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Harkening back to a time of optimism

When the K-W Silver Stars revisit the music, comedy, and poetry of the early 20th century for their “Edwardian Entertainment” revue, the songs will be universally upbeat. “In the morning, in the evening, ain’t we got fun,” they’ll insist to audiences at the Waterloo Region Museum. “Not much money, oh my honey, ain’t we got fun?” they’ll reiterate.

Given what was to unfold not long after this and other songs written between 1900 and 1920, the sentiment is almost heartbreakingly optimistic.

“The research that I did on it suggests that the turn of the century was a tremendously hopeful time,” said Peter Mansell, director of the show. “They were hoping that the new twentieth century would be a time of hope, and all the songs were about hope. Love would be better, the world would be better – ‘We’re all poor, but we’re all going to be happy.’

“Suddenly,” he added, “there was this World War I in the middle there. And America didn’t get into the war until later on, so they were all bubbly and positive and very hopeful. There was kind of an innocence.”

The K-W Silver Stars brings together seniors from the region – some with extensive musical experience, some without – for an evening of throwback entertainment. Some of their shows have brought back early rock-and-roll, the jazz age, vaudeville, and other long-gone entertainment eras.

Ain’t we got fun? The K-W Silver Stars aim to have lots of it in a production to be staged Nov. 3 and 10.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Ain’t we got fun? The K-W Silver Stars aim to have lots of it in a production to be staged Nov. 3 and 10. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“Edwardian Entertainment” is the troupe’s evocation of the revue format, a decidedly genteel evening of theatrics. “It’s a tone where everybody gets all dressed up and they either sing songs or recite poetry,” said Mansell. “It was typical of 1900-1920. Even though the First World War came in there, people would go out to the place where the town would have its music hall or bandshell, and have this kind of an entertainment.”

The war may have been raging, and more wars were yet to come, but music has always been an elixir.

“I find if you’re a little bit down, music is the best kind of healing,” said performer Mary Ducklow. “It just fills you up with a smile.”

Added singer Sherry Heine, “I just heard on the radio the other day that when you’re a singer, you live longer because your heart is better and your lungs are better. I think that’s great – keep on truckin’!”

From “When You Wore a Tulip (And I Wore a Big Red Rose)” to “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey,” all the hits of the phonograph era will be there. A curious surprise is how many of these songs – not exactly mainstays on today’s FM radio – have been lodged into the collective consciousness.

“People are amazed that they know every one of the songs in this show,” laughed Mansell.“They say, ‘How do I know every song in this show at my age? These are songs from 1900-1920 – how do I know these songs?’”

But they’ve become part of the Great American Songbook for a reason. “I picked the songs I remembered my family singing– the ones that jumped out as the most famous, most familiar, most well-known. And then I would pull out the MP3 and listen and say, ‘Gee, this is a really good song.’”

If Edwardian Entertainment is about an atmosphere of fun, then the Silver Stars are uniquely equipped to provide it, said Mansell.

“They get to their senior years, and they come to a company like this, and nobody has anything to prove anymore,” he said. “They’re in it for the fun – the joy of singing, the joy of acting, of working together with other theatre people.”

He continued, “They’re not out for any critic to say this is the best in town – we’re not out to win any awards at the professional level. Let the professionals fight it out amongst themselves. We’re just happy to be doing wonderful, wonderful work together as a group, and enjoy each other’s company.”

The K-W Silver Stars presentation of Edwardian Entertainment is set for November 3 and 10 (2 p.m. shows both days) at the Waterloo Region Museum. Tickets are $15, available at the Downtown Community Centre in Kitchener, call 519-741-2501.

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