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L.A. Beat

New West Theatre brings the carefree ’50s spirit with Live at the Drive in

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New West Theatre’s summer production of Live at the Drive in opened Aug. 12 at Exhibition Park. With Covid effectively cancelling all things related to  live entertainment, arts companies have been forced to adapt and change.

New West Theatre has decided to offer a drive in theatre experience at Exhibition Park. They went all out by broadcasting the show on a special radio station Katie Fellger performing in Live at the Drive In. photo by Richard Ameryand having a backdrop with ’50s styled popcorn and treats icons at the back of the small stage the city uses for special events like Canada Day and the Rotary Dragon Boat Festival. They had two video screens on each side of the stage and to go with the American Graffiti  era of ’50s and ’60s pop, enhancing that feel was a line up of hot rods along the fence looking over a good sized crowd of cars full of theatre fans, honking in appreciation for musical numbers and corny jokes.

In trying times it is nice to be able to embrace the familiar. And nothing is more familiar than New West Theatre. They’re always entertaining, cracking dad jokes, singing songs you know and smiling up a storm.

 They’re comforting, even when you’re parked in front of a light stand and a mini-van, trying not to rock a piss in your pants throughout a 90 minute show with no intermission, though porta potties are available on site.

But let’s face it, in times like these, who couldn’t use New West Theatre’s good cheer and Up with People attitude? Especially when listening to the news just makes you hate people in general.

All six cast members got to shine with Erica Hunt, Scott Carpenter, Katie Fellger, Rylan Kunkel, Kyle Gruninger and Kathy Zaborsky being their always entertaining selves. Keenan Pezderic and Scott Mezei provided most of the music with Zaborsky tickling the 88s. She also sang a beautiful “Where the Boys Are” as part of a Connie Francis medley.
 Rylan  Kunkel  also knocked off some sweet saxophone solos. They all sang hair raisingly gorgeous vocal melodies.
But it really seemed like the Katie Fellger show this time. One of new West Theatre’s newer cast members was everywhere, beaming off the screens, dancing, joking and singing beautiful melodies.

 The cast opens the show with an energetic version of Rock Around the Clock, though it is difficult to see who is singing what from a distance.
 The followed it up with one of medleys, the first one featuring the music of the Four Seasons including “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,”  and “ Walk Like A Man.” I believe it was Kyle Gruninger hitting the ear piercing falsetto notes as he does so well.

 Dad jokes are always a huge part of New West’s comedy, which they completely embraced for this show by singing “dad jokes” in a hilarious harmony, before each cast member cracked one, especially Scott Carpenter. Carpenter had his own inspirational moments, dressing up in a beanie and rain coat for a “campy” version of “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” He also shone in  the troupe’s rock and roll choir sketch, which was not only funny but showed off their vocal harmonies and a series of ’50s nonsense hits. The best  bit featuring  those harmonies comes near the end of the show on a stunning Beach Boys medley.

Kathy Zaborsky burbled about how excited he was to put together a Paul Anka medley featuring the talented  Rylan Kunkel on sax and crooning lead vocals on a few songs including “Put Your Head on my Shoulder” and “Diana.”

Kyle Gruninger performing in Live at the Drive In. Photo by Richard Amery
 It takes people with money to put on an expanded show like this, so there were some unabashed plugs for Stringham LLP, for which the cast created a ’50s style radio jingle, punctuated by a lawyer joke.
 They honoured Lethbridge Toyota by noting they were on hand to  give battery boosts for those in need, just in case listening to the show on a special radio station ran down their guests batteries. They also used them as the setting for a hilarious sketch on car complaint lines.

 Just when you couldn’t get any happier, they wound down the show with Kyle Gruninger talking about playing the Enmax Centre as part of  the We Will Rock You Queen musical, before crashing into his best little Richard impression with a medley including “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

 I left during it to beat the rush of cars as the cast ended the show with a spirited version of “the Twist“ and  “Twist and Shout.”

Live at the Drive In” runs until Aug. 16. Gates open at 7 p.m., so get there early to avoid parking behind a light pole and to get screened for Covid symptoms. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 per individual or $80 for a full car load.

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat editor
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