Around Town: Celebration for a renewal at Oak Bay Beach Hotel

That classic theatre axiom — the show must go on — aptly describes what’s happening at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel.

Everything old is new at the iconic oceanfront hotel where dinner theatre shows of yesteryear have been revived, starting with Celebration: A New Beginning, a musical revue and love song to the hotel.

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Bob LeBlanc, founder of Variety Fare, the local showbiz troupe presenting it, wasn’t the only one feeling a sense of déjà vu during a midweek rehearsal in the hotel that has reopened after a six-year, $52-million redevelopment.

It’s what you might expect from a showman whose six musicals created for hotel owners Kevin and Shawna Walker between 2000 and 2006 yielded 72 performances in a basement meeting room converted into a small theatre. Patrons would be seated at their reserved tables after assembling by the fireplace in the lobby for libations, a tradition being continued.

“They packed them in,” recalled the pianist and composer who rewrote some songs to reflect the hotel’s history and local impact. “They’d be hanging from the rafters.”

The new show at the hotel’s David Foster Foundation Theatre musically honours the hotel’s history through a breezy blend of Broadway showtunes and vintage pop standards.

Some of the show’s seven-person cast — local talent that includes three provincial government employees, a sales manager and an office administrator — found themselves reminiscing about the “old days” at the dinner theatre.

Timothy Kyle laughed as he recalled an incident during a production of Forever Plaid.

“We were standing there doing our beautiful harmonies, and it started to rain right in front of us,” he recalled, smiling at fellow castmates Stan Davis and Dwayne Gordon. “Upstairs, the women’s toilet had overflowed and it all came down onstage.”

The song they were singing? Three Coins in the Fountain.

One of the advantages of the new theatre is that the cast has more control over the illusion, Gordon said.

“The nicest improvement is we don’t have to climb in and out of a window to get on and off stage,” he recalled. “We had to be creative with our entrances in our old shows.”

Choreographer Jennifer Sanders, who staged shows for the Butchart Gardens for years, returned to stage Celebration in the hotel where she once did dinner theatre shows with comedian Steve Ivings.

“It’s great to come back,” she said. “This space is much nicer.”

Alto Debbie Robinson, active on Victoria’s theatre scene for 20 years, said there are distinct advantages to dinner theatre.

“We’re doing what we love,” said Robinson, a program assistant with UVic’s School of Child and Youth Care. “One of the highlights for me [after doing previews] was meeting people after the show. They said a lot of the songs spoke to their generation.”

Soprano Kelley O’Connor, a Canadian College of Performing Arts graduate who played Diamond Tooth Gertie in Dawson City, Yukon, and Maria in Victoria Operatic Society’s The Sound of Music, said she enjoys performing in a more intimate milieu.

“When you’re used to performing with large chorus groups, it’s nice to be able to play in a more private setting rather than in front of 3,500 people,” she said.

Hotel manager Michelle Le Sage said dinner theatre allows the hotel to showcase Victoria’s amazing talent.

“This unique culinary and live theatrical experience is another enhancement that sets the Oak Bay Beach Hotel apart from its competitors, attracting both local and international guests,” she said.

Celebration: A New Beginning runs Friday and Saturday nights until Feb. 16. Admission is $89 for the show and a three-course dinner. Call 250-598-4556.

A portion of ticket sales goes to the David Foster Foundation, which assists families of children who need organ transplants.

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