Michael Vanhevel featured at Sunday big band concert
Michael Vanhevel, a singer from Petrolia, will be featured at the Bluewater Big Band Blast, a concert set for Nov. 12, at the Imperial Theatre in downtown Sarnia. (Handout)
After a run of playing young Elvis in productions of Million Dollar Quartet in theatres around Ontario, Michael Vanhevel is returning to more familiar territory.
Back home with his family in Petrolia, the singer is teaming up Sunday with the Bluewater Big Band for a 2 p.m. concert at the Imperial Theatre in downtown Sarnia.
Billed as the Bluewater Big Band Blast, the show is a benefit for the International Symphony Orchestra.
“It was a little weird wrapping my head around being that person, as opposed to the crooner that I normally do,” Vanhevel said about portraying the late Elvis Presley over the last two summers.
Vanhevel is known for performing in the style of Frank Sinatra and others from that style and era of music.
And, he said he’s actually more of a fan of the 1960s film-era of Elvis Presley’s music, than of the 1950s early rock period covered by Million Dollar Quartet, a show about a day in 1956 when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Presley gathered for an impromptu jam session at Sun Records.
“And, it’s even harder getting back into, forgive the bad pun, the swing of things now, going back into crooner world and not being able to shake my hips,” Vanhevel said.
He grew up in Grand Bend with parents who loved music from the 1950s, and found he also “had a taste for the older music.”
While attending high school in Forest, a drama teacher who conducted the Forest Excelsior Band asked Vanhevel to sing with the community group.
“I was singing the Sinatra stuff, and the more I was singing it the more people were telling me, ‘You’ve really got a voice for this,’”
That led to Vanhevel carving himself out a niche singing in that style around the Grand Bend area.
“Not a lot of people were doing the crooner thing, in the small towns,” he said.
“That’s how I got my start.”
Vanhevel studied at Sheridan College and was back home, working as a singer around Grand Bend when he got a call from Alex Mustakas, artistic director at Drayton Entertainment, the theatre company that runs Huron Country Playhouse.
Someone had sent Mustakas a video of Vanhevel singing at Gables in Grand Bend, and he passed it along to Howard Cable, the respected late arranger who was involved in a Drayton show, Big Band Legends.
Vanhevel said, “I guess he called Alex back and said, ‘Hire him.’”
In the years since, Vanhevel has built a career in musical theatre and concert performances specializing in the music from Frank Sinatra and other crooners.
Vanhevel said he and Tim Hummel, director of the 17-piece Bluewater Big Band, had been talking in recent years about working together.
“It never clicked, until this year,” Vanhevel said.
“I know I’m super keen, because they’re a great group.”
Vanhevel and the band are set to perform several songs, including Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek and Frank Sinatra’s signature song, Luck be a Lady.
Vanhevel said that since he and band both know the music and the arrangements so well, they didn’t need a lot of rehearsal time.
“It’s very fun to be able to work with a band that’s the calibre that you can get away with that.”
Vanhevel is also performing this month with the Kingston Symphony and he has a sold-out Christmas show in December at the Kineto Theatre in Forest.
The Bluewater Big Band is made up of musicians from Toronto to Detroit, including several area music teachers, as well as past and present members of the International Symphony Orchestra.
Hummel is a trumpeter with the symphony.
As well as songs featuring Vanhevel on vocals, Sunday’s concert will feature the big band performing Tuxedo Junction, made popular by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and other hits from the era.
--- --- ---
IF YOU GO
What: Bluewater Big Band Blast, featuring singer Michael Vanhevel.
Where: Sarnia’s Imperial Theatre.
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.
Details: Tickets to the benefit concert for the International Symphony Orchestra are available from the symphony office, 251 Vidal St., N., 519-337-7775.