The booming voice of Neil Aitchison will be heard at the Drayton Festival Theatre this summer. Aitchison, the actor who co-created and portrays the memorable Constable Archibald F. Inkster, the Mountie, has been cast as a special addition to the musical Sh-Boom: Life Could be a Dream.
Aitchison will be playing the big-talking radio DJ ‘Bullseye’ Miller.
“I’ve always seemed to be cast as a loud guy with a hat,” said Aitchison dryly. “Anyway, I never get the kiss-the-girl role, you know?”
Sh-Boom: Life Could Be a Dream is a walk down memory lane, a musical built around some of the most beloved hits of the 1950s. The story revolves around new doo-wop group Denny and the Dreamers who are working to enter a radio contest. But of course, nothing is ever that simple.
“The story is about four young guys who form a group and there’s a radio station with a contest on air where they are allowed to enter and if they’re successful, they win a recording contract, which was a big deal back then. The story revolves around four main characters: Danny, Eugene, Wally and Duke,” said Aitchison.
“Danny is out of high school for a number of years, he still lives with his mother, goofing off a lot. And he has a dream of a lifetime to [enter] a talent search, he thinks this radio station WOPR will give new wind in his sails,” said Aitchison.
The other characters include Eugene, Danny’s best friend, who works at his father’s sweet shop; Wally, the son of a preacher man, who works at the Piggly Wiggly.
“And of course, there’s always a girl element in these shows,” said Aitchison. “Eugene wants to date the girl named Lois, but I think Wally’s fixed on her too. And then there’s Duke. He’s the new guy from the wrong side of the tracks, but he’s a natural singer. He’s ruggedly handsome, so he’s definitely the new alpha male.”
The character Lois is the one who polishes the boys into a real singing group, against her father’s wishes, added Aitchison.
He says there’s a knack to pulling off a musical like this one: “The secret is to hire four incredibly good singers who can play the part of a stage play as well.” The musical features a number of hit songs from the 1950s, including Earth Angel, Run Around Sue, Tears on My Pillow, and the like. “There are over 25 songs in the show that everybody from that era, for sure, will enjoy and want to sing along with,” Aitchison said.
“This hit-parade review of chart-topping songs will bring back many memories for patrons,” said Alex Mustakas, Drayton Entertainment’s artistic director, in a release. “The cherry on top is getting to see Neil Aitchison return to a DJ booth where he spent so many years as a radio personality. Neil’s distinctive voice is a huge part of his public persona, so we’re incredibly pleased he’s joining this fun, toe-tapping musical.”
Aitchison has been with Drayton Entertainment since its inception, and continues to sit as a long-time board member. He reflects on his time with the organization and watching it grow over the years.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful. And you know, when I joined Alex [Mustakas] over 30 years ago to set up Drayton Entertainment, it was just a three-show season, nine or 10 weeks. I was in the radio business then, and we became his sponsor – instead of giving him money, we gave him airtime, trying to drive people from KW and all around the area up to Drayton,” he said. “Because Drayton is not a well-known community on a busy highway – it’s a small village on a crossroads – we had to tell them where Drayton was and how good it was. That’s really been rewarding, to see how wonderfully it’s been embraced.”
Aitchison will be leaning on his radio experience for his role as a radio DJ. The part was originally written as a voiceover, but Mustakas wanted him in the show more fully.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that will be easy, I can just record it. And they can hit it when it’s due. It’s only half a dozen intros or entrances into the show,’” said Aitchison. “Alex said, ‘No, I’d like to make it a live spot and bring him on stage and add a few extra bits.’ So that’s where I come in. We’re going to be adding a few extra bits, like maybe some commercials, or some reminders of the era. You know, back in those days when the Edsel was big or the Oldsmobile.”
The show is directed by David Rogers, the co-artistic director of Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, and is behind Fiddler on the Loose and Good ‘Ol Country Gospel. Choreography is led by Rogers’ colleague David Hogan. Melissa Morris is the music director.
Aitchison is joined on stage by Kaden Forsbert as Denny Verney, Connor Meek as Eugene Johnson, Jordan Goodridge as Wally Patton, Michael Vanhevel as Duke Henderson, and Jennifer Walls as Lois Franklin.
After all his years with Drayton, Aitchison is as committed to the arts and the mission of Drayton Entertainment as he was when he first walked into the old Festival Theatre with Mustakas.
“Well, it’s just part of me, I’m sure, now, and I believe how important the arts are to the overall wellbeing of the citizenry. Without the arts, we don’t have music, we don’t have the escape that live theatre presents,” he said.
“What we’ve learned, too, over the years is that when there’s a good production on the stage, the audience acts as one. They breathe together, they sigh together, they laugh together, they even cry together, depending on what the performance is. I have witnessed that from the stage, as well as from the audience – it’s unbelievable. It’s a very gratifying feeling to be up on stage and deliver a line and get that instant laughter. And, you know, they’re all with you, right away.”
Sh-Boom: Life Could Be A Dream is on stage at the Drayton Festival Theatre from August 16 to September 3. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 519-638-5555 or toll free at 1-855-drayton (372-9866), or online at www.draytonentertainment.com.