Lions’ first Variety Show in fundraising history proves bright idea

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 3/18/2019 9:00:10 PM

chutzpah - n. audacity that can be good

ATHOL — This may be small-town New England in 2019, but that old world Yiddish word for “boldness” has barged into this critic’s head, plopped down, and refuses to leave, as she aims to describe the Athol Lions Club’s first-ever Variety Show, which drew a vibrant crowd Saturday night.

Area performers — including interesting discoveries — lent their big city chops, and down-home hearts, to a cause that rings of its own hutzpah: “to eradicate blindness,” among other Lions projects serving locally and “throughout the world.”

The matching moxie of the entertainers became evident well before showtime in the Athol High School auditorium, where they dealt with the occasional glitch (nothing more serious than a displaced 800-pound piano or switched-off mic) with aplomb. Weeks earlier, in order to make the program lineup, they’d had to impress a talent jury in an extensive audition process.

And, gotta say, audience members — sufficient enough in numbers to fill most of the posh red theatre seats — were no shrinking violets either. And that goes for the kids, too.

“Young fellow with the gray shirt,” Ed The Wizard called to a child volunteer already trudging his way toward the stage, “would you like to be cut in half?”

“Yes,” answered seven-year-old Aiden Graziano resignedly, to a smattering of guffaws.

The talent

— Musical trio “The Can Collectors” exhibited the unbeatable, unspoiled, industriousness of the age old street trouper. Not surprisingly, they have already helped ignite Orange’s fledgling busking scene. Their bohemian-vagabond edge, with a repertoire that crosses borders, did the legit concert stage some good Saturday night.

Performing “Earth Angel” by Marvin Berry and “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keyes, singer Carolyn Salls took vocal command in her mighty but modulated contralto, while playing acoustic guitar and foot percussion; Julie Johnson played the elusive steel drum but later, in a clever switch, patted out a rhythm on Salls’ guitar with one hand while playing tambourine with the other. And Chris Robichaud reliably manned the bass guitar throughout — effectively completing the tonal rhythm machinery that produces the cleverly rag-tag global sound.

— Templeton singer-songwriter Anthony Martel passes the test of real talent by taking his own to a precipice without safety gear. (The daredevil analogy is not farfetched. According to Martel’s biography — and his on-line “SinkerSwim” music videos referenced — he “enjoys fixed-gear bike racing” and is seen performing his own rough and tumble stunts in at least one music video.)

There was an admirable starkness, yet richness, to Martel’s performance — free of presentational excesses and other onstage hiding places to which a lesser musician might retreat. With just an acoustic guitar, an expressive voice and a fetching original song, “Company,” Martel challenged gravity. … to considerable applause and cheering.

— When Bruce Dunbar sang “These Days,” by Jackson Browne, accompanying himself on guitar, the easy excellence of his performance prompted a flip through the playbill with the expectation of finding a “musical resume.” Instead, a carpenter who resides in New Salem with his wife Sue was largely how Dunbar was biographized.

Dunbar’s vocal delivery was casual and clear yet tonally dynamic and — to his credit — suggested no attempt at a Browne imitation. And his agile rhythm guitar playing employed steady, yet subtly accelerated, strumming — a flying carpet atop which his vocals reclined for a breezy ride.

In addition to those notables, the 20 acts that lit up the stage for the big show also included: an impressive performance by Michael Alber on vibes; singing by touring recording artist Caylin Lee; Orange’s own Ed The Wizard, who dares to make a living as a magic performer, and gave a wily-but-warm kids-assisted show; a poised performance by singer Lynn Gendron, a musical “mom of two who grew up in Athol;” Richard Chase & Friends” (from Quabbin Valley Pro Musica) performing two original songs composed by Chase for four-part harmonies; The Dance Studio featuring artistic choreography and some students performing startlingly advanced leaps and turns.

Father and son Mitch Grosky and Josh Grosky performing a stately and dramatic duet from Les Miserables — in their first ever onstage collaboration. Mike Hume, another singer-songwriter, of which the playbill boasted an appreciable number; Charlie Pierson, 11, backing up on guitar; Jack Arnot singing, among other selections, a moving “Danny Boy” on this St. Patrick’s Day Eve; stand-up comedian Bill Slemmer, opening his own routine by, funnily enough, helping on mic with the audience raffle; emcees, Lions District Governor Tim Devault of Athol and Club Treasurer Harry Haldt; and the evening’s piano accompaniment — rightly entrusted to musical-theatre veteran Janet Paoletti.

The beautiful large, filled to the brim theme baskets, hauled out onto the stage by the student stage crew members, were put together by Luanne Pierson. Peter Gerry won the garden basket, and Teri LaCoy won the bird feeder basket.

Doc Arsenault, singing and playing a juiced up electric guitar, closed the show with “Pretty Woman” — over that familiar beat — this night, in the form of a rhythmic clap clap clap clap … which the Doc had directed the game audience to provide. Arsenault’s performance was so formidable and so swaggering as to suddenly cause one to question whether Roy Orbison had really been the best guy for the job.

By contrast, a participant — with a little experience in some past church singing — had approached the mic earlier in the evening from the other end of the confidence spectrum.

“This has always been a dream of mine, to be up here onstage,” said Scott Hubbard, who added that he would be satisfied if he never got any further than that. Hubbard then dedicated his performance to wife Tammy, and proceeded to sing Kenny Rogers’ “Through The Years” — on key and pleasantly unaffected. Hubbard’s “dream” concluded with loud applause and cheers.

The audible pulse of Saturday night’s audience seems to affirm that the Athol Lions’ new idea for a fundraiser really clicked. The club’s bright stage debut was directed with gusto by Dee Wheeler who, with awarding-winning Lion of more than 20 years, Deborrah Porter, had come up with the ambitious idea while fondly recalling their involvement with yesteryear’s local Minstrel Shows. The brainchild was ultimately embraced by fellow Lions who joined Wheeler and Porter in tasks on the Variety Show Committee — Kathy Chaisson, Becky Fortin, Lurene Hall and Luanne Pierson.

Since their start in early 1950, the “Athol Lions change with the times and continue to find new ways of raising money. In the early days, members pounded the pavement to sell light bulbs and brooms …” reads an excerpt from the club’s printed history.

Finally, although charity was the evening’s cause, a responsible reviewer — in the name of occupational gall — must never shy from giving negative criticism wherever warranted. So, here goes:

Dispenser 4 in the east wing ladies’ room was low on paper towels.


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