Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, Adele, The Police, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton — if these acts ever performed together on the same stage, you can bet people would be camping out for weeks and knocking each other over to get tickets.
Barring some kind of British Lollapalooza, it’ll likely never happen — but music fans in St. John’s will get a chance to see the next best thing tonight and Saturday, as Theatre St. John’s presents “British Invasion” at the Arts and Culture Centre.
It’s not a musical, and it’s not a play. It’s an all-out rock show, featuring Kelly-Ann Evans, Justin Nurse, Jennifer Dawson and Danny Malena challenging some of the U.K.’s musical icons from the 1960s to today.
From The Beatles and Dusty Springfield to The Eurythmics, Culture Club and Queen, the four singers, under the guidance of Theatre St. John’s artistic director Keith Pike and backed by a full band, will embody British musicians in a show that will be more a celebration of the music and musicians than impersonations.
“The actors take on the persona of whatever singer they’re portraying. Boy George, for example: Danny takes on his character and it’s unbelievable, actually,” Pike explained. “We all know Boy George has a certain kind of energy, and he brings that out while wearing the make-up, hair, the long coat, everything. It’s a lot of fun. As long as you give respect to the music and what the musician was trying to convey, then that’s what we’re going for.”
Imitating the quirks of say, Mick Jagger, might not be as challenging as imitating some of the more subtle performers, like Petula Clark, but it all comes down to studying videos, Evans said. Though she’s got plenty of musical experience and isn’t a stranger to performing the tunes of British icons, having starred in the Toronto production of “We Will Rock You” for a couple years, replicating the signature dance moves of Robert Plant is a tough one, she admitted.
“The women are easy, you can watch the videos and just go for it. Robert Plant is a challenge. For one, he’s a dude,” Evans explained, laughing. “Everything is totally different: the way you walk, the way you stand, the way you sing. I’m doing my best, so we’ll see what the audience thinks.”
Nurse is looking forward to performing as Sting.
“There’s something about the way The Police perform and the way Sting sings that’s just so unique and so captivating. Exactly how he does it is like a magic trick,” he said. “They’re the ones I would have spent hours and hours burning out the tape in my tape player.
“I feel entirely intimidated. ‘I’m not worthy’ is all that comes to mind,” he added, laughing. “I know people are going to compare (to the original songs) and it’s a lot of pressure, but it’s an honour that Keith thought I was capable. The trick, I guess, is just to drink lots of water and go full out.”
Pike, who’s also artistic director of the Stephenville Theatre Festival, first mounted “British Invasion” in Stephenville last summer, with success. Malena, from Toronto, and Dawson, a native of St. George’s, were both in that production, Dawson’s rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” receiving a standing ovation. The show was re-worked a little this time around, incorporating Greg Malone as the emcee, playing Ed Sullivan in the first half of the production and Queen Elizabeth in the second.
It’s the nostalgia evoked by the show that’s been partly responsible for its success so far, Pike said, and that’s the way he likes it.
“Isn’t that what theatre is all about, creating a response from an audience to whatever they’re seeing on stage? I think that’s what’s really special about this show, people will know all the tunes and will remember dancing to them at school dances or maybe one of them was played during their first kiss.”
It’s not so nostalgic that younger audiences won’t enjoy it, Nurse was quick to point out. The era of music being presented, he feels, is timeless.
“I think every generation that arrives on the planet thinks ‘Baba O’Riley’ is a sick song, no matter where you’re from. There are certain generations of music that happen and then end, but I believe that in a hundred years from now, they’re still going to be doing British Invasion music. Britney Spears may not be done in a hundred years,” he said with a laugh.
Theatre St. John’s is known for musical performances, past productions including “Fame,” “Little Women” and most recently, “Annie,” in which Greg Malone also starred. The theatre company’s mandate is to mentor young local actors and dancers, and students are usually a large part of the troupe’s productions. “British Invasion,” however, has an all-professional cast being paid professional rates. They each worked on their own, perfecting their rock personas until about two weeks ago, when group rehearsals started and the cast melded together perfectly, Pike said.
The result, said Nurse, is a concert fit for Wembley Stadium.
“I’d love to see the entire audience standing the whole time,” he said. “I want to see them on their feet, I want to see them screaming and laughing.”
Tickets for “British Invasion” are $39.50, taxes and surcharges included. They’re available at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900, or online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.
To see a video clip of the singers rehearsing for the show, visit www.thetelegram.com.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @tara_bradbury