Women of County were country before country was cool

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When Callandra Dendias heard a then 13-year-old Leanne Rhimes belt out Blue, she was hooked.

Elicia MacKenzie loved musicals since she was a toddler, walking around her parents home singing all the lyrics to The Little Mermaid at the age of four. That love of music grew and eventually she discovered country. “My first concert was Shaina Twain.”

Now the pair join the cast of From the Heart, The Women of Country to sing the music they grew up loving.

Dendias is no stranger to Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. She’s done several shows at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia including Country Sunshine and is currently the theatre’s marketing manager.

In From the Heart, Dendias gets a chance to relive the days when she couldn’t wait to hear the latest song from Leanne Rhimes.

“She was my age and I was just really jealous…I taught myself how to yodel because she could do it,” she tells The Independent.

“This was back in the day before the Internet so you had to sit there watching CMT to catch your favourite person …I would watch CMT and that how I became a country music fan; just so I could see more Leanne Rhimes videos.”

“If there was a picture this big,” she says holding her fingers just a few centimeters apart, “of Leanne Rhimes, I’d cut it out. My entire bedroom wall was just article and photos of Leanne Rhimes.”

Dendias kept sing and eventually went to Sheridan College for Musical Theatre. For From the Heart, she will sing part of that great standard, Blue, in a tribute country greats such as Patsy Kline, Loretta Lynn, Anne Murray, Reba McIntyre and current favourites, like Carrie Underwood.

MacKenzie, on the other hand, didn’t start out as a diehard country fan. “I loved Disney. I think I remember my first Disney movie I knew all the words to was Little Mermaid and I would go around the house singing it when I was three or four years old,” she says.

Then her aunt introduced her to country and Patsy Kline. “I grew up listening to her. My aunt used to have a CD and I would try to imitate her.

“When I grew up, I knew I wanted to be a singer but I didn’t know where I wanted to go with it and I ended up taking a music theatre program.”

That took her to an unlikely audition – a CBC reality show called How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. MacKenzie won the competition to play Maria in The Sound of Music in Toronto.

Since then, she and Dendias worked together in London, performing in Shrek. Now, MacKenzie will also get to relive her childhood, belting out one of Kline’s songs. “It’s nice I get to sing one of the songs I used to imitate.”

And while both Dendias and MacKenzie are looking forward to singing the songs of the artists they grew up with, they love all of the music in the show.

Dendias adds the show will lead the audience through the changing history of country music. “Country music has become this glitzy world of big hair and wind machines,” says Dendias. “When back then it was just stand and deliver. It was all about the vocal and the story telling.”

“And there still are those singers that do those wonderful story telling songs,” says MacKenzie.

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