Gus Hansen

Theatre Review: Music makes Mardi Gras Mayhem sing

New musical comedy, specifically written for Vernon Winter Carnival’s Mardi Gras theme this year, will put you in a good juju frame of mind.

Maybe it was the zydeco and Mississippi steamboat  jazz, the spicy rice and beans with crumbly corn bread, or the colourful string beads, but I now have Mardi Gras fever.

Wednesday’s opening of the new musical comedy, specifically written for Vernon Winter Carnival’s Mardi Gras theme this year, will put you in a good juju frame of mind.

Written and produced by Vernon playwright Michael Poirier, of Back Stage Theatre, with music direction by Julie Armitage, the dinner theatre production is a hoot hollering good time, thanks to the excellent band of mostly women musicians and exceptional song choices by Armitage.

Mardi Gras Mayhem is one of those madcap musicals that really is about the audience having fun, rather than having to follow a dreary plot.

Set in an old Victorian-era hotel in New Orleans, the play revolves around a group of odd-ball characters looking for love, shedding clothes, and getting down to business during Mardi Gras festivities, all while a few spirits haunt their midst and cause mayhem.

We are welcomed to the madness by hotel owner Miguel  François Smith, played by John Lomas, who gets us into the festive spirit with opening number Drop me off in New Orleans by NOLA’s own Kermit Ruffins.

Miguel has an English accent despite his two first names (something to do with his mother’s dalliances).

He is attempting to check in his guests, while trying to deal with his ex-wife, Gabrielle – a scene stealing turn by Betty Anne Northup, whose version of Koko Taylor’s Voodoo Woman is worth the price of admission alone. She has come looking for money and has a penchant for playing with dolls.

It’s a voodoo thing, after all.

Their son Otto, the exceptionally talented  singer-guitarist-actor Gus Hansen, who sinks us down into the Mississippi Delta with Doc Watson’s Deep River Blues, works as the slave labouring bellboy receiving few tips and little encouragement.

Then there is  the brash and French accented Mme. Brasseau, played by Lesley McCoy, who has arrived after being kicked out of another hotel.

She sings Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy for my Shirt, while fellow guest, businessman Clark Simpson (stage musical natural Neil Morrison, with his clear-as-a bell voice), has a suspicion she may be a “working girl.”

Then arrives Canadian couple, the Frantopolowskis, from Vernon, of all places, who enter in all their stereotyped glory – with toques on their heads  and flags emblazoned on their luggage. Turns out it took Air Canada two days to get them to their destination.

Played by Paul Lawson and Catherine Hansen, the Frantopo… whatever… discover what Mardi Gras is all about when the shirts start flying, and their Arctic frost starts melting. A spell is cast, indeed.

Giving them all the Heebie Jeebies (as sung in the Boswell Sisters version written by Johnny Copeland) are the three ghosts: the mischievous Little Girl (Samantha Henri), the pick-pocketing Wallet Ghost (Michael Wardlow) and the Naked Ghost (Pascal Belanger, hilariously jiving with his shorts on), who drift in and out of the picture.

Together, the cast and musicians – Gerhard Traxel on guitar, Connie Traxel on drums, Betty Johnson on guitar/banjo, Ellie Young on bass, Wendy Aronyk on flute, and Armitage on percussion –  make an excellent gumbo of good times.

Chef John Fournier must also be commended for cooking up a great feast of Cajun-inspired grub.

Mardi Gras Mayhem continues to a sold-out house at the Schubert Centre tonight and Saturday.

Kristin Froneman is the arts-entertainment editor at the Vernon Morning Star.

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