If you happened to be in Wilmington, Delaware, in late February of 1976 – or Washington D.C. in early March, or even in Boston through early April that same year – you’d have had the chance to see that rarity in American musical-theatre history: a Richard Rodgers show limping its way to an early death on Broadway.

P23Rex, a musical treatment of Henry VIII and his obsession with siring a male heir, opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York on April 25, 1976, and closed on June 5 after 14 previews and a total of only 49 performances, the shortest run for a Rodgers show in almost 50 years. It is still the only post-1940 Richard Rodgers musical not included in the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization’s performing catalogue.

Hopefully, that might change in the not-too-distant future, following the Civic Light Opera Company’s three-week run of
Rex at Fairview Library Theatre this month. It’s another Canadian premiere for the company – the first production of the show anywhere outside the US, for that matter – and the first extended stage run since it closed on Broadway.

It’s a major coup for the CLOC’s Joe Cascone, an admitted Richard Rodgers aficionado. Cascone had known about the show since the time of its original demise, but despite his predilection for staging little-known or “problem” shows, in addition to the standard crowd-pleasers, he’d never given this particular “forgotten
op” much thought.

Seeing
The Other Boleyn Girl in 2008 sparked Cascone’s interest, however, and he took advantage of his excellent relationship with the R&H organization to ask if there was any possibility of staging Rex. He was warned of the show’s problems – an anti-hero wife-killing leading male role, for starters – but was promised their support if he was seriously interested.

The rights situation had certainly changed in the previous few years. Following the withdrawal of the show in 1976 lyricist Sheldon Harnick (of
Fiddler on the Roof fame) and book author Sherman Yellen had frozen the rights, feeling that the show they had originally envisioned with Richard Rodgers had been lost in the constant re-working in the pre-Broadway try-outs, overwhelmed by spectacle and suffocating historical detail.

In 1999, however, New York’s York Theatre asked if they could include
Rex in their piano-only, script-in-hand concert performance series, “Musicals in Mufti”; Harnick and Yellen initially said “No,” but then agreed as long as they could be given one year to revise the show. They went back to work, made drastic cuts to the script, tightened the focus, stripped away the pageantry, removed a few songs and reinstated several that had been cut pre-Broadway. The result? A well-received show that allowed the beautiful Richard Rodgers score to be heard more clearly, albeit without a full orchestra.

Harnick and Yellen have clearly retained a strong affection for
Rex. Over the years, they have continued to work on the show since 2000, being involved with both the brief but fully-staged production at the University of Findlay in Ohio in April 2002 as part of the Richard Rodgers Centennial celebrations, and another piano-only presentation at the Stages Festival of New Musicals in Chicago in August 2007.

Sheldon Harnick himself called Cascone early in 2009 to let him know they’d agreed to release the rights for CLOC, and Cascone met with Harnick and Yellen twice in New York last year to discuss plans for the show. Sheldon Harnick has re-written the lyrics for one song,
Dear Jane, specifically for this production. Both men have promised to come up to see the show – and Sheldon Harnick, now 85, will apparently be in the audience on opening night on Wednesday February 17.

Cascone aims to prove that the show is now well worth doing in its revised form, and hopes that a successful staging may lead R&H to include
Rex in their performance rental catalogue, so that a score containing some outstanding Rodgers songs will finally be available for stock and amateur theatre companies everywhere.
How that score will be heard is a story in itself. The Findlay University production apparently featured a 30-piece orchestra, but nobody seems quite sure what instrumental parts they used; all the R&H organization can confirm is that the original parts are now buried in unmarked boxes somewhere in storage. Cascone was originally told that he would have to go with piano only for the music, but has been given permission to add a few instruments so that he can feature his usual five-piece instrumental combo.

Only one song from
Rex – the ballad “Away From You” – has achieved any independent life of its own, having been recorded by Sarah Brightman on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1989 CD The Songs That Got Away. But the score was the one aspect of the show to garner some praise in 1976, despite its somewhat anachronistic nature.

