Two Good Knights: the music of Sir Tom Jones & Sir Elton John
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, Hicksbiz.com
Mayfield Dinner Theatre
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
September 4 to October 28, 2018
Tickets: 780-483-4015 or mayfieldtheatre.ca
Written by Will Marks, staged by Dave Horak, music direction by Van Wilmott, choreography by Christine Bandelow
There’s a fledgling Motown Productions in town, a minor Tin Pan Alley, a writing/producing/directing all-in-one production house.
It’s composed of four artistic types with a keen awareness of the need to sell tickets at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre - musical director and overall Mayfield Dinner Theatre artistic director Van Wilmott, stage director Dave Horak, choreographer/singer Christine Bandelow, and the very low-key Will Marks as writer (a pseudonym I swear – despite his penning/compiling many Mayfield shows, nobody seems to know who Will Marks actually is).
This team takes stock of its audience – basically 50+ folks who want to be entertained as opposed to artistically pushed – then brainstorms creative ways to entertain that audience in an artistically satisfying style … plus hopefully lure that demographic into bringing their adult-children to the show as well.
Lately, it’s been about telling the stories/performing the music of icons of popular music, “twinning” so to speak – all about one musical celebrity in the first half, and another after the intermission.
In last year’s Mayfield Dinner Theatre season, it was Soul Sistas – the story/songs of Aretha Franklin pre-intermission, Tina Turner post.
Now Mayfield Dinner Theatre Productions (or whatever it’s called) has brought the stories – or chapters of the stories – about English pop icons Elton John and Tom Jones.
What’s intriguing about Two Good Knights: The Music of Sir Tom Jones and Sir Elton John is the ability of Wilmott and his team to bring these pop-star stories to light in a thoroughly professional, entertaining way within the budgetary restraints of a dinner theatre production: To assess the resources at hand within that budget, i.e. no celebrity salaries, and write admirable story-lines within those resources.
It helps that Wilmott has assembled the very best of back-up bands over the years – great musicians who for the most part live in Edmonton, have no interest in celebrityhood, and happily play whatever Wilmott throws at them. Half the enjoyment of a Mayfield Dinner Theatre musical is listening to these awesome talents who play as one.
Wilmott has an uncanny talent for spotting little-known singers with the perfect voices and musical talent to play the celebrity roles.
Kieren Martin Murphy (Tom Jones) and Keith Reston-Spalding (Elton John) are hardly famous.
But close your eyes at the opening night of Two Good Knights, and you’d swear you were listening to Tom Jones or Elton John themselves. Reston-Spalding was equally astounding as a pianist, playing Elton John’s complex riffs with ease.
The challenge? In Reston-Spalding’s case, it’s that this superb piano-player who can “do” Elton John down to every inflection and soaring vocal note, and even has an Elton John physique … is not an actor.
What to do? The team substituted narrator/multi-character Chris Bullough to carry the narrative thread of Two Good Knights through its second half, especially with the very clever, if thoroughly silly, notion of using a humourous Queen Elizabeth to stitch the two halves together to re-enact the queen’s bestowing the title of “sir knight” upon both … which is about as much as Elton John and Tom Jones have in common in real life.
Meanwhile both the audience and Reston-Spalding are quite happy to have him trot on-and-off stage to his grand piano and sing Elton John’s hits (much better than Elton John these days – the last time I saw Elton John in Edmonton, so many years ago, he had lost most of his higher vocal range).
So Wilmott and his team create and mount a thoroughly professional show with immense audience appeal – Tom Jones and Elton John reaching out to patrons from 40 to 85 – without breaking the bank.
To that end, one admires the multi-tasking taking place. Bullough plays every supporting character (and the queen) with ease. Back-up singer Jennifer McMillan moves back and forth from keyboards. Tremendous horn/reed players Bob Tildesley and Paul Lamoureux work their way downstage to play Welsh patrons at early Tom Jones’ pub performances.
Are these “biopic icon” shows, as they are called, cheesy?
To a degree, of course! But, somehow, Wilmott and the Mayfield team are producing really fun, well-mounted musicals that are starting to have a very satisfying over-all personality. I go to a Mayfield Dinner Theatre show knowing I will be well fed (stick to the cold seafood buffet and the roast beef: you can’t go wrong) and happily entertained.