June-Aug 2002 CALENDAR
Artword's musicalToronto The Good
For six weeks this summer Artword Theatre is presenting our own original musical Toronto The Good, written and directed by Artistic Director Ronald Weihs and designed by Judith Sandiford. Toronto The Good previews June 14-16, opens June 18 and runs to July 28.
Together with our friends at Innocenti Restaurant we have worked out an attractive dinner-show package that makes it easy to come downtown for a really good night out.
Toronto the Good is Artword's celebration of our beautiful city. For some years, I've wanted to do a play about Toronto for visitors and for all the people who come downtown during the summer months. And I didn't want it to be a history lesson.
I came across a book called Of Toronto the Good, by C.S. Clark, published in 1898. It's a "social study" of everything that was going on in a city that was just starting to think of itself as a major urban centre. Clark tells it all: good, bad and naughty, in a wonderful acid style that is as fresh as the day it was written.
That was the spark. Instead of a history lesson, we would present a snapshot of Toronto in the 1890s. Once I started looking, I found plenty of material just as fresh as Clark's book: newspaper articles, advertisements, temperance tracts, and wonderful songs of the period in sheet music.
As gas lamps gave way to electricity, Toronto found itself a hotbed of activity: plays, opera, vaudeville, concerts, balls, Sunday excursions to Toronto Island, dudes "on the mash", women in bloomers pedalling bicycles in High Park, and others of doubtful repute strolling along Yonge street and in fancy houses downtown.
Toronto first became known as "Toronto the Good" after the election of Mayor Howland in 1886. With the support of the labour and temperance movements, he undertook to clean the city from vice and corruption. After a few years Toronto began to relax, but the reputation remained.
In the first act, we see what was going on in everyday life. In the second act, we sample some of the music, theatre, vaudeville, and dancing of the time.
All songs are from 19th century sheet music. We have avoided "old chestnuts" in favor of clever, topical songs that will be fresh to modern audiences. Many of the songs are from the Library of Congress archives, while others are from temperance song books available today only in microfilm. From the Library of Congress archive as well, we have sampled some authentic vaudeville routines.
I discovered our superb music director, Tom Baker, playing new music at Eugene's Sunday Series, Artword's regular new music concerts. Tom is a composer/performer/conductor with extensive experience in all areas of music jazz, classical, new music, and old time country. He conducts choirs and was the Music Director of Second City from 1977-1983.
Tom, Judith and I held a week of open auditions. We were impressed with the quality of the auditioners, perhaps because we had made it clear that we wanted excellent singing, acting and dancing. We chose our five favourites and they all said they'd do it. Not only are they as talented as they looked, but they are really nice too. I'm having a great time, and you will too! Here they are: Ann Bisch (top right), Sherri McFarlane (middle right), Michelle Piller (lower right), and Alastair Love (top left) and Robin White (lower left).
Choreography is by Janet Atkinson, artistic director of Zeus Opera Dance Theatre, who will present her production of Hero's Hood at Artword next November. My childhood friend Catherine Hahn, who is a designer of considerable renown in British Columbia, happened to be in Toronto and Judith and I immediately conscripted her to collaborate on the design of the set pieces and props.
Korean music, drumming