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Ned Durango is musical comedy at its best

by Chris Daponte

ORANGEVILLE - For the sake of theatregoers 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.

The acting and singing by all five of the players is second to none, but a few performances do stand out. The first half is carried emotionally and vocally by Rosser, who expertly portrays the vulnerable nature of Orson.

In the second half Colgate emerges as the emotional anchor of the production, highlighted by poignant commentary on fading out of the limelight and on aging in general. And throughout the production, Hutton’s vocal talents and youthful enthusiasm inject some vital energy into the story.

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.

It plays six shows a week until May 22. For tickets call 1-519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295 or visit


Vol 44 Issue 19


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