Being a dead ringer for some legendary singers made Zachary Stevenson’s latest project a no-brainer.
Stevenson puts his immense talents into the limelight for Dead Ringer that opens Friday at the Chemainus Theatre and runs until Nov. 13. He mimics the personalities and looks of classic artists as well as performing their music in his usual electrifying fashion.
All of them also happen to be dead, giving the catchy title a double meaning. All of them are dead, that is, with the exception of Jerry Lee Lewis, whose music is part of Stevenson’s show along with Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Phil Ochs, Wilbert Harrison and Fred Lincoln (Link) Wray Jr. Ochs and Wray may be the less familiar names of the bunch to most people, but were also legendary performers in their time.
Stevenson is a huge fan favourite in Chemainus so the three-week show promises to sell out quickly. He has roots on the island, with family still living in Parksville, Nanoose Bay and Victoria, and always looks forward to “coming home” to Chemainus.
“It’s really nice,” said Stevenson. “People have been very kind to me here over the years.”
He’s performed at the Chemainus Theatre many times in the Buddy Holly Story (twice), Million Dollar Quartet and Ring of Fire as well as at the theatre’s Playbill Dining Room during the pandemic for the Playbill Presents ….. series.
Stevenson is a young man who just turned 40 in January but with a heart for music locked into the golden eras of the 1950s and ’60s.
He will be backed by an impressive band for Dead Ringer that includes: Brad Shipley (guitar), Kraig Waye (bass) and Patrick Allen (drums).
Regular collaborations with Chemainus Theatre artistic director Mark DuMez led to this being the Canadian debut of the show. During the dark days of the pandemic when they were discussing what might come next, “I told him I was developing this idea and he liked the concept,” Stevenson indicated.
It actually has roots dating back to Stevenson’s time at UVic when he did a performance on folk singer Ochs as a graduation project.
“That was my first obsession where I combined my acting with music,” Stevenson pointed out.
“I just wanted to take that on the road. It kind of has had a chain reaction ever since.”
With Stevenson often been told he has a likeness to certain musicians and others, he started playing the part and grabbed a captive audience in other shows and now he’s ready to debut this one.
“There’s a trickle-down to my personal life,” he said. “The idea for the show has been growing slowly.”
Unlike his initial school project way back when, “this time it’s going to be a little more fleshed out,” Stevenson indicated. “I’ve got some of my favourite musicians working with me this time. I’m really excited about it. It’s great to do in the hometown, the island.”
“We’ve done a long working relationship,” said DuMez. “This is his show, Zach’s bringing in. We’re excited. Zach’s got a great reputation on the island. I’m looking forward to the Phil Ochs set actually. And we’ve got some fine players in this band that are well-known to Chemainus audiences.”
The great part about this show for Stevenson is the improvisation.
“I think every show is different,” he said. “Because it’s a concert experience, I’m not locked into a script. Every audience is going to bring their own energy and I will respond in kind.”
Stevenson has become a household name across the country.
“I’ve now played in every province, but there’s no place like home,” he confided. “Whenever I get back to the island, I feel my shoulders drop a little bit.”
Stevenson has also become a big hit south of the border, especially in Chicago where he spent the bulk of 2018 doing Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. The show with Oh Boys bandmates Shaun Whitey and Kieran McCabe played to constant sell-out performances and won five Chicago Theatre Awards, including Best Lead Performance by Stevenson.
With so many people expressing how Stevenson reminds them of different people – even Chris Isaak and Clark Kent – life imitates art for him, not the other way around.
It’s all sure to spawn other projects for Stevenson and the Chemainus Theatre will always be front and centre in whatever transpires.
“It’s always an evolution, that’s what’s fun about it,” he acknowledged.
Christine Reimer is the featured artist in the theatre’s gallery and gift shop for this show.