Making new memories

Bob Leblanc’s Variety Fair continues Oak Bay Hotel legacy

Bob Leblanc first auditioned to provide entertainment for the Oak Bay Beach Hotel in October 1999 when Kevin and Shawna Walker came to listen to a group of singers he’d assembled in his living room to pitch the idea.

His group belted out a collection of Broadway tunes and a few months later when the Walkers converted the 120-seat Oak Room at the hotel into an intimate dinner show room, Leblanc’s group was the first to perform. That was in January of 2000.

Six years later, following the Walkers’ decision to rebuild the old hotel, it was again Leblanc’s show that took to the stage, this time for the final show in the old theatre. That show was called Thanks for the Memories, a fitting musical tribute to the old Oak Bay landmark.

“It was a very special place for me,” Leblanc said. “When we did those last shows, we were all a little teary-eyed.”

As Leblanc looks over the playbill of that last show, it isn’t the old memories that occupy his mind, it’s the hotel dinner theatre’s fresh start. The hotel has been rebuilt, as has the dinner theatre, and Kevin Walker has decided that it’s only fitting that the first show on the new stage should be Bob Leblanc and his group Variety Fare.

“The show is called Celebration: A New Beginning,” said Kris Morash, the hotel’s manager. “We think it’s a great bookend – a way of giving the past a tip of the hat while embracing a bright future.”

The new dinner theatre will be far more elaborate than the earlier rendition of the space at the old hotel.

“That room started out as not much more than a meeting room, but the Walkers kept improving it with staging, lighting and sound systems. In the end, it was a great room to play. But this new room looks amazing,” Leblanc said.

The theatre is named after the David Foster Foundation in homage to the philanthropic work of David Foster, a local man who never forgot the importance of giving back.

Variety Fare will be doing a total of 14 shows to kick off the new theatre, with a brief interlude over Christmas when Stan Davis and Friends will take the stage to celebrate the holiday season with a production called Harmony for Christmas. Leblanc and Variety Fare will reclaim the stage in January to finish their run.

When asked if dinner theatre is a tough gig, Leblanc only laughed. “I’m 78 years old and have been doing this a long time,” he said. “I’ve never thought dinner theatre to be tough. … If you give people a show they want to see, it’s easy – and my group of singers is amazing.”

The $89 ticket price for the fast-paced musical review comes with a three course meal and, as an added benefit, a portion of every dinner theatre ticket will go to the David Foster Foundation’s work for the families of children awaiting major organ transplants.

Information on up coming shows at the hotel can be found at oakbaybeachhotel.com. For more information on Bob Leblanc, go to varietyfare.ca.

Did you know?

The original Oak Bay Beach Hotel was built in 1927.

In the 1940s some rooms were converted into Victoria’s first neighbourhood pub, The Snug.

In 1972, the resort was purchased by two businessmen from Winnipeg, Bruce Walker and Glenn Anderson.

Bruce’s son, Kevin Walker, and his wife Shawna, decided to continue the family’s hotelling legacy by purchasing it in October 1995.

In late 2006, the doors to the old hotel were ceremonially closed… and then subsequently removed to be re-installed in the new incarnation of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel.

A community celebration is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 1, from noon to 4:30 p.m., which will include musical performances, guided tours and complimentary access to the seaside mineral pools for visitors.

 

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