Rex
was the penultimate Richard Rodgers show before his death in 1979, and it’s certainly one worth seeing and hearing. This may well be the only chance you get! The show runs from February 18 to March 6. For ticket information call (416) 755-1717 or go to www.civiclightoperacompany.com.

One other local musical theatre group has a production this month: Scarborough Music Theatre will be presenting
Children of Eden at the Scarborough Village Theatre from February 11 to 27.

Music and lyrics for this 1991 show are by Stephen Schwartz, who used to have
Godspell and Pippin in brackets after his name, but is now most widely known for writing the smash hit Wicked. Children of Eden, which never made it to Broadway, is based on the Book of Genesis, and deals with family issues in the stories of Adam and Eve, and Noah and the Great Flood. Rarely performed on the professional stage, it remains one of the most popular shows for youth and community groups.

For ticket information contact the Scarborough Village Theatre box office at (416)267-9292.


Terry Robins is a musician and musical theatre enthusiast. He can be contacted at: musicaltheatre@thewholenote.com.


It’s not often that we hear welcome news of a new company on the local community musical theatre scene: most rumours in recent years have had more to do with the financial problems facing some of the groups, and their possible demise. Steppin’ Out Theatrical Productions, however, is doing just what their name boldly declares, stepping into their second season and their first full season at the new Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

Based in York Region, the group was formed last year by the 16-year-old Brian Lee. A musical theatre devotee and performer, Lee started acting at 7, has been in community theatre since he was 12, and has also produced and directed his own shows with Markham Youth Theatre. Part of the new Richmond Hill theatre’s mandate is to provide space for community theatre groups, and when Lee saw an ad saying that the theatre was accepting bookings he jumped at the chance of putting a new group on the RHCPA stage. Their 2009-2010 season opens with the 1954 Adler and Ross classic The Pajama Game, which runs for four performances from November 19 to 21. Steppin’ Out will be presenting three shows per season, and we hope they’ll be around for a long time to come.

22_cascone And if you think that 16 is too young an age to run a successful stage company then you’d better think again: Joe Cascone was a mere 14 years of age when he founded what is now the Civic Light Opera Company 30 years ago, and just look where they are now. CLOC will be providing one of several local productions aimed at festive season audiences when they stage It’s A Wonderful Life, a musical setting of the classic 1948 James Stewart movie, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (of Fiddler On The Roof fame), and music by Joe Raposo, best-known for his musical contributions to the TV programme Sesame Street. The show runs at Fairview Library Theatre from December 10 to 27, with matinees around the Christmas dates.

Last year’s CLOC Christmas offering was Scrooge, based on A Christmas Carol, and the perennial Dickens favourite is also the basis for Etobicoke Musical Productions’ upcoming offering, A Christmas Carol – The Musical, with music by Alan Menken, the award-winning composer of the scores for so many of the recent Disney animated movies. EMP’s home is the Burnhamthorpe Auditorium in Etobicoke, and the show runs from November 27 to December 12.

Scarborough Choral Society provide the third seasonal production with their annual Sounds of Christmas presentation at Markham Theatre on Saturday and Sunday December 12 and 13. Their next stage musical will be Guys and Dolls in April 2010.

If you don’t know the music of Maury Yeston (Titanic, Grand Hotel) then you’ve really been missing something. Scarborough Music Theatre gives you the opportunity to put that right with their production of Yeston’s Nine at the Scarborough Village Theatre from November 5 to 21. Despite being an unknown quantity for many people the show is something of a cult favourite, and won five Tony Awards in 1982, including Best Original Score. SMT’s recent productions – especially Urinetown – have been quite exceptional, and this one promises to keep the standard flying.

