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As many sounds as a piano has keys

Mark Payne takes the piano on a ranging musical adventure in Drayton Entertainment presentation at Cambridge theatre. [Submitted]

A guy and a piano. Simple enough. Well, not if Mark Payne can help it – and he can, putting the instrument to work creating a variety of sounds and covering many musical genres in this week’s concerts for Drayton Entertainment.

“Any expectations you have going in will be completely blown by the time you walk out the door,” said Payne. “The thing I like to tell people – people think they’re coming to see a guy play the piano, and that sounds like a very narrow scope. But the show is huge in scope.”

Backed by the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, Payne will perform a parade of memorable tunes from jazz to rock n’ roll classics to movie hits in the upcoming concert, I Love a Piano.

The performance aims to celebrate music written for the piano, made famous by piano players, or music that features the piano in some form. Payne will cover songs by famed composers, including “Rhapsody in Blue,” and “I Got Rhythm,” by George Gershwin, classical pieces by Beethoven, Liberace’s version of “Chopsticks,” and greatest hits medleys from Billy Joel, Carole King, and more. Other songs featured include “Music of the Night,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Your Song,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and of course, “I Love A Piano.”

It will also feature an original song written by Payne called “Simply Grand.” Though originally a one-person show, guest performers Callandra Dendias-Peter and Mark-Anthony Del Brocco join Payne for several songs throughout the concert.

“Mark is not only a terrific musician but also a funny and engaging entertainer capable of jumping from one genre to another with ease,” said Alex Mustakas, artistic director of Drayton Entertainment. “Audiences will be impressed with his amazing piano skills and the variety of music packed into one concert.”

Payne has obtained two different degrees from the University of Toronto in piano performance, but his interest in the instrument began even further back.

“I’ve been studying piano since I was seven years old,” said Payne. “I’ve spent a lot of time as a young man, like seven or eight hours a day in a practice room learning my craft. But of course, I’ve been working professionally for 20 years now. I play every day. A number of these pieces I’ve known over the years are combined into this show.”

He has performed in virtually every conceivable role with orchestras in companies and theatres across Canada – pianist, singer, conductor, music director, arranger, répétiteur, and chorus master. He is fluent in just about every genre.

“I’ve done the show twice before, and the audiences have a great time,” said Payne. “As I said, people that expect to be sitting watching a guy play piano go away very surprised.

“It’s a family show, absolutely. I do a whole section on music themes, and I play a little with the audience – I get someone onstage at some point. It’s really fun for all ages.”

Previous performances were called “Simply Grand,” and the name was later changed to “I Love A Piano” based on the well-known Irving Berlin song.

Guest conductor Anthony Bastianon will lead this concert. Bastianon has worked as a music director in productions across Canada. He currently serves on the faculty at Sheridan College music theatre performance program and works as the artistic director at Voices Rock Canada.

I Love a Piano is on stage at the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge starting on Valentine’s Day for three performances – February 14 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and the following day (February 15) at 7:30 p.m.

All proceeds go towards charitable programs for Drayton Entertainment and the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for youth under the age of 20, available in person at the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge box office, online, or by calling (519) 621-8000 or toll-free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

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