Legends of Music
second floor, 8217-104 St.
Wed. Thurs. Sat. Sun. 6 p.m.
Show and four-course dinner, $50 (Saturdays, $75)
Feature/review by GRAHAM HICKS, hicksbiz.com
(Other productions currently at Spotlight: Duelling Piano Party, Fridays - $45 with light dinner; Tuesdays through November, 7:30 p.m., Atomic Improv Filmfest ($7); Saturday brunch, Christmas season, Wonderful Christmas Carol: A Pantomime Radio Play;
various evenings after 10 p.m. , no cover, Laugh Track, Karaoke, Bourbon & Burlesque. )
Edmonton knows all about dinner theatre - The Mayfield Dinner Theatre has been with us for some 45 years, Jubilations Dinner Theatre in West Edmonton Mall for decades.
Dinner cabaret, being brilliantly executed in Old Strathcona’s beautiful, still-new Spotlight Cabaret, is a different kettle of fish.
Dinner cabaret is more nightclub-like, more intimate than dinner theatre. It starts earlier, lasts longer, morphs through many moods until last call, way after the Mayfield Dinner Theatre crowd has gone to bed.
There’s as much food at Spotlight as at the dinner theatre buffets, but it’s table service, spread out over the evening.
Dinner theatre is dinner theatre. The Spotlight Cabaret - fondly known internally as the S-Club - is an experience.
The door to The Spotlight Cabaret is on 104 Street just north of Whyte Avenue. It leads directly up a set of stairs to an entirely unexpected showroom with a high ceiling, windows overlooking 104 Street on two sides, all wood, velvet curtains, mini-chandeliers and big bold colours within a Roaring Twenties motif. The servers and bartenders dress in campy roaring '20s outfits - fishnet stockings, top hats and the like.
Legends of Music is playing four nights a week at Spotlight.
The evening runs something like this: Arrival, settling in, first round of drinks at 6 p.m., shortly followed by soup with bread. By 6:30 p.m. a half hour of improvised comedic banter between the audience and cast members Aimee Beaudoin and Jeff Halaby.
The improv is important. The ice is broken between performer and viewer. A bond happens, the room warms up, takes on a character of its own. We are now friends with both the actors and our fellow audience. A tangible buzz is happening.
Another short break for the salad course, followed by the first half of the show itself. Then a leisurely break – about an hour – for the main course, a choice of four entrees and two desserts.
The spotlight returns to the stage for the second half of Legends of Music. Then, for those who want to carry on, karaoke happens into the morning hours.
When the actual show starts, the 85-strong audience (on a sold-out Saturday as was the case this past weekend), begins to put two and two together.
The host or hostess who greeted them at the top of the stairs - Aimee or Jeff.
The persons helping the servers pick up and drop off food or drinks? Aimee and Jeff.
The very funny hosts working the room and jousting with customers at the outset? Aimee and Jeff.
The two main characters of Legends of Music? Aimee and Jeff.
The writers and producers of the very good show? Aimee and Jeff.
Spotlight Cabaret, you may have gathered, is Aimee Beaudoin and Jeff Halaby, with the backing of business partners.
The two are good friends, veterans of Edmonton's improv and live comedy scene. They have long worked together, especially in the long-running TV comedy produced out of Edmonton, Caution: May Contain Nuts.
The owners of the O2 Club previously occupying the space, had approached the duo.
O2 Old Strathcona was doing fine in the summer with its popular 3rd floor terrace/patio. But the second-floor indoor space was dead, especially in the cold months.
From entertainment consultants, Beaudoin and Halaby evolved into partners, as producers of all things creative at Spotlight.
Legends of Music, subtitled "Glamorous Dinner Theatre" has the most amusing of plots - wide open to nuance, slapstick, and wonderful music.
It starts – surprise, surprise – in the 1920s. Aimee's starlet character Penelope Stanwick has been dropped, dumped and humiliated by her boyfriend of 14 weeks, then her husband, her agent and even the cruel Spotlight bartender. Ain't no getting around it, distraught Penelope is getting too old for show biz.
To make her feel better, her friend DeLorean (Halaby) takes her via a time-travel chair to visit the great singing stars of the future (all so well played and sung by supporting cast members Karella Cummings and Mat Andre) who all help pump up Penelope's deflated ego.
The singing, the acting, the script – groaners, asides and quick quips - the choreography, the sound system, it's all wonderfully entertaining, relatively innocent stuff.
Cummings is the local queen of soul, handling Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé with a voice rivalling the originals. Andre can sing everything thrown his way - from Buddy Holly to John Lennon to Michael Jackson. And, with a liberal dose of camp, he uncannily captures the moves and essential character of those he imitates.
Not to be overlooked at Spotlight is the food from chef Chanel Larmand's kitchen. The light chowder soup was fresh, well herbed, the signature shredded clam quite delicious. We shared the seafood linguine entrée and were impressed both by the quality and quantity of the pasta and the marinara sauce, and especially by the bountiful fresh seafood on top – a strip of moist salmon, generous mussels and a large, picturesque tiger shrimp. Other entrée choices passing by, short rib, chicken supreme, a veggie dish, all looked equally appetizing.
Only the salad disappointed – it had that cafeteria sense of wilted dreariness.
Legends of Music will run Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, dinner starting at 6 p.m. The dinner/food package is most reasonable $50 (Saturdays at $75) including the four-course meal.
Fridays at Spotlight is the Duelling Piano Party – show, one drink and one entrée for $45. Over the Christmas season is a Saturday brunch featuring a Wonderful Christmas Carol: A Pantomime Radio Play.
A full schedule is available at spotlightcabaret.ca.
Spotlight, with its dinner cabarets, late-night shows and weekend brunches is a wonderful addition to the city’s live entertainment/dining scene. My only worry is that Beaudoin and Halaby collapse from overwork. It may be creative and exciting. It also looks exhausting!