Opera House launches summer season tonight
For 85 years, fans of live theatre have traveled from near and far to enjoy the summer line-up at the Gravenhurst Opera House.
Organizers say this year there’s a particular buzz in the air as the summer season is set for opening night on Wednesday, June 13.
“I just got the chance to check out the sets and the lighting for the opening production of Souvenir.I think people are going to be very impressed by the professional, high caliber of talent that's going to be on stage,” says Krista Storey, the manager of arts and culture with the Town of Gravenhurst. “It’s been a frantic week but by the time we get to that opening night everyone is just filled with so much pride in what we’ve accomplished.”
The summer lineup this year consists of Souvenir, followed by The World Goes ‘Round and ending with Greater Tuna.
The opener, Souvenir, is a funny and touching reminiscence of the notoriously terrible singer Florence Foster Jenkins. The true story has sparked books, plays and recently a feature film starring Meryl Streep.
Florence Foster Jenkins was a well to do city socialite who, despite the fact that she was almost completely tone deaf, became the toast of New York. Although her lack of talent was a shocking revelation at first for her newly hired accompanist, Cosmé McMoon, he soon became enamoured by her positivity and determination to share her very rare ‘gift’ with the world.
To play the two main parts, Storey and artistic director Dave Campbell have drawn from the deep pool of talented local actors, as well as recruiting some of town actors.
Mary Pitt has a long and successful record of working with the Opera House and she will apply her talents to the role of Foster Jenkins.
“I find her fascinating and I love how truly happy and blissfully unaware she is about her terrible voice,” says Pitt. “I’m having a lot of fun with this.”
Storey says Pitt was the first person who jumped to mind when they read the script. However, for the role of Cosmé McMoon they needed to go a bit further afield.
“We needed a specific type of male actor who could play the piano and was of a certain age,” says Storey. “It was a little tricky to find here so we had auditions in Toronto. We saw Clive Walton and everyone who saw the audition said immediately - I think we’ve found our Cosmé McMoon.”
Souvenir is directed by Sheila McCarthy who is no stranger to Canadian stage and screen. McCarthy is one of Canada’s most decorated actors, having won two Genies, two Geminis, two Doras and most recently an ACTRA for Best Outstanding Female Performance. She just finished directing Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoir at the Harold Green Theatre in Toronto and is currently working on a Netflix show called Umbrella Academy with Mary J. Blige and Ellen Page, as well as the new Star Trek series.
This is Sheila’s third time returning to Gravenhurst for summer theatre.
“I’m honoured and thrilled to be back working in Gravenhurst on Souvenir after having so much fun with Sexy Laundry last year,” says Ms. McCarthy. “The cast is so talented and funny. I just love both of these characters and I know the audiences will too. Souvenir is a great example of how dreams really do come true when you believe in yourself.”
Souvenir runs until July 13 and will be followed by The World Goes ‘Round, which runs from July 18 to August 24.
The play stars Jane Miller, Dean Deffett, Naomi Costain, J.P. Baldwin and Debbie Collins. It’s a production filled with singing and dancing that takes a journey through the prolific careers of John Kander and Fred Ebb, two celebrated theatre and film composers. A veteran cast and six-piece band will revisit songs from their Broadway and Oscar-winning hits including New York New York, All That Jazz, Cabaret, and Arthur in the Afternoon.
The Summer Season wraps up with Greater Tuna from September 11 to Sept. 28.
Directed by Maja Ardal, Greater Tuna stars local stage veterans Allie Dunbar and Robin Clipsham. Greater Tuna takes a magnifying glass to small town life, and sees the two leads tackle more than 20 characters at breakneck speed.
Storey says a team of staff, volunteers and the actors have been working diligently to bring this year’s summer lineup to life.
“I think a lot of people don;t understand just how important the summer program is to Gravenhurst,” she says. “A huge part of it is about economic development and bringing people into the town. When they come for the shows, they eat here, they sleep here and they shop here, and hopefully they're going to want to come back here and visit us again.”
Photo by Larry Carroll