For more than 10 years in the 1960s and early 1970s Canadians crowded around their television sets faithfully every week to watch Singalong Jubilee. They couldn’t get enough of the show’s spirited mix of folk, country, gospel and pop music, which was beamed across the country from the CBC’s studios in Halifax.
And they could not get enough of the performers who brought this music into their homes, flooding the network with fan mail for Jubilee regulars like Catherine McKinnon, Anne Murray, Karen Oxley, Fred McKenna and the show’s co-hosts Bill Langstroth and Jim Bennet.
What they created in that studio was magical for a kid in Charlottetown like me whose interest in music was really starting to take over my life, much to the detriment of all else.
That magic is being recreated this summer at The Guild in Charlottetown where music that was the heart and soul of that show is being given new life by a talented cast of five in Singalong Jubilee: A Musical Tribute to the Canadian Phenomenon, which opened Saturday night.
Conceived and directed by Geordie Brown, who is also the driving force behind some of its biggest musical numbers, the show is both a musical documentary of an extraordinarily successful Canadian TV show and a celebration of the people and the music that made it what it was. With fellow cast members Charlotte Moore, Julien Kitson, Rebecca McCauley and Andrew Murray, Brown serves up some three dozen of the songs that helped draw people to the popular TV series week after week.
Brown, who clearly did his homework, pulled together musical highlights from the entire run of the show. Audiences are treated to East Coast anthems like “Farewell to Nova Scotia,” country gospel standards like “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “I Saw The Light,” classic folk songs “This Land Is Your Land” and “Marching To Pretoria” and regional ditties like “Black Rum & Blueberry Pie” and “You Ain’t A Nova Scotian If You Don’t Like Fish.”
Between songs there are snippets of information about the production of the show in Halifax, how it took shape and how it evolved over time. You also hear how it impacted the careers of so many of the artists who appeared on the show during its run, from Anne Murray who performed Gene MacLellan’s “Snowbird” there for the very first time and Catherine McKinnon, whose version of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” made her a household name, to people like Ken Tobias, Brian Ahern and the aforementioned Gene MacLellan.
With only five singers to share the load in The Guild’s production of Singalong Jubilee virtually everybody is on stage for the duration. Basically, if it’s not your number you’re singing harmonies or you’re doing double duty on guitar, banjo, bass or percussion. A show like this where there’s no real downtime can be taxing, but you see no sign of it here.
One of the things I like most about a production like this is that everybody gets their moment to shine, to show their range, their passion for the music and the respect they have for the material, material that so many feel a connection to.
There are any number of highlights here. They range from Moore’s gorgeous version of “Both Sides Now” and the pairing of McCauley, Moore and Brown for “Try To Remember” from the Fantasticks to McCauley’s rendering of “Snowbird” and “Farewell to Nova Scotia.”
Kitson nails some classic folk music in “This Land Is Your Land” and Ron Hynes’ “Sonny’s Dream,” while Murray has a great run at “Old Blue” and “Bud The Spud.”
Brown delivers a fine version of “Danny Boy,” soars on The Tokens’ chestnut “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and pairs handsomely with Moore for “Springhill Mine Disaster.”
And there’s more, so much more. Whether you grew up with this show on TV or not, you’ll find something here to enjoy. Great music, good fun, the proverbial grand time had by all.
Singalong Jubilee plays at The Guild into October.