Okanagan Lake may be a long way from the blue bayou, but that doesn’t mean we can’t indulge in a spicy jambalaya mixed with some good juju.
For ya’ll who’ve never been buried in beads, eaten a King cake, or paraded down the streets barring nothing but a slide whistle, it’s time to “laissez les bons temps rouler” (that’s let the good times roll) at this year’s Vernon Winter Carnival.
This year’s theme, you guessed it, is Mardi Gras, and everyone will be feasting on some New Orleans’ fun and hospitality without having to worry about the Canada-U.S. dollar exchange rate.
One event that is adhering to the theme full stop is this year’s dinner theatre production, which is once again being produced by Vernon’s Backstage Theatre at the Schubert Centre.
Written and directed by Vernon’s very own Michael Poirier, with music direction by Julie Armitage, the production promises to have music, masks, and mayhem.
This year’s Carnival theme played right into Armitage’s hands as she visited New Orleans last year with Vancouver’s City Soul Choir, of which she is a member.
“As you can imagine Mardi Gras is a big deal down there, so it was perfect in deciding what to do with this year’s show,” she said. “We wanted to use elements of New Orleans in the play: the music, the setting of an old hotel, ghosts and voodoo.”
“We always like to play up the theme and usually we like to make the setting for our plays local, but this one begged to be set in New Orleans,” added Poirier.
Entitled Mardi Gras Mayhem, the play is set during NOLA’s famed Fat Tuesday festival, with most of the action taking place in the lobby of the Grand Historic Creole Hotel.
Once a grand Victorian era establishment, the hotel has fallen into disrepair and is managed by Miguel François Smith (played by John Lomas).
Miguel’s ex-wife, Gabrielle (Betty Ann Northup), who happens to be a voodoo priestess, enters the scene and is hounding her former husband for support payments, while their son, Otto (Gus Hansen), is working as a bell hop as slave labour.
Then there’s businessman Clark Simpson (Neil Morrison), who has booked into the hotel but does want anything to do with Mardi Gras, and a Canadian couple from Vernon, the Frantopolowskis (Paul Lawson and Catherine Hansen), who have arrived at the hotel without luggage and are still wearing their toques, mitts and parkas.
“When Mardi Gras fever takes over, the Canadians can’t understand the concept of why everyone is taking their top off,” said Poirier, adding that their icy indifference soon melts, without full exposure.
Also entering the madness is abrasive Mme. Brasseau (Lesley McCoy), who has already been kicked out of one hotel, and manages to check herself into the Grand Creole, where she takes a shine to the businessman.
Mischief ensues when a trio of spirits from the underworld haunt the guests.
The Naked ghost (Pascal Belanger) died from a heart attack while partying hard at Mardi Gras, while the Wallet ghost (Michael Wardlow)is a notorious pickpocket and passes his findings around. Then there’s the Little Girl ghost (Samantha Henri), who likes to play tricks on the guests.
And they all sing, well except for the Naked ghost who can’t wear a microphone, jokes Poirier.
All will be accompanied by a live band featuring Betty Johnson on guitar and banjo, Gerhard Traxel on guitar, Connie Traxel on drums, Ellie Young on bass and Wendy Aronyk on percussion and flute.
Armitage will lead and join the band, playing one of the sliding whistles she brought back from her trip to New Orleans. Her experience not only exposed her to the big brass of the music scene and some newer talents, but to Mardi Gras culture.
The play features big band-style standards by Satchmo (Louis Armstrong), along with zydeco and jazz by artists such as Kermit Ruffins and John Boutté.
“Some songs will be familiar, while some will not,” said Armitage.
“One of the songs we’re doing is (Shamarr Allen’s) Meet Me on Frenchman Street, which talks about how the locals fire up the barbecue on the street late at night… If you go to Frenchman Street it is what Bourbon Street used to be before it became all touristy. It’s just music constantly.”
Adding to the atmosphere is the food. Schubert Centre chef John Fournier plans to cook up an authentic New Orleans feast for the buffet dinner.
“We hope everyone comes for the whole experience,” said Armitage.
“We have an amazing crew from the set decor to the stage managing. Everyone is working hard to make this the best play,” added Poirier.
Mardi Gras Mayhem runs at the Schubert Centre Feb. 10 to 13. Both the Friday and Saturday shows are now sold out. Limited tickets ($45, includes dinner and show) are still available for the Wednesday and Thursday shows and can purchased at the Winter Carnival office, by calling 250-545-2236 or order online at www.vernonwintercarnival.com.