miss McGuigan also do a nice job with a touching duet in Act II called "Whatever."

Shannon McCaig, who was splendid last season in the Brockville LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, is in excellent form here as an ambitious newspaper reporter. Not only an appealing actress, she has a powerhouse voice that'll knock your socks off.
Craig Mason is both hilarious and vulnerable as Sterling, a would-be country songwriter. He has wonderful timing, especially in his opening monologue and when dealing with his hopelessly indecisive word choices. He's afraid, he says, of being "… up the camel without a straw."

I've come to realize that when I see Diane Stapley's name I can expect an exceptional performance. She's an actress of real subtlety, and the role of Emeline offers her some very nice singing opportunities as well. I especially liked her interpretation of "I'm Better Off Without Him" and the beautifully written twin soliloquy between her and Henry, "That's All I Need", is truly moving.

Brian McKay makes a charming Bert, and is also terrific playing all the incidental roles. He's especially effective as Roy, Emeline's boyishly ingenuous husband. This scene also provides him with a great song - the jazz waltz "I Can Change."

As for the music, Steve Thomas has written some good songs with some unusual harmonic underpinnings. Aside from those I've already mentioned a couple of rousing audience pleasers are the Act I Finale and the giddy country song, "Bob's Your Uncle". Mr. Thomas does a wonderful job on the keyboard, but it would be great to hear this music with a band.

Norm Foster certainly knows people. Even his silliest one-liners are rooted in the characters. I have to quote my favorite. "Ever make love to a woman who yodels? I never knew whether to keep going or buy a lift ticket." Even at the show's end he avoids sentimentality with a touch of humor. A small caveat - the show feels almost as if it has two opening numbers and takes a bit too long to get going. "There's a Train" could use judicious trimming.

Last but most certainly not least is Max Reiner who has done a great job of staging, choreographing and, in short, directing. Unless you've done it yourself, you're not aware of how skillfully he's pulled all the elements together into a pleasing whole. The better the directing, the less noticeable it is. Let's hope the 1000 Islands Playhouse invites this whole gang back.

On a scale of one to five, the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of JASPER STATION gets four and nine tenths fish. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.


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