There’s something incredibly comforting about John Denver songs. There’s a familiarity to the lyrics and the phrasing that makes you both happy and reflective at the same time. Watching The John Denver Story, it doesn’t take long for you to remember what a consummate songwriter Denver was and why his songs made him a world-wide name and the ‘poet of the planet’; the show covers hit after toe-tapping hit. With songs like Grandma's Feather Bed, Leaving On A Jet Plane, Annie’s Song, Thank God I'm a Country Boy, Calypso and of course Take Me Home, Country Roads, who wouldn’t smile?
More of a surprise, though, is how slick this production is and free from any nostalgia. Home-grown Queensland boy Rick Price (remember Heaven Knows circa 1992?) might struggle to make any striking comparisons between his own life trajectory and Denver’s, but one glaringly obvious thing they share is vocal ability. Price’s voice has a stunning clarity to it, and boy does he sound like Denver in the slower songs. Achingly so if you’re a fan, so make sure you bring the tissues. When Price dedicates Sunshine On My Shoulders to Denver – “this one’s for John, wherever you are” – and swaps his guitar for the piano, the result is breathtaking (confirmed by the audible sniffles on Tuesday night).
The show outlines Denver’s life story and cleverly connects the songs to his journey. But it’s a shame that Price’s delivery of the narrated aspects of the evening is stiff and over-rehearsed. And while Denver’s ‘personal difficulties’ are noted, the failure to mention domestic violence is noticeable. While the issue may not be the most desirable aspect of a tribute show, it should still be a part of the story.
Denver’s life story is both sad and inspiring, but the true inspiration in this production is undoubtedly the music. Price is backed by the ultra talented Colorado Quartet. All four of them are exceptional musicians. Luke Moller’s violin solo at the beginning of Follow Me is as achingly beautiful as it is unexpected, and his contribution to Perhaps Love is poignant and sweet.
If you’re a fan and you miss this be prepared for some serious self-loathing.
Bold Jack presents
The John Denver Story
Take Me Home Country Roads
Venue: Athenaeum Theatre | 188 Collins St, Melbourne
Dates: 28 Jun – 10 Jul 2011
Times: Tues 7:00PM, Wed – Sat 8:00PM, Sat 2:00PM, & Sun 3:00PM
Bookings: 03 9650 1500 | Ticketmaster 136 100