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Music that’s designed to give you a lift

The cast of Good Ol’ Country Gospel, the Drayton Entertainment production now on stage at the Schoolhouse Theatre in St. Jacobs. [Submitted]

Audiences can expect an authentic atmosphere, soul-stirring ballads, and plenty of interaction with the cast in Drayton Entertainment’s latest offering.

Now on stage, Good Ol’ Country Gospel is a lively musical revue taking place in the cozy confines of the Schoolhouse Theatre in St. Jacobs.

The tribute to the gospel sound puts a homespun feel on many beautiful songs, then adds a country twist. Audiences get a genuine feel for what they’re seeing: no one in the cast is taking on the role of another character, says the show’s assistant director.

“We’re basically playing versions of ourselves,” said Mark MacRae, who’s also a cast member. “It feels natural … but also quite different from playing a character.”

The eight-member cast showcases a variety of skilled multi-instrumentalists, several of whom are making their Drayton Entertainment debut. Actors include choral singer and cellist Ben Cookson, professional drummer Kevin Dempsey, fiddler and violinist Leah Grandmont, Drayton regular Zachary Knowles, versatile actor, and skilled baritone singer MacRae, Drayton veteran with a powerful voice Daphne Moens, and talented newcomers Paul Jerry Schwarz and Kate Suhr.

They are lead by director and choreographer David Rogers, whose voice and performance skills have landed him in many major musicals over the years; he played the Phantom and Raoul in the Toronto Production of The Phantom of the Opera, Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and Harold Hill in The Music Man, among others.

“Packed with humour and heart, Good Ol’ Country Gospel is a fun-filled tribute to the cherished canon of gospel hits,” says Alex Mustakas, artistic director of Drayton Entertainment in a release. “Audiences will be uplifted, inspired, and amazed by the depth of talent on stage.”

Actors will switch effortlessly between playing the banjo, keyboard, mandolin, double bass, organ, guitar, double bass, and piano… in folk and country type style. Audiences will recognize “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Peace in the Valley,” “How Great Thou Art,” “When The Saints Go Marching In,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I Saw the Light,” and many more.

Rather than focusing on scripted scenes with one another, the actors’ attention is on engaging with the audience.

“It’s more like a musical concert – where we’re going back to the audience and saying ‘hey!’” said MacRae with a laugh. “We might be joking about this, or a little bit of information about the background of a particular composer.

“It’s always about bringing them into our world.”

While much of the music has a religious theme, MacRae said that it would appeal to everyone, no matter what their denomination may be.

“Obviously, it has the religious aspect to it too, and I think that our audience members who come to it from a stronger religious background connect to it that way,” said MacRae.

“Even if you don’t, I think the music is very uplifting, has a good message of community, loving your neighbour – the goodness and wholesomeness that is transcendent beyond the religious overtones.”

As the show runs for a considerable length of time compared to usual Drayton Entertainment offerings – four months in total – the variety of audience members and engagement helps to keep things fresh for the actors onstage.

MacRae recalled one humorous incident where he blanked on his solo line during a live performance. One of the actors improvised, declaring the scene to be replayed again.

“The audience gets to see a moment where … y’know, we’re human up here. We’re going to go back and start again. That freedom is fun. As an audience member, I love it when I see little mistakes like that and think: ‘oh yeah, I’m seeing something real!’” said MacRae with a laugh.

“Because we’re not just watching something on Netflix. We’re watching a live show with live people, and anything can happen. If you weren’t there at that performance, you didn’t get to see that particular Mark McCrae addition to the show on that particular Thursday afternoon.”

Good Ol’ Country Gospel is on stage now to December 22 at the St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre. Tickets may be purchased in person at any Drayton Entertainment Box Office, by calling the box office at (519) 747-7788 or toll free at 1-855-drayton (372-9866), or online.

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