By the time we got to Hamilton Place on Tuesday evening the lobby was deserted, save the few ushers and ticket takers chatting amongst themselves. One young man, looking to be somewhere in the age range of 16-18, scanned our tickets and pointed us to the elevator. At the elevator we were joined by an older man, about 60 years in age, who excitedly asked us if we were headed to the same show as he was - "Stuart McLean!" We confirmed the yes indeed, we were, and that it would be faster to run up the stairs than to wait for the elevator any longer. There were more flights of stairs than we were expecting...
Outside the theatre doors on the first balcony we could hear murmurs of an animated voice punctuated with bursts of laughter. As we crept into the auditorium, the stage below came into view: stage left, decorated with a grand piano, a double bass, snare drum, violin, electric guitar and several microphones; on stage right was a brightly lit Christmas tree, an old Juke Box, a chair, an area rug, and Stuart McLean. At least, I assumed that it was Stuart McLean - I had never seen him before and had no way to recognize him but by his voice and the man speaking into the microphone was using Stuart's voice so I had nothing to conclude but that it was indeed Stuart McLean at the microphone, centre stage. He was in the middle of telling a story about Morley and about how one day while she was out shopping, Morley hit a raccoon in front of an elementary school on a cross walk minutes before the lunch bell was to ring. As Morley knocked on the door of a house across the street and pleaded desperately with the man to let her put a dead raccoon in his garbage can, Brian and I were allowed to be seated. Which turned out to be more of an ordeal than expected. The usher took us to the front row of the balcony and pointed us down the line of people - "you can't see them," she said, "but your seats are just down there." Brian led the way in quietly mumbling apologies and stepping on peoples toes and I followed, clutching my purse tightly, intent on not tripping over random body parts hidden in the darkness only to go toppling over the knee high ledge to the laps the unsuspecting audience below. (Phew. ) By the time we got to our seats, Morley was busy scooping the dead raccoon into her Holt Renfrew shopping back just as the lunch bell rang at the school. It wasn't until a passerby noticed a Holt Renfrew bag on Morley's car and decided to swipe it and the valuables inside that we realized we were two seats away from an aisle on the other side of our section.
Bravo, usher, bravo.
We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed with Morley the sight of the thief entering the same cafe where Morely was enjoying a cup of coffee, the thief slipping her hand into the bag discreetly to find out what kind of spoils she had plundered and smiling as she touched the fur - jackpot! Of course, it was an entirely different story when the thief actually looked into the bag and found herself face to face with a dead raccoon, the little dull beady eyes staring back at her...
The evening showcased various talents - the voice of a Quebecois Toronto resident, the upbeat strains of a Western Swing band - the BeeBop Cowboys, the Canadian folk-sy Legend Murray McLaughlin (I personally had never heard of him before), the "FX" talents of local Ted Dekker, and of course, the spellbinding voice of Mr McLean.
Stuart himself was not what I was expecting. His voice seems very... masculine. It is hard to translate a voice into a picture of a person and I didn't think that I had been able to do that, listening to Stuart on the radio, create a physical person in my mind. I must have, however, because when I saw a man on stage dressed very much like a tall Mr Rogers, moving his hands, arms, legs around in a... how shall I say this... loose manner, I was very surprised. And when I say "loose" I'm not referring to the 'promiscuous' connotations that the word can have. It's difficult to explain... His motions were unconstrained, fluid. In the end, I found it much less distracting to close my eyes and listen to him when he was reading.
It's amazing how much of a connection he makes with the audience when he is on stage - just as we opened the doors to the auditorium when we arrived, he had said something which made the audience chuckle and then outright laugh - he stopped his story and said, "I've been on the road a lot this year. I've toured all over the world reading about Dave and Morley - Scotland, Ireland, England, Alaska - and not once - not once has anyone caught what you just did right now. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm so glad to be back here in Hamilton!" A bit later on when a lady in the front row was laughing particularly hard at something Stuart again stopped, looked at her and said, "I'm glad you get it. I'm glad you think it's funny. Are you going to be ok?" At one point he invited a 14 year old girl up on stage to help him deliver prizes to the audience - and then conceded and let a 14 year old boy up on stage as well - and after a third 14 year old stood in front of the stage for several minutes ("What are you doing up here? I said I needed one kid - now I have two - does it look like I need three up here? Go sit down! What are you still doing up here? Go sit! Sit!") Stuart let him up as well. He was in conversation with the audience - the houselights came on and he chatted with the audience. He made fun of people in the audience, they yelled back at him.
If you, like me, have little to do this friday night at 7:30, turn on CBC television to watch Stuart's Christmas Program (filmed in Belleville at the Empire Theatre).