Past performers reflect as Deerhurst show takes its final bow tonight

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For 35 years, dancers and musicians have taken to the stage at Deerhurst Resort for high-energy, performances in one of Canada’s longest running musical variety shows. Tonight (March 19), that era comes to a close with the final performance of the HIT L!ST, the show’s latest incarnation.

It all began back in the early 80s when Deerhurst owner Bill Waterhouse stayed at Innisbrook Resort in Florida. They had a large-scale, Vegas-style production and Waterhouse wanted one just like it for Deerhurst.

“For Bill, entertainment was a big part of Deerhurst,” said Suzanne Baxter, who was one of the show’s original dancers from 1982 to 1985 and returned from 1993 to 1999. “He wanted a show just like that so he approached the producer, Bud Matton, but Bud had no desire to come north. Bud’s assistant, Brian Ayres, said ‘I’ll put on a show for you’ though, and he managed to bring some incredible musicians and dancers and singers with him. He had a well-rounded group of serious talent.”

Ayres built on the show that Waterhouse wanted, says Baxter, and brought along an emcee who embodied the spirit of it. “Brian had a knack for showbiz and for putting together songs and medleys. Along with him came Frankie Vogl – he was Canadian but he was the emcee of the show in Florida – they called him Mr. Showmanship. He could read and work an audience like no one could and he was a pivotal part of the show.”

The show was initially just a part-time offering. But in September of 1982, it became a full-time affair with performances six nights a week. “It was a great time as far as entertainment goes,” says Baxter. “Live entertainment of that type was appreciated back then. In the early 80s there were lots of people who came to Deerhurst and everyone came to see the show. Over time it was promoted and talked about – everyone knew that the show was there.”

“It was hard work,” says Annette Casullo, another of the show’s original dancers from 1982 to 1985. “At the beginning, the shows were a big production – Vegas of the north – and during slow times there were more of us on stage than in the audience. But the show developed a great reputation and it was an important learning ground for so many talented people.

At that time the cast lived on the property, an arrangement that allowed them to develop special bonds. “It’s hard to describe,” says Baxter. “It was a time and a place like no other. You had these wonderfully talented people coming from all over and we were taken in as family. We all lived together in various cabins and whatnot on the Deerhurst property, we all worked together and rehearsed together and partied together. Bill Waterhouse wasn’t just an employer, he was such a good friend. It was a pretty magical time.”

They got into some hijinx, too, says Baxter. “We were all in our early 20s and when you’re doing the same show night in and out, you start getting goofy. Half of us came out in a kick line once with those glasses that have a nose and mustache attached and the other half didn’t know it until we turned around. When we did that sort of thing, the audience knew something was up but they weren’t in on the joke. In the 90s that was stopped – we weren’t allowed to do that kind of thing on stage anymore.”

Many of the original show girls from the 80s are still connected years after having moved on. “It was this special bond,” says Casullo. “We had lots of great times and it developed into a family. We get together every year somewhere. In 2007 we did a 25-year reunion, and then later a 30-year reunion.”

A recent reunion shot of Frankie and the original showgirls

A recent reunion shot of Frankie and the original showgirls

The show evolved in the 90s, becoming the Sing show – Sing 93, Sing 94, Sing 95, and so on. “It was more like the more recent Decades Show. It was a bit different from those Vegas-style productions but it was still a great live show,” says Baxter. And the cast was no less tight-knit than before.

Parres Allen was with the show from 1996 to 2008, save for a year’s hiatus in 2003. “We always had a lot of fun. We partied together in the summer, we had these epic, themed Halloween parties where everyone went to the nines with their costumes, we would go out and party after shows. We liked to have a good time.”

On stage, it was no different. “The show’s job was to create this atmosphere, and it did. And there were some cool things, like the celebrity connection with Shania (Twain). She made a number of appearances so we got to entertain her, including once when we were doing a Shania medley and got to sing Shania to Shania.”

In more recent years, the show transitioned from the Decades format to the HIT L!ST, a show that encompassed both the best of the show and the songs the performers loved.

 

When the original lodge at the resort – the location of the ballroom where shows were held until 2014 – came down earlier this year, it “caught at everyone’s heartstrings,” says Casullo. And past performers are sad to see the show come to an end now, too. “I’m sad to see it go. It’s the end of an institution. But it has nothing to do with the great talent – they’ve been keeping the dream alive.”

There’s a special magic to a live show like the one at Deerhurst, says Kasey Stephan, the show’s current manager, and the cast is disappointed that audiences will no longer have the same experience.

“Everyone is really disappointed but we are really grateful that we were part of it,” says Stephan. “That era of the big production numbers is over. We are sad that the show went down under our watch because it has such a great legacy.”

The talented current cast will bounce back, says Stephan. Many will continue to work as professional musicians and singers. Stephan also runs local dance studio The Dance Project, Serge Charlebois owns RENEWED which builds reclaimed furniture, and Will Main co-owns JJ Dance Performing Arts Studio with his wife and former cast member Jennifer Johns-Main.

But for tonight, they’ll focus on the show. “I’m sure there will be lots of celebrating,” says Stephan. “And we expect to see some old cast members back to bid their farewell. It will be nice to have that closure.”

