New Year’s Eve keeps coming early this year.
Scott has worked on his bio-musical Mr. New Year’s Eve: A Night with Guy Lombardo for almost 10 years. The iconic London dance band leader combined with his brothers and their Royal Canadians bandmates sold 300 million records, and made “Auld Lang Syne” the NYE signature song.
Buoyed by some of the tunes that sold all those records and blessed with a strong cast, led by Ron Kennell as Guy Lombardo, Scott has been able to count down to midnight at last. Yay for the small-town Guy.
Blyth artistic director Gil Garratt also deserves a big yay for greenlighting the world premiere of Mr. New Year’s Eve as the opener for Blyth’s 43rd season.
This calls for a celebration!
Kennell is a Lombardo sweet enough to be hurt by the taunts of critics calling him “Gooey Lumbago,” and crazed steel enough to pilot a speedboat to victory as burning oil sears him.
As director, Garratt surrounds the Guy who is telling the story with ace performances. Birgitte Solem is outstanding as the woman who sees a greatness in the bandleader he may not realize is there. Solem, like others in the cast, plays on stage in the band, she took up her flute for the first time in years.
Also strong are Rebecca Auerbach (as belter Sophie Tucker), George Meanwell and J.D. Nicholsen (as the Lombardo clan patriarch and other voices of doubt).
Blyth’s digital dramaturge Beth Kates brings a marvelous array of vintage Lombardo material to the stage’s projection screens. An image of young Guy, nattily attired, is most memorable.
A few thoughts…
Here is a suggestion, though. Valuable minutes are devoted to projections showing the march of time through 1930s and 1940s. Subtract that material and add at least another Lombardo gem in the show song list to stand with every New Year’s Eve’s “Auld Lang Syne,” 1941’s “After You’ve Gone” and “1928’s Coquette.”
That done, the night with Guy will be even sweeter and more heavenly.
You may want to skip Mr. New Year’s Eve: A night with Guy Lombardo if: You think it’s stupid when the Guy Lombardo character registers wry disgust because of the lettering is only two inches high on the London bridge named after him. An inch to 150 million records sold is fine by you.
You don’t want to miss Mr. New Year’s Eve if: You just know Royal Canadian hits (often co-written by Carmen Lombardo, Guy’s sax-playing younger brother and the band’s singer for many years) deserve a chance to be heard in an excellent, new way or you enjoyed Scott’s The Ballad Of Stompin’ Tom at Blyth in 2006 and 2007 and have been waiting to cheer his hometown tribute.
Northbound: Getting to Blyth calls for a willingness to love your inner-Guy relaxed self, not speed demon boatface Guy. That don’t work on old Highway 4. Give yourself 90 minutes from sweet home London. When you pass the impending (opens in August) Cowbell Brewery site, you are almost there.
London Connections? Yes!
Inevitable #ldnont connections: Too many to count. Guy Lombardo (1902-1977) was born in London. The Lombardo brothers played their first gigs here as teens. The Jack Richardson Music Hall of Fame, 182 Dundas St., has a Lombardo Avenue street sign and more. True, its Old North street location is far from where the Lombardo family lived downtown — but as a Hall organizer, I am happy to see that small sign of civic appreciation.
Having seen Mr. New Year’s Eve at Blyth this summer, London fans will need only wait two seasons for a separate Guy groove.
Guy Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve, with orchestrations and original music by Dave Pierce, book and direction by Grand Theatre artistic director Dennis Garnhum, will have its world premiere in the spring of 2019. In a Grand media release they state “this musical celebration of a local hero will celebrate Lombardo and his orchestra, The Royal Canadians, in a sweeping spectacle that traces his legendary rise to ‘Mr. New Year’s Eve.’”
Which could also be said of what is happening this summer at Blyth.
Mr. NYE opened at the Blyth Festival on June 30 and continues until Aug. 19. Visit their website for more info and to purchase tickets!
James Stewart Reaney keeps James’s Brander Newer Blogger at LondonFuse.ca as part of his volunteerism and reverence for London A&E. He recently retired from The London Free Press after more than 30 years covering everything from A — The Alcohollys — to B: baseball’s 1986 World Series. Follow his Twitter #ldnont thoughts via @JamesSReaney