Musical Director Michelle Reid (left) watches Jim McLean

Massive musical undertaking coming together

My Fair Lady is a huge undertaking for WRAPS, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

by Barbara Roden

“Let’s do a musical!”

That was the conclusion that the Theatre Committee of the Winding Rivers Arts and Performance Society (WRAPS) came to in the spring of 2014, after the group’s last theatrical production. In its current incarnation the group has never tackled a musical, and the time seemed right to try something new. The question was: what musical?

Adopting the unofficial motto “Go big or go home,” the committee decided on a classic: My Fair Lady. But could the group pull off something so ambitious, so complicated, so . . . big?

The pieces began to fall together. Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan said she was game to direct it, and Michelle Reid came on board as Musical Director. Sloan Hammond said she’d do the choreography, and Jessica Clement once more signed on as producer. Jim Duncan began working on set design for a project that was far grander than anything the group had attempted. Members of the Sage Sound Singers Choir came on board as part of the chorus, and following auditions in May 2015 Michelle began working with the chorus and with principals Nancy Duchaine (Eliza Doolittle) and John Kidder (Henry Higgins) to get them up to speed vocally.

The first read-through in September enabled everyone to get to know each other, and then rehearsals started. Several sessions were devoted to “blocking” each scene, as Mavourneen determined where characters would enter and exit, and where they’d move to around the stage. It’s a time-consuming process: one 20-minute scene took 90 minutes to block.

Rehearsals have concentrated on one or two scenes each night, so actors not involved in those scenes didn’t have to attend. Yours Truly is playing Mrs. Pearce, Henry Higgins’s housekeeper, and all her scenes take place in one setting (Higgins’s study) and feature a handful of actors: Kidder, Duchaine, Jim McLean (Col. Pickering), and Jan Schmitz (Alfred P. Doolittle). It’s easy to lose sight of what else is going on; when I turn up at a rehearsal where the Ascot race scene is being performed. Great Scott! There are close to two-dozen people here I’ve never worked with, going through the scene with practised ease. Things are coming together, and sounding wonderful.

The HUB Society has been successful in taking over the former Ashcroft Elementary School, and WRAPS is performing the musical there, taking over the gym and a classroom, the latter used for storage costumes. Janika has started sorting through the costumes, while Margaret is busy fitting everyone and modifying existing costumes so that everyone will look as if they belong in 1912 London, whether it be at the Ascot races or the Embassy Ball.

Jim Duncan and his crew of builders have been hard at work: one afternoon Bruce Walker arrives, his pick-up truck loaded with a newly-built tea trolley, flower barrow, steps, and bases for pillars. They’re all unloaded and taken to our storage room, which is now overflowing with props, costumes, and set-pieces. In the school gym the actors are hard at work; we’ve all gone “off book”, meaning scripts are forbidden on stage. The call of “Line, please” is heard more than once.

A private sponsor has stepped forward to cover the cost of hiring the Community Bus to bring residents of Jackson House and Thompson View Manor to the matinee performance on Nov. 22, and the Halloween shops in Kamloops are being scoured for gloves, hats, and anything else we can use in costuming. The November rehearsal schedule has come out, and we now understand what was meant when we were told that come November, we belong to the production: there are 13 rehearsals requiring all cast members in the 19 days leading up to opening night. It’s exciting and frightening in equal measures; but we know we’re up to the challenge, and are looking forward to a fantastic show.

My Fair Lady opens on Friday, Nov. 20 at 7pm at the former AES, with more performances on Nov. 21, 27, and 28, and a matinee at 2pm on Nov. 22. Admission is by donation.

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