Incidentally, you’ll have a chance to hear Yeston’s stunning – and also Tony Award winning – Titanic score when Curtain Call Players stage it next April at Fairview Library Theatre. CLOC’s highly-acclaimed production of the show at the same theatre in 2006 proved that a relatively small performing space doesn’t have to be an issue for a show with this large a cast and orchestration, so it should be interesting. CCP’s current show is the Marvin Hamlisch/Ed Kleban classic A Chorus Line, which ran for over 6,000 performances on Broadway and was, at the time, the longest-running Broadway show in history. CCP’s production runs from November 5 to 14.

Also running in mid-November, from 11 to 14, is Brampton Music Theatre’s staging of the 1998 ‘juke-box’ show Footloose - The Musical at the beautiful Rose Theatre in Brampton. Based on the 1984 movie of the same name, Footloose is another show that opened to mixed critical reaction but has since developed a devoted fan following; it’s a popular choice for high-schools in the US.

Another huge favourite with high school producers is Thoroughly Modern Millie, which Clarkson Music Theatre will be presenting at the Meadowvale Theatre in Mississauga from November 20 to 28. Julie Andrews starred in the original 1967 movie, which mixed early 20th-century songs with originals by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and somehow won an Oscar for Elmer Bernstein for Best Original Score – but the 2002 Broadway version featured 11 new songs by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan. Clarkson’s handbill flyer for their production shows “Music by Elmer Bernstein and André Previn,” the latter having orchestrated Bernstein’s score for the movie, so I’m not quite sure which version they will be presenting.

With three shows running in the middle of the month, and with three more in rehearsal at the same time, it’s a tough time if you’re trying to book musicians. (I’ll be playing for one production but had to turn down two others.)  However, it’s a great time to experience the local community musical theatre scene. The nights may be getting darker, but musical theatre is a perfect way to keep them bright – and with adult ticket prices usually around $24 or $25, you won’t be breaking the bank just before the holiday gift-buying season.

Full performance dates and ticket information for all of these community shows can be found in the listings section of this edition of The WholeNote.

Terry Robbins is a musician and musical theatre enthusiast. He can be contacted at: musicaltheatre@thewholenote.com.


The Scarborough Choral Society has been around for well over fifty years, with an unbroken run of annual shows stretching back to their G&S days in 1955. They are the only Toronto musical theatre group to limit their stage activity to a single production each year, but their annual Sounds of Christmas concert at Markham Theatre, first produced in 1986, has become so successful that the society now essentially runs two separate activities.


In recognition of this, the stage musical section was given the name Onstage Productions two years ago. Ron Turner, who was President of the Society from 2002 to 2006, explains that the new name is intended simply to emphasize that the group presents fully staged show productions, and not just concert versions as the name "Choral Society" apparently suggested. Members, he says, became tired of being asked such questions as “Are you going to have any scenery?”19_scarborough_MT_brigadoon


When Onstage Productions presents Crazy For You at Bayview Glen Upper School at the end of March, it will be their second year at a venue they hope will be their home for at least the next little while. The show, rather appropriately, centres on the problems of theatre management, and the trials and tribulations of mounting a show. But its storyline is tame compared to the recent theatrical adventures of the SCS, for whom Bayview Glen is the sixth show location in just ten years.


It’s truly been a “crazy” period for the SCS members. The songs from the show offer a whimsical guide to their search for a theatre – amply illustrating the problems that can befall community theatre groups, and the resourcefulness, resilience and commitment needed to overcome them.


I Can’t Be Bothered Now

For many years Scarborough Choral’s regular base for their annual stage show was the cavernous auditorium at Cedarbrae C.I., which, complete with balcony, could hold about 1,100 people. The huge stage was ideal for the large chorus, but the huge hall capacity made for a short single-weekend run; opening on a Thursday, the show was usually just getting settled in by the time it closed on Sunday. The deteriorating state of the facilities, however, together with increasing rental costs, finally convinced SCS to give up and leave after their 1999 show, Me and My Girl.


Slap That Bass!

