Return to Caledonia

How excited am I to be writing this review??

It was almost three years ago now that I first saw Melody Johnson’s wonderful MISS CALEDONIA, as part of my first ever theatrical road trip to the Summerworks Theatre festival.  Actually, I saw it twice at that festival because I fell in love with it so bad, and you better believe I let out a hoot of approval when Peter Hinton announced it as the closing show of his 2012/2013 season at the National Arts Centre.   And now, after waiting the whole season it was finally time for my third go at this little gem, and now I’m reminded of why I fell in love with it in the first place.

Written and performed by the amazing Melody Johnson, and based on the true story of her Mother, the show follows the life of Caledonian teen Peggy Ann Douglas in the 50’s.  Struggling to maintain interest in her simple farm life with her gruff Dad, ever-pleasant Mum, and no indoor plumbing, Peggy thinks she’s found a way out through the local beauty pageant circuit.  Nursing dreams of stardom like her heroes Debbie Reynolds and Bing Crosby, Peggy enlists her Mum’s help to train up for the coveted Miss Caledonia crown under the nose of disapproving Dad, not to mention outwitting a nosy puritanical lodger.  Melody is joined onstage throughout by fiddler Alison Porter, providing sweet and sassy musical accompaniment along her journey from farmgirl to would-be beauty queen.

It's official...between this show and SHE RULES WITH IRON STIX, baton twirling clearly makes damn good theatre.
It’s official…between this show and SHE RULES WITH IRON STIX, baton twirling clearly makes damn good theatre.

Sentimental but never sappy, and filled with clever dialogue that always rings true to its small-town roots, MISS CALEDONIA might actually be impossible not to like.  At least, I might not want to hang out with you if you managed to frown during this show.  Packed with memorable characters and beautiful, hilarious scenes (Peggy’s first and rather shaky attempt at beauty pageants is pretty unforgettable), but with plenty of genuine emotion that’s never too far from the surface.  I still got misty at Peggy’s story about Ginger, and you’ll just have to watch the show to find out what I’m talking about.  I can just about guarantee you’ll thank me.  Melody Johnson is a seriously skilled actor, and has enough charm to power any ten shows without breaking a sweat.  She and Alison Porter make a pretty terrific onstage combo, right up to the crowd-cheering pageant finale.  Will Peggy take the prize?  Do yourself a serious favour and find out.  Plays at the NAC Studio until the 25th, so get goin’! And Miss Johnson..?  It was a real treat seeing you again.  Come back to Ottawa ANY time.   Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

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