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Jul. 18, 2019 | Thursday
Local News
Oh Canada Eh performer Melissa Penner to retire after 25 years on stage
Melissa Penner, a.k.a. Klondike Kitty, is retiring from Oh Canada Eh. (Supplied photo)

It wasn’t really supposed to work out this way.

Melissa Penner was just going to an open mic night with a couple of friends at a new dinner theatre in Niagara Falls, a chance to play a little guitar and sing a few songs. But her performance must have impressed — she was offered a role in the then-new Oh Canada Eh? show on the spot.

Little did she know at the time that it would turn into a 25-year run on stage singing about everything that is wonderful about Canada. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. On July 6, Melissa will give her last performance as the flirtatious saloon girl Klondike Kitty and retire to spend some more time with her family.
“We just celebrated our 25th season,” says Melissa, a St. Catharines native. “It’s a milestone that really settled with me. Twenty-five years is an amazing run, but it is time to move on. It was great to be part of something that was new and exciting. Keeping the dream of this show alive, helping it be successful when so many said it wouldn’t be has really kept me going.”

Jim Cooper, owner of Canadiana Productions, says Melissa’s presence will be sorely missed by both her fellow cast mates and regular patrons of the show.

“Melissa is one in a million,” he says. “I’ve never met anyone who could captivate an audience like she can, with her smile, her poise and her bubbly, heart-warming personality. She melted many hearts just with a simple wink in your direction. It was a pleasure to share the stage with her for so many years in Niagara, as well as engagements in Florida and the U.K.”

Over her time at Oh Canada Eh?, Melissa has performed in about 25 different shows. She has played the role of Klondike Kitty since the show moved into its Log Cabin Theatre on Lundy’s Lane in 1999, and has had a hand in co-writing, writing and directing various seasonal shows that get staged after the main show wraps each season in October.

Stepping outside of the Klondike Kitty role, there is a recurring character in several of the Christmas productions that is near and dear to Melissa’s heart, and that is the old lady known to audiences as Aunt Pearl.

“When you are 90, you can get away with doing and saying anything,” Melissa says. “That one will be in my heart forever. It has been fun to play her.”

But no matter the show, it is the nature of the dinner theatre that makes the audience part of the show that Melissa cherishes about her time with Canadiana Productions — the company that owns Oh Canada Eh? Seeing the faces of older gentlemen light up when the fun-loving Klondike Kitty flirts with them; hearing stories in the lobby about the fun people had; the return guests who have seen the show 10 or 20 times.

“No matter what day I’ve had or what’s going on in my life, the minute I got into that costume, the whole world disappeared,” Melissa says. “It was fun, for me and for the audience.”

But as much as some members of the audience, and her co-performers for that matter, are just like family, Melissa feels it is time to devote more of herself to her own family — husband and two teenage children.

“I have been working opposite my family for 25 years now,” she says. “My husband works days and I have been working nights, so we never really needed babysitters, but we were also just high fiving at the door as we passed each other. But our kids are older now. To connect with my family and love them is really what I hope to do now.

“It has been great. I got to do all the things I love and not have to travel to do them. I got to raise my family, be part of these amazing shows, and stay in Niagara.”

The talent, persona and heart shown by Melissa on stage, back stage and in the audience are second to none, says Lee Siegel, Artistic Director of Canadiana Productions.

“She is a unique force of nature that on your darkest days can lift you from a slump and on your brightest day take you even higher,” he says. “She will be missed more than she knows, but she leaves us knowing that for nearly a million people from around the world she has placed a smile in their heart and a beautiful memory into their lives. Every story has a period and a new chapter. We send Melissa off with warm wishes filled with gratitude as she writes her next chapter in life, and gets to spend more time with her incredible family. " 

Reflecting back on 25 years, Melissa is thankful for a management team at Canadiana Productions that believed in her, all the directors that casted her in all these amazing show and all the talented cast and crews members that have come through the doors of the Log Cabin Theatre.

“To all the costumers who have come back time and time again, I love you and will miss you all,” she says. “I hope this wonderful company goes on for 25 more years. All my love Eh!”

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