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23 Comments

  1. Chris Gunter on

    Really no focus on the years that Shania Twain was in the show?

    PS Privacy laws in Ontario state people have to “opt in” to join mailing lists not “opt out”.

    • Elizabeth Rice - Doppler Publisher on

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for pointing out the negative option on our newsletter subscriber list. An update inadvertently put that on the site but we have now corrected it.

  2. Michael Hamilton on

    I wish someone had mentioned that the comedy team of Malton and Hamilton was with the show for seven years and helped produce some of the shows and did their own late show after the early shows performance. We also worked with Eileen(Shania) when she was with the show. I hope at least some of the cast remember it.

    • Michael we will never forget you guys! How you made Eileen’s (Shania’s) last performance a night to remember with my hubby Steve! You made our years so memorable at Deerhurst! Loved the act you did on weekends in the 4 Winds as well – love and miss you!!!

    • Brian Thompson on

      Mike…I remember you and Wayne, not only for the Vegas Show…(who else could play the Canadian National Anthem using Bicycle Tire Pumps?). LOL. But your great contributions to Huntsville initiating the Bath Tub Races. Don’t worry big guy…you are very favourably remembered. And thanks for what you and Wayne added to our town.

  3. Chris Thompson on

    Great article. Disappointed in the the fact that Malton and Hamilton were not even mentioned. They were a great act for many years. And became residents of our town.

    • Catherine Stutt on

      Fran, Gilles Lanthier was Huntsville’s very own Lionel Richie! That was a nice article, a nice reminder of a wonderful escape. It’s so difficult to mention everyone, and kudos to Dawn Huddlestone for including a lot of information.

  4. Leslie Tempest on

    Oh, so much left unsaid of the legacy that is the “Deerhurst Show”! It was a major piece of my young dance development here at home in Huntsville! Thank you to Annette, Suzanne, Mandy and Nikki for those great and early days! Quite sad to learn of its end. 🙁

  5. So sad to note that the June Sweeney Dance Company girls were not mentioned here! They spent a few years performing in the summers too.

  6. Donna Flotron on

    Such great memories of the Deerhurst gang from the 80s! Judy Craig who owned Grandview at the time put on a fashion show to raise money for the hospital. The great talented show girls from Deerhurst arrived in our store, Flotrons, jumped into their outfits and the next day strutted their stuff for a hundred or more women at the luncheon Judy hosted. No fuss, no problem, totally professional and so much fun. Many from that show added so much to our town. Thank you.

  7. John Rivière-Anderson on

    Sad to see the end of a great Deerhurst tradition. So much talent and great entertainment that inspired many young performers in Huntsville. The show’s John Nobile will be remembered also for his unfailing technical expertise and creative backing of many casts.

  8. The final show was terrific; a fitting, if sad, ending to a magnificent Muskoka tradition. Kudos to Kasey, Serge, all the singers and dancers, the musicians, and the sound/lighting technicians. It was a great evening, and I hope to live to see it reborn in some fashion.

  9. Kasey Stephan on

    It is truly impossible to include all the greats! Wanted to include the great costume designers over the years. I had the pleasure of being dressed by Cathy Desgrosbois, Stephane Aubin, and Tasha Bryant.
    Amongst their other talents, they made us look and feel great out there!

  10. Holly and Ken Kelly on

    We’ve attended the show almost every year for 30 years. I am so sad this wonderful live performance is ending. You were all outstanding.

    • Dawn Huddlestone on

      Hi Brian,
      Deerhurst chose to end the show to focus on concerts, comedians and other one-off live performances instead.

  11. Carol-Anne Aulenbach on

    Deerhurst days in the 80s are some of my most memorable for many!! reasons. Frankie and I were friends long before he was at Deerhurst, and because of that friendship, I had the opportunity to be there to enjoy so many fantastic shows!..so many fantastic parties…and meet so many wonderful people that put their heart and souls into their passion of entertaining!
    Hi Frank! Where are you now?

    • I was with Deerhurst from 1985-90 with Brian Ayres and Frankie and Eilleen. I’m doing big production shows in Toronto and I have to say that ending the show in Huntsville has to be because of the lack of creativity that Brian brought to every number . He knew how to get a standing ovation every night. He was the best teacher for me as now I produce shows always remembering what he taught me. If given the chance I believe Deerhurst could have another run at a brilliant show.
      Rhonda Silver

  12. We’ve had a timeshare at Birchcliffe for over 20 years and the Deerhurst musical show was always a highlight. In planning our 2017 visit we’ve just discovered the show closed last March and are truly disappointed. We loved the show, the talent, the energy, the singers and dancers. Thanks to everyone who made it such a success for so many years. We will miss it – such a bright spot during the winter blahs. We’re headed up to Deerhurst shortly. Won’t be the same.

  13. I wish nothing but the best For Wayne and Mike, my husband and I followed them faithfully when they performed in the early years in Niagara Falls, Ont, Toronto, Whitby, London,Ont and St Kits. I remember taking a film of them and giving it to them way back when, of one of there many performances. Still had their albums up to a few years ago when in the process of many moves they either got lost or broke. Lost track years ago when we moved south and didn’t get back up that way. That was great comedy.

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