Chris Daponte, The Wellington Advertiser
For the sake of theatre goers across Canada, playwright Norm Foster and musical director Leslie Arden should work together more often. Ned Durango, their second collaboration, which is now enjoying its world premiere at Theatre Orangeville, is a remarkable story with heart, humour and spirit.
It relays the tale of five down-on-their-luck characters, each with their own financial, personal or familial issues, who must come together to pull off the best tomato festival parade the small community of Big Oak has ever seen. The play centres around the Crossroads Cafe, the local eatery owned by former professional hockey hopeful Tom Shaw (played by Geoffrey Tyler) and the home away from home for lone employee Orson (David Rosser). Mayor Diana Coatsworth (Catherine Wilson) frequents the cafe for not only her daily fix of caffeine, but also her regular patient-therapist type of social interaction with Tom. William Colgate stars as the aging TV and musical star Ned Durango, who now plays car shows and rural fairs but is still viewed as big enough of a draw to serve as grand marshal for the tomato parade. And Keely Hutton rounds out the cast as Kay Starling, the college-aged daughter Orson has never met despite his best intentions.
Several of the powers that be behind Ned Durango were in the audience for the preview performance on May 5, and despite some obvious note-taking, they had to be happy with what they saw.
It’s hard to find anything at all not to like about the musical comedy, except that in several spots it was a little difficult to make out some of the lyrics (either the music volume was too high or the microphones set too low).
The music (Bob Hewus and Bruce Ley), choreography (Kiri-Lyn Muir), directing (David Nairn) and set and lighting design (Steve Lucas) were nearly flawless.
But much of the credit should go to Foster and Arden, who deftly transformed an old Foster play into the jovial and heartfelt musical merry-go-round that is Ned Durango. It’s sure to go on to critical and popular acclaim at venues across the nation. The character development is stellar – the audience truly cares from the outset what happens here – complete with the witty dialogue and ingenious music and lyrics people have come to expect from Foster and Arden respectively.
The story is one audiences won’t soon forget. It gently reaffirms life lessons on myriad topics – including love, relationships, aging, failure, family ties, humility and what truly matters in life – without taking itself too seriously. It’s also funny without being cheesy; serious without being overly analytical; and endearing without being saccharine.
Simply put, Ned Durango is musical comedy at its best.
Constance Scrafield, The Orangeville Citizen
Ned Durango is a great evening or afternoon out. Everything you might want from a musical is here. It is funny, but not syrupy; it is entertaining yet carries some weight; the music is super.
As is true in most small towns, the local café in Big Oak is the hub of the lives in the village. So, make yourselves comfortable at the Crossroads Café while the stories of the five characters in Ned Durango are spun for your entertainment and intrigue.
Big Oak is a town is financial distress, which looks to have an opportunity for big improvement if only the people of the town can show that it is worthy of the potential investment. Their annual parade might offer the right occasion if only there is something else, something more, to give it that extra excitement to draw the crowds.
Ned Durango to the rescue! Maybe. This is, after all, a story written by Norm Foster, master of your not- so- fast,- there,- trying- to- figure- out- my plot. The twists and turns in these many tales are classic Norm Foster, and so is the humour.
But this is a musical and Leslie Arden lives up to her reputation with songs that are witty and wise, moving and humorous. For the most part, the songs move the story along, replacing dialogue to some extent. They tell bits of the stories; they enhance the thinking of the plot and they are beautifully written. It is interesting and fun the way Ms Arden has put the singers together in pairs and more, sometimes bringing all five of them on stage, not singing together necessarily – in a way, each is singing his or her own thoughts – yet the blending and harmonizing is brilliant.
There is no clumsy rhyming or no strange chords; there are just good songs written by a lyricist/composer who really knows what she is about.
Ms. Arden accompanies the show on the piano, along with Bruce Ley – and it is always a pleasure to have Mr. Ley back with us – on guitar and his frequent co- musician, Bob Hewus on the bass.
I have to say, I really enjoyed this musical; it is such a good time. There is enough weightiness – Norm Foster always creates the best balance – to make it worth seeing more than once. We attended the opening night and, at the reception, the lady I went with commented that it is long.
I had not noticed: “Oh, was it long?” I asked. Perhaps, but so good.