in my humble opinion

Never on Sunday

Posted 5/1/24

While I was chatting with fellow theatre reviewer Lori Schneider about attending a Yarnslingers event scheduled for April 28 at the Arts Nest in Lake Huntington, NY last weekend, she audibly gasped. …

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in my humble opinion

Never on Sunday


While I was chatting with fellow theatre reviewer Lori Schneider about attending a Yarnslingers event scheduled for April 28 at the Arts Nest in Lake Huntington, NY last weekend, she audibly gasped. “Really?” she said, “I’m dumbfounded. I thought your column deadline was on Sunday and that you never, ever went out on that day of the week. 

“Yes, of course, you’re right,” I lamented. “Never on Sunday. What was I thinking?”

Not that there isn’t plenty (IMHO) to see, hear or do in the Upper Delaware River region on a Sunday, but if I dare to venture outside the confines of Camp Fox before completing my work for the week, I’m distracted and constantly looking over my shoulder; checking the time to make sure that I won’t miss said deadline which is written in stone. No wiggle room, no excuses and “no rest for the wicked,” as Barbara Fox would say.

It’s almost as surprising to find me out and about on a Wednesday, as it’s traditionally my day off and I’m likely to stick close to home, puttering around with the dog, making myself busy with this, that and the other thing. This past Wednesday, the “other thing” turned out to be happening at Shadowland Stages in Ellenville, NY. 

“Have you heard?” Lori asked in a text. “Your pal Jefferson McDonald is coming to Shadowland with his new show. We’re going, right?” 

Not only had I heard, but several people had already mentioned that they’d heard as well, and it was my understanding that the one-night-only appearance was selling like hotcakes. So Lori and I made plans to go together, “even though” I intoned, “it’s my day off.” 

My first exposure to McDonald was in 2019, when he vividly portrayed the incredible Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Forestburgh Playhouse. It’s a role he has reprised no fewer than 14 times, most recently last year at Shadowland, where he was proclaimed the “breakout star” of an ensemble show. More recently, the actor/singer/musician extraordinaire has created a new one-man show (aided and abetted by a revolving crew of ridiculously talented musicians) that expands on that notion. 

Don’t miss “Jefferson McDonald’s Great Balls of Fire,’’ Shadowland’s Facebook page announced, proclaiming that the show had sold out in 48 hours and that they had added a second performance. Thankfully, Lori and I had secured our seats to see McDonald and friends rock and roll their way through what turned out to be two frenetic, entertaining acts covering not only Jerry Lee Lewis, but also including musical tributes to Chuck Berry, Willie Nelson, Ray Price and Elvis, to name but a few. 

Neither of us had actually planned to “review” the show (“it’s only one night” Lori reminded me). It features the talents of Colin Summers (guitar/vocals), Jerry Scaringe (bass/harmonica), Michael Olivieri (guitar), James White (sax) and Michael Klopp (drums). But I’d feel remiss not expressing my thoughts, since McDonald is bound to make his way back to the Catskills, hopefully sooner than later—so I took notes.

“Where can he possibly go from here?” I hastily scribbled in my program after an opening number that blew the roof off the place. No clue what the song was—since I simply scrawled the word “electrifying”—but the guys followed it with insanely exciting renditions of familiar tunes such as “That’s Alright Mama,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and a song I’d never heard, but now can’t get out of my head, called “Flip, Flop and Fly.”

“Thank goodness for intermission,” I said to Lori as we greeted familiar faces in the audience when the lights came up. “I need to catch my breath.” 

After watching McDonald careen across the stage as he and his band literally tore it up—rumor has it he “broke” a piano the night before—there was little room left for doubt. This guy is the real deal. Not only does he have serious rock and roll chops, but he has the rare ability to invite the audience to join in, sing along, dance in the aisles and just plain whoop it up as if we were all old friends out together for a night on the town.

While it’s hard to believe, the second set built upon the groundwork that McDonald had laid out in the first. I wrote words like “talent literally oozes from his pores” as Jefferson and his band rocked the house with “Johnny B. Goode,” “Suzy Q” and “Little Sister”—a raucously fun rendition that he hilariously referred to as “a classic hillbilly love song.” 

One by one, McDonald graciously gave his bandmates opportunities to shine, while thoroughly charming the audience. He encouraged those seated to get up and shake it out, offering “free merch” as incentive, mugging his way through musical salutes to rock and roll legends, all the while poised to become one himself.

Following an incredibly energetic rendition of Bill Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” Jefferson ran offstage and I turned to another pal/reviewer seated behind me, the inimitable Carol Montana. “I don’t think he’ll do an encore,” I said. “I mean really, how could he? 

“Have you forgotten what the show is called, Jonathan?” Carol asked with a laugh. She had just joined other audience members who were catapulted out of their seats—singing, dancing, hooting and hollering. “Oh, right,” I replied with a laugh, as Carol, Lori and I simultaneously uttered the words “Great Balls of Fire.” Just then Jefferson McDonald returned, mopping his brow, and hit the stage running to perform the title song.

All three of us stayed after the show to pay homage (I mean, say hi) to Jeff and grab a pic for posterity. “Thanks,” I whispered as we exchanged a hug. “I had no idea how much I needed this evening. I laughed; I sang—I even gave you a standing ovation,along with every other person in the theatre, and I rarely stand. Wow, man—what a freakin’ show.”

On the way home, Lori asked the inevitable question. “What if the show had been scheduled for a Sunday? Would you have gone? You always say ‘Never on Sunday.’” 

Without hesitation, I reminded her that there’s “an exception to every rule and Jefferson McDonald is that exception.” Run, don’t walk—you can thank me later.

For more information, visit 

Fun Fact: “Never on Sunday” is a 1960 film (and Academy Award-winning song) set in Greece, starring Melina Mercouri. Jules Dassin is an American scholar determined to improve the life of a prostitute with whom he is infatuated. 

local, theatre, sullivan county, in my humble opinion, Jefferson McDonald, Shadowland Stages, Forestburgh Playhouse, That Dog Named Gidget, Great Balls of Fire


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