By Keith Sharp
When originally writing this feature as a preview to Jeff Parry’s touring version of his production of Oh Canada, What A Feeling, I compared the Annerin Productions’ chief to someone juggling live sticks of dynamite. Well, unfortunately, one of those sticks of dynamite hit the ground and imploded.
In a terse, press release issued on October 14th, Parry announced that he has cancelled his 19-date Canadian tour due to launch at the GM Place in Oshawa October 19th and that the entire project will be shelved until 2017 to coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary.
Having already invested over $750,000 in launching the production with a 13-day stint at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, August 11th to 23rd, Parry was hoping that a 19-day Canadian tour of one-night performances would help re-coup some of his investment but even he admitted in advance that he was facing another major financial loss with the tour.
“We need to take a time out to re-evaluate the production and re-promote it for 2017,” acknowledged Parry. “The main problem seems to be that theatre goers really don’t know what this show is all about and we don’t have the luxury of having an effective word-of-mouth support. There seems to be a bit of resistance to the Canadian theme of the show so we are hoping that with 2017, when everything in this country is `Canadian’, that the timing will be better for the show.
Obviously the show’s unforeseen cancellation left the entire cast of singers and musicians in the lurch but even they understood that the cancellation decision had to be made. “It’s unfortunate and terribly disappointing but if you are not selling tickets what can you do,” explained former Haywire drummer Sean Kilbride. “I was looking forward to touring the country and playing in those nice theatres but there is no point if you are only playing to half-filled venues.”
Kilbride confirmed that everyone was under contract, that they will be compensated by Annerin, and that the majority of the cast are committed to the show’s revival in 2017. “We’ve got a great cast, we all fit together well and the show is really great. We’ve all texted each other and we all feel good about performing in any form of revival.”
The idea, gleaned from Martin Melhuish’s book “Oh What A Feeling” was based on previously successful productions like Parry’s Beatles’ tribute “Let It Be”, which launched on London’s West End in 2012 and the curtain just came down on it;s 1,000th performance as well as his Pink Floyd Experience tribute which has been touring for 12 years.
“I though if I could do a Beatles show which focused on the band’s career from their early days until Let It Be, I could do the same with Canadian music. By use of film footage and performance of classic Canadian music, we could both educate and entertain a Canadian audience,”
“It wasn’t an ideal time to present the show ( early August) but you have to take what they give you,” acknowledged Parry. “We were up against the Blue Jays, Rogers Tennis and people leaving for the weekend, maybe we could have done just one good night at the Sony Centre or two nights at Massey Hall, but our goal all along was to make the show a theatrical production.”
A native of Ottawa who headed to the Alberta Oilfields to raise enough money to open his own record store back home, Parry instead invested his savings in promoting a Murray McLachlan concert in Banff, which tanked, but he had been bitten by the music promotion bug.
“They say you have to pay to go to school and that experience gave me an education,”noted Parry, “I certainly got a taste of what the music promotion business was all about.”
First starting out as someone who booked Canadian bands into secondary markets, “I worked with bands on the way up and on the way down,”he jokes. He enjoyed initial success booking the Lord Of The Dance” into 42 secondary markets before taking the plunge working Grease in Canada for a Chicago production company.
“Producing theatrical shows is a whole different experience, you can spend literally years creating, producing and funding a production and the whole thing can collapse in one performance,” he allowed. “But then you think of successful productions like Wicked and Lord Of The Dance that you can continually tour indefinitely. The key element is to own the production.
A diehard “Rock N Roller” whose `Jukebox’ musical shows have included less than successful productions of a Bee Gees tribute and the touring Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience, Parry now has to convince a Canadian public that a group of talented musicians can create a viable musical out of Paul Anka, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Gino Vannelli, Anne Murray, k.d Lang, Loverboy and Bryan Adams songs.
“Obviously we have a lot of work to do to present Canadian music as a viable stage production,” So we have to revamp the show for 2017,” concluded Parry, “But I have a lot of faith in this show and from the audience reaction, it well worth the commitment.”
Photos courtesy of Oh Canada, What A Feeling media.