A beloved children’s entertainer will return to Nanaimo to make not just the audience laugh, but Vancouver Island Symphony members, as well.
Al Simmons, known as the Einstein of Entertainers, is prepping his one-liners, gadgets and absurd songs for his upcoming, fast-paced show with the symphony on Sunday, Jan. 29, at Nanaimo’s Port Theatre.
The 1996 Juno Award winner for Best Children’s Album has been dubbed a creative genius whose kookiness and “off-the-wall” inventions have brought new heights to both music and comedy, charming children and adults alike for more than half a century.
The Manitoba-based entertainer said he leapt at the opportunity to perform his symphony show, especially since he hasn’t performed in the Harbour City for several decades. For the sole Island performance, Simmons will play the greatest hits from his ’90s albums, Something’s Fishy at Camp Wiganishie, Celery Stalks at Midnight and The Truck I Bought From Moe, which range from classical music, to rock ‘n’ roll, to jazz.
As a way to introduce the orchestra and its sections to the audience, Simmons will pit his half-dozen homemade musical instruments against those of the orchestra’s.
“Nobody is prepared. We’re going to have spontaneous little showdown,” the entertainer said.
His catalogue of makeshift music-makers includes a violin made out of a tin can, a piccolo made out of a piece of garden hose and a percussion instrument made out of springy doorstoppers. Simmons will explain the trials and tribulations of creating “off-the-wall” inventions, and how a perceived moment of failure could actually be an enormous success when looked at from a different angle.
Although a part of the performance, the symphony musicians will also be witnessing the show in its entirety on Sunday, since only the music will have been rehearsed and none of the “funny bits.” Simmons said they may even end up laughing out loud or losing their place.
“I would rather the orchestra have fun, as well as the audience,” he said. “For me, I feel like I’ve got two audiences for this … It’s really neat to hear the audience laughing because the orchestra is laughing … I want everybody to be real and to be there in the moment with me.”
The audience will also have plenty to do and will be prompted throughout the show to make sound effects or shout at the “man on stage in the funny hat.”
“If you came late to the show, you would wonder, what is happening? The audience is taking over the show,’” Simmons said. “I think people these days are so used to being passively entertained, so I want them to realize that when they come to see the show, they are a big part of it. They’re not just going to sit and watch it.”
All of the props, gadgets and kooky contraptions on stage were recently made since the entertainer lost a great deal of inventory due to a fire at his storage facility roughly four years ago. Ever the opportunist, Simmons said he relished the chance to collect and build even more props for several different types of shows, although some items couldn’t be re-created for their “accidental brilliance.”
On Sunday, along with his greatest hits, Simmons will also debut a new song titled ‘The World’s a Better Place (Because You’re In It)’ from his yet-to-be-released album The Whistling Egg Man.
The album, set for release this summer, will be his latest since 1997 and will take a “goofy historical look at the Klondike gold rush.” It will have 13 songs and an accompanying animation.
Tickets for the Port Theatre performance can be found online at www.porttheatre.com.