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The Last Christmas Turkey features master pianist John Hughes




By Constance Scrafield

Theatre Orangeville's terrific musical, The Last Christmas Turkey includes many good songs and dance routines, sung, tapped and performed by great entertainers and every musical moment is a delight. Fine as they are, those performers would be quick and very proud to confirm the person keeping it all together is their Music Director and pianist, sitting at his piano just off stage, John Hughes. Mr. Hughes is returning from his initial participation in both roles from the premier production in 2017. 

The Last Christmas Turkey still has slightly more than a week to run, with its final performance on Friday, December 23, an evening performance beginning at the earlier time of 7:00 pm.

Theatre Orangeville's Christmastime show is always its most extensive, this time with over 20 performances from November 30 to December 23, including a matinee as well as an evening show next Wednesday, December 21. 

A gruelling enough schedule for any actor but this cast also includes two youngsters, Ruby Kalverda and Lucas Nguyen, ages 12 and 13. Indeed, all the Yuletide productions that Theatre Orangeville stages include younger actors, in stories that count them as essential. Some are even younger than the two involved in this show.

Interestingly, there is no differentiating in approach to their responsibility of the show's success, ready with their lines off book, their songs and dance routines learned. Young actors are looked on by their fellows as equals, with no condescension, which they do come to appreciate.

In fact, the young thespians have the further burden of their school work. This must be maintained, although actually attending school is limited by their schedule to the show. Even so, homework is issued and the extra effort is down to them. 

Throughout The Last Christmas Turkey, there are a goodly number of songs by composer and lyricist, Clive VanderBurgh, new and some revised, arranged by Michael Mulrooney. There is dancing, choreographed by Jenee Gowing. For all of this, all the accompaniment is provided by John Hughes on a single piano. Sometimes, that is so impressive with all that is going on, onstage that he seems much more than his solitary self.

In an earlier conversation with Mr. Hughes, we learned that he has a long-running family history in this area. Tone Hughes, his Irish-born grandfather, ran creameries in Laurel and Shelburne. His grandmother was born in Waldemar in 1887; she gave birth to his father in Shelburne.

During those years, the Hughes family developed a close friendship with the Claridge family, living across the street from them. The Claridges founded and for decades, owned the Shelburne Free Press and Economist, which extended its publishing to the Orangeville Citizen. 

This was a friendship that travelled together, across the breath of this wide country, taking them to the West Coast one year and the Maritimes, “including the islands off the coast of Newfoundland.” There were six years of travelling all together, which Fred Claridge chronicled in the Shelburne- based family paper.

“By the time I was 10 years old, I had seen the 10 provinces of Canada,” said Mr. Hughes in a previous interview. 

For John Hughes, his life was imbued in music from its beginning. His mother held her formal musical education, earning her grade 10 in piano. Mr. Hughes' father was naturally musical, playing more by ear. Although Mr. Hughes began piano lessons when he was six years old, he was “already playing the tunes of the 40's.” 

It seemed, as he recalled, “I could just play. So, I have no formal training except for [more than 60] years of playing.” In his youth, He “never had the notion that I would play for the public. I had an office job which I didn't like very much.” 

Yet, when a friend informed him that she had daubed him as Music Director of the Hart House production of The Bells are Ringing (“no one gets paid”), without asking him first, he nevertheless felt bound by her commitment and, having no experience at the job, decided “to have a go.” 

From that, he chose a life in music, playing for singers or playing for theatre companies and in golf clubs. At last, he went on to promote himself as a vocal coach for auditions. 

“When Stratford was doing that search for Maria [Sound of Music], I played all the auditions. I was playing all day for the panel conducting the auditions,” he told us. Into this mix, Mr. Hughes has worked as a coach for Randolph Academy for over 20 years. 

What a pleasure it has been to see Mr. Hughes back to Theatre Orangeville as Music Director and on the piano during the performances, positively a one man, one piano orchestra, giving the actors all that they need to dazzle the audiences with one of the best musicals Theatre Orangeville has ever staged. 

In a recorded conversation with Ruby Kalverda and Lucas Nguyen, both these young actors expressed their enthusiasm for the show and their own parts in it. When asked what each of them hoped people would take away from the show, Lucas pointed out that someone could always “have your back.” 

Ruby was happy to say that people will have had a good time watching the musical. They agreed that The Last Christmas Turkey is a show about how a family can unite when times are tough and come through it all with love.

There is still lots of chance to see this great show, as it runs until December 23. For all the details and to purchase tickets, subscriptions and even gift cards for this or coming productions, go to www.theatreorangeville.ca or call the lovely people in the Box Office at 519-942-3423. They are also in person at 87 Broadway. Please wear your mask.

Post date: 2022-12-15 14:35:47
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