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A Musical Delight
IN THE SPOTLIGHT COLUMN with Chris Halliday |
May 11, 2011
David Rosser, Bill Colgate and Geoffrey Tyler in Ned Durango. 2011. Photo by Norm Foster

I’m hanging onto my ticket stub from the world premiere of Ned Durango. That’s because I wouldn’t be surprised to see Theatre Orangeville’s latest musical production hit an even grander stage some day. The show, written by Norm Foster featuring music by Leslie Arden and directed by David Nairn, takes the audience on a musical journey as the residents of Big Oak pursue big city dreams.

Decimated by an economic downturn, Big Oak has lost two major businesses under Mayor Catherine Wilson’s (played by Diana Coatsworth) watch. But the chance to attract some big city investors into building an amusement park in Big Oak offers the townsfolk some hope. The mayor tasks Geoffrey Tyler’s character, Tom Shaw, the owner of the Crossroads Café who had a cup of coffee in the National Hockey League (NHL), with making the town’s annual Tomato Festival Parade better than ever.

As Shaw and his trusty sidekick Orson, played by David Rosser, convince over-the-hill country television star Ned Durango (Bill Colgate) to be the parade’s Grand Marshal, Big Oak attempts to sing and dance its way to the big time.

Foster’s script had me hopping out of the theatre, and singing its tunes on my drive home, as each of the cast’s five performers delivered an acoustic laser of delight straight to my ears all night. Tunes like Kissing Big Oak Goodbye, Half A World Away, or Ain’t No Woman Who Can Hog Tie Me, had me sitting on the edge of my seat.

The way the music is written will intrigue members of the audience most. You really have to pay attention because the music, albeit fantastic, isn’t just there to dazzle your ears — the lyrics are integral to furthering the plot. Many of the songs’ lyrics are unique, as they’re sung as if the characters were having a conversation with each other.

When the backstage orchestra of Bob Hewus, Bruce Ley and Arden weren’t blasting melodies away, Orson was my favourite character. The manner in which Rosser delivered a full bag of one-liners, some of which included “That girl could eat a pot roast through a picket fence,” or “Dress me up and call me Beverley,” had me in stitches all night.

Colgate played the ol’ wrangler Durango — clearly a difficult role with the cockney accent and old west dialogue — to a tee. Before the show, Colgate said he was basing his character on more of a Merle Haggard type. Well, the country western star surely came out in the song Ain’t No Woman Who Can Hog Tie Me. Colgate even shone in a more dramatic role, as Shaw and Orson learn their childhood hero is flawed and battling some inner demons of his own.

The audience catches a glimpse of sexual tension between Wilson and Shaw from the opening spot, but the plot really steams up later in the night. Coatsworth and Tyler’s back-and-forth banter offered signs of humour, but the two really heat up the stage with the duet, “Sleep On It Tonight.”

Although each cast member sang wonderfully, my favourite vocalist had to be Keely Hutton. She starred as Kay Starling, Orson’s estranged daughter who travels to Big Oak only to find herself stuck smack dab in the middle of a crisis moments before the Tomato Festival Parade. It could have been the songs Hutton was tasked to sing, or simply her powerful voice, but I could have listened to her all night. Just as Hutton’s voice blew me away, she and Orson enchanted my ears when they teamed up to belt out Somebody Sends You A Sign near the end of the first half.

Then again, the way the five members of the cast came together and intertwined five-part melodies at different times was incredible to say the least. When the quintet sang, the sound leaving the stage was simply sublime.

Aside from the musical tightrope act Colgate, Tyler, Hutton, Coatsworth and Rosser delivered, Foster’s script left me in suspense the entire night. Little twists here, and after a few others there, I was left wondering what would happen next. And in nearly every instance, what I had in mind almost never played out.

Theatre Orangeville’s production of Ned Durango plays at the Town Hall Opera House until May 22. For tickets, call 519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295, or visit