The large recreation room in Bendale Acres, a Scarborough retirement home, was their first stop. And despite its having a small low platform instead of a real stage, limited lighting possibilities, restricted parking, a low capacity of about 150 and a cramped orchestra space where the players could hardly move without hitting each other (I know – I played the first show), the next three shows were presented there in dinner-theatre style.


Could You Use Me?

I guess not: 2003 saw another dinner-theatre presentation in the equally small and parking-lot challenged Latvian Cultural Centre, where a side wall consisting entirely of windows made black-outs in the matinees for Anything Goes! something of a challenge.


Bidin’ My Time

The 2004 show, Annie Get Your Gun, was almost cancelled. But SCS finally took another school - the expensive but last-choice, last-chance and last-minute option, Stephen Leacock C. I. - as a stop-gap measure to buy time for a more thorough search.


Things Are Looking Up

Well, they certainly were at first when SCS moved into the brand new recital theatre at the Armenian Youth Centre. Sure, there were some problems from the start, including insufficient power for full stage lighting and backstage facilities that could most charitably be described as minimal, and the improvised green-room space could only be accessed through the gymnasium. But the auditorium size, seats and sight-lines were excellent, and there were promises of light and sound upgrading as rental use increased.


But Not For Me

Ah, promises, promises, as another show puts it. Upgrades were slow to appear, and the management was clearly moving towards single-use rentals in preference to long-term runs; in addition, technical hitches became an issue, with a jammed scrim lift halting The Music Man for 30 minutes one evening, and a brief but disastrous building power-failure almost completely derailing the first act of Fiddler On The Roof. When the rental cost increased for the second time, up 50 percent in two years, SCS saw the writing on the wall – or at least, they would have done if the lighting had been good enough. The musical nomads were on the road again.


They Can’t Take That Away From Me

Determined to keep their fifty-three-year unbroken run of shows intact, SCS discovered Bayview Glen almost by accident. A society member who lived nearby simply walked in off the street on a whim one day and asked did they happen to have a theatre, did they ever rent it out, and if they didn’t would they be interested in discussing it? Well, yes they did, no they didn’t, and yes they would. Brigadoon found a home, and the rest, as they say, is history.


So far, things are working out well. The stage is not huge, but over the past few years many of the SCS members have decided to choose either the Sounds of Christmas or the annual show as their focus for the year, with a good number of the older members in particular opting for the Christmas concert over the more time-consuming demands of the stage production. This in turn has given the Society a new freedom to choose from a wider range of shows that do not feature a large chorus, and this should also help them to continue to attract the new performers that are essential to the long-term health of a musical group.


Nice Work If You Can Get It

The other main community-theatre venues, meanwhile – Scarborough Village, Fairview Library, and Burnhamthorpe Auditorium – may not be completely problem-free, but their users all enjoy a dedicated theatrical facility and an established and secure home base. And if they don’t appreciate just how lucky they are then they should try giving Ron Turner a call.


You Can Catch SCS in Their New Venue

Onstage Productions presents Crazy For You at Bayview Glen Upper School, 85 Moatfield Drive; March 27, 28, April 3, 4 at 8pm; March 28, April 4 & 5 at 2pm. $25; Youths 16 & Under $10; (905)717-5808 (VISA & MC); (416)293-3981 (Cash or cheque)

www.scarboroughchoral.org


You can also check out the other theatre facilities with the following Spring shows:


Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive

Civic Light Opera Company: final week of Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings; March 4-7; $20-$25; www.civiclightoperacompany.com

Curtain Call Players: Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods; April 2-5, 9-11; $22; (416)703-6181 or curtaincalltickets@hotmail.com


Burnhamthorpe Auditorium, 500 The East Mall

Etobicoke Musical Productions: Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!; April 17-19, 24-26, May 1, 2; $23; Youths $17; (416)248-0410.


Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road

Scarborough Music Theatre: Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along; April 30, May 1-2, 7-10, 14-16; $24; Students/Seniors $20; (416)396-4049

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