Jubilations Dinner Theatre gets into the CCMA spirit with A Country Star is Born production

He may front a band in real life, but it’s a lot different than playing the role of a singer onstage. 

Ian Samuel — who plays the role of Garth in Jubilations Theatre’s latest production, A Country Star is Born — sings in an Edmonton-based band with his wife called Hungry Hollow and says while one experience lends itself to the other it’s definitely not the same thing. 

“With Hungry Hollow, there’s more vulnerability there because it’s stuff that I wrote, but for (Jubilations) you’re putting on a character, so you can really open yourself up more and go for it,” he explains. “With Hungry Hollow, you’re always worried about things and with (Jubilations), there are no worries.” 

And while Samuel describes his band’s music as “listenable rock and roll,” its roots are embedded in country, making him perfect for the role of Garth. It doesn’t hurt that he knows how to sing, act and yes, dance, too.   

“Out of all the shows I’ve done, this is the most dancey one, and it’s the most fun one. It’s my favourite part of doing these shows,” Samuel says, adding he feeds off the energy of the crowd.  

“This time around, I get to do a few more songs than usual, so I’m very grateful.” 

In A Country Star is Born, Ellie works at the Wildcat Saloon. She is a young and talented singer with a gift for writing amazing country music. After years of trying though, Ellie is almost ready to give up on her dreams. 

That is when Garth steps in. Garth Jackson is a country legend with everything a person could ever want; fame fortune and legions of fans. Fortunately, for Ellie, he also has a tour bus that broke down right outside the bar. 

The Bob Cunningham-written and -directed parody puts a Jubilations spin on a popular classic, and Kelly Benzing’s (Ellie’s) rendition of the 2018 movie’s hit song made famous by Lady Gaga, Shallow, is worth the price of admission alone. 

“Getting to sing Shallow, which is such an epic song, is probably the highlight of the show for me,” the actor says. “I think Ian and I blend really nice together and I really enjoy being able to belt it out.” 

And does she ever. Benzing, who has been part of 14 Jubilations productions, has an extensive singing background and started classical lessons at age five. 

“Country is very different. If you listen to me singing country, I’m very operatic … and I don’t have a twang, but I’m trying to throw it in there. But my big opera side will always come out in my vocals,” she explains, adding she enjoys the free rein given to her by the production.  

“They don’t put too much constriction around what I do vocally, which is pretty fantastic.”

A Country Star is Born is on until Oct. 12 at Calgary’s Jubilations Theatre before it goes to Edmonton and then Winnipeg to round out the nine-month tour. 

Krista Sylvester is a freelance writer (and creator of that’s all she wrote) with a journalism background. She has worked for Metro, CityTV and the now defunct FFWD, and specializes in arts and culture, sports, film and entertainment, social issues and more. When she’s not writing, she can often be found at the poker table or ice rink playing hockey.