It’s been a while, but, hey, April was the cruelest month, what with novel rewriting and family duties and let us not forget income tax. Oh, and I was also performing, in Regina Lyric Musical Theatre’s spring show, When You Wish Upon A Star: Music from the Wonderful World of Disney. My solo number was “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me),” but I think the highlight of the evening for everyone was the men’s chorus performing “The Bare Necessities.” It involved tail-waggling. Let’s leave it at that.
But speaking of Regina Lyric Musical Theatre brings me to this bit of news, which I’ve known for a while but was kind of made official in the program for the Disney revue: Lyric’s fall show will be As Time Goes By: A Love Story with Music and Ghosts, which is a play-with-music I wrote and will be directing.
Its inspiration is the wealth of old sheet music found alongside the grand piano in the old house in which I live, which once belonged to my wife’s grandparents, Sam and Nancy Goodfellow, noted patrons of the arts in the city for many years. Nancy was a talented singer in her own right who could quite possibly have had a career on stage. She didn’t follow that route, but she never lost her love for music (she was instrumental in the creation of the Regina Musical Club) and she and Helen Jolly, head nurse at the Regina General Hospital, would buy sheet music and play and sing it at home for enjoyment.
The story I’ll tell around this old sheet music is entirely fictional: but the music is all music found in our house. And the show is already fully cast (barring unforeseen developments between now and the still-distant production dates of November 7-10).
The story goes like this:
John Brenner (played by Reece Wagner), born and raised in Toronto, has had a minor career as a nightclub entertainer as “Johnny B,” but work is drying up and so he’s desperately seeking for a new angle. He’s been momentarily sidetracked by an unexpected development: his Great Aunt Dorothy has recently died and left him her old house in Regina and all its contents. His plan is to auction its contents and sell the place, and he’s come to Regina—the first time he’s ever been here—to make the arrangements.
But when he visits the house, he discovers the grand piano in the living room, and a ton of old sheet music. He’s struck by an idea: he’ll create a new act based on the music he’s found there. “Vintage” is the new wave. Of course he won’t do it straight. He’ll give in an ironic twist. It’ll be great…
Accompanying Johnny on his trip are his manager, Grace Elliott (Jamie Lemmerick), and his piano player, Tim (Ben Redant, who will also be music director). Unlike John, Grace knows Regina well. She was born and raised here, but went off to make her own career. She never had much luck as a singer, but she’s been quite successful as Johnny’s manager and agent. She’s also secretly in love with him, but he’s never twigged. He’s had a series of girlfriends, none of which lasted (sometimes thanks to a little help from Grace).
Grace has her own agenda for the trip to Regina. Her parents are getting old and she’s their only daughter. She’s decided she needs to move back to Regina to be closer to them. She’s planning to quit as Johnny’s manager while they’re there, and has the forlorn hope that maybe the shock of that will make Johnny realize how he really feels about her…
Tim’s agenda is simply to get paid, but while he’s in Regina, he discovers a kindred spirit in Bitsy Kapusianyk (Jessica Scheurer), the real estate agent Johnny has hired to sell the house. She’s an old friend of Grace’s, divorced, and loves the funny novelty songs of mid-century, just like Tim. With Johnny’s career on the rocks, Tim makes plans to move in with Betty and start his own act.
There’s a second story that plays out concurrently, with a slight ghostly twist. Great Aunt Dorothy (Erin Johansen)’s spirit still dwells in the house, and as Johnny, Tim and Grace play through the music in the piano bench, we see her ghostly memories brought to life, so that the audience learns things Johnny doesn’t yet know about why Great Aunt Dorothy never married…and why her house is full of music.
Great Aunt Dorothy grew up in and fell in love with a talented young man named Harold Horning (Garrett Woods). They were supposed to be married and had plans to create a musical act together, but he got an unexpected gig with a big-name band as a vocalist. He went on tour, promising to come back…but he never did. And soon enough, he quit writing. Great Aunt Dorothy never married. She never quit singing, but only for her own pleasure.
Harold Horning, meanwhile, went on to be quite famous during the 1950s and 1960s, but faded as the rock era came on. He never came back to Regina. He married and divorced three times, never had children, and eventually disappeared.
Grace discovers the connection between Great Aunt Dorothy and Harry Horn, and also discovers that Harry died penniless, alone and forgotten in an Ontario nursing home. That, and the revelation that Grace is leaving him…and loves him (and that Tim is also planning to stay in Regina) brings about our denouement: Johnny decides to keep the Regina house and marry Grace. He’s not sure what that means for his singing career, but he’s finally realized some things are more important than his career.
The story ends with a ghostly Harry coming into the living room. He’s finally returned for Dorothy. They’re together again at last…and forever.
Rounding out the cast is Nora Berg, who plays Dorothy’s friend, Helen, and Harold’s nurse.
Much more information to come as the production dates get closer. I’m very excited about this project and can’t wait to see it on stage! Hopefully in the company of numerous audience members.