Revue highlights music of Gershwin

Matt Gardner
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An upcoming revue at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre promises to introduce a new generation to one of the 20th century’s greatest songwriting teams.

Husband-and-wife duo Dean and Lisa Balkwill play lovers Bill and Mary Clair in "Embraceable You", a revue of songs by George and Ira Gershwin. The show hits the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Monday, Nov. 19.

The brainchild of musical theatre performers Dean Balkwill and his wife Lisa, Embraceable You is a 90-minute production filled to the brim with songs by legendary composer George Gershwin and his lyricist brother Ira. The plot concerns a Parisian romance between an American named Bill and a French lounge singer named Marie Clair, played by the Balkwills.

“Basically, it’s set in … the ’40s, and it’s kind of very similar to (the film) An American in Paris,” Dean Balkwill said. “An American goes to Paris, basically just to kind of see the sights, and he ends up finding true love with a girl … It’s just really a celebration of George and Ira Gershwin’s music, put to singing and dancing and sort of a storyline loosely based around the American in Paris type of thing.”

A native of Regina, Balkwill played the lead in a Broadway production of Rent and has appeared in popular musicals such as The Lion King. His wife, meanwhile, was a cast member in shows such as Beauty and the Beast, Cabaret and Grease.

The two first met as fellow performers in a production of The Who’s Tommy.

“We’ve done our share of big musicals,” Balkwill said. “Then we had three girls and so we moved to Atlanta where Lisa’s from, and we took a little hiatus from performing in that way, and then we just decided, ‘You know what, the kids are starting to get a little older, let’s throw something together instead of waiting for someone else to come up with a show and then hopefully we’ll be right for the parts. Let’s just create a show ourselves, and just about music that we love to do.’”

It’s just really a celebration of George and Ira Gershwin’s music. Dean Balkwill

The music of Gershwin seemed like an ideal fit. Balkwill sang jazz in high school, had many friends who performed the genre and was developing an interest in performers such as Frank Sinatra.

Thus far, Embraceable You has played smaller arenas in both Canada and the United States. The production is fairly threadbare; in the roles of Bill and Marie Clair, Dean and Lisa Balkwill are the only cast members, backed up by a four-piece band consisting of piano, stand-up bass, saxophone and drums.

With a running time of one hour and 45 minutes -- including a 15-minute intermission -- the Prince Albert show will feature classic Gershwin compositions such as Nice Work If You Can Get It, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off and the title track.

“We’re excited about coming,” Balkwill said. “I’m excited about getting back to Saskatchewan, where my whole family still lives.”

Embraceable You comes to the Rawlinson Centre this Monday, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. and the show set to start one hour later. The following day will see a special performance put on for local high school students.

Tickets cost $37.80 for adults and $22.05 for students and are available online, by phone or at the box office.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Rawlinson Centre

Geographic location: Paris, Regina, Broadway Atlanta Canada United States Saskatchewan

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