Armstrong's Asparagus theatre heads to the Old West

The cast of Asparagus Community Theatre
The cast of Asparagus Community Theatre's Gold Dust rehearses a musical scene at the Centennial Theatre. The show runs May 28 to 31 and June 4 to 7.
— image credit: photo submitted

Take a play written in 1660s’ France, keep the lead character, a grumpy guy obsessed with wealth, add a western musical aspect, and you have Asparagus Community Theatre’s new production, Gold Dust.

A very loose musical adaptation of Moliere’s The Miser, Gold Dust is described as a twisted story of family, love and small-town intrigue.

It unfolds in an 1850s’ western mining camp saloon, where prospector Jebediah (played by one of ACT’s founders George Young) obsesses over his money after staking it rich with a gold claim.

“It’s a satire and a farce with a fast-moving plot,” said director Mandy Penner. “There’s a barroom brawl. Family and close friends will have to come twice just to see the brawl. There’s so much going on. We put in every gag in the book.”

A familiar face, having acted in numerous Asparagus productions, Penner says it’s been a seamless transition moving from the stage into the director’s chair.

Gold Dust is her directing debut.

“I’ve been directed so many times, I already had a feeling for it,” she said. “It’s a test in communication. You have to be clear about what you want, but what they do is awesome because it is 100 per cent.”

Also on the artistic committee with Asparagus’ board, Penner says Gold Dust came up to the surface from a whole bunch of plays on the table.

“(Cast member) Laurisa DeFehr was in the play while in high school in the ‘80s. She always wanted the role of Diamond Lil. She was so keen. I made her audition, but I gave her the role,” laughed Penner.

Besides Young and DeFehr, who is playing the town’s madam described as “more popular than a turnip in a pig-pen,” eight other actors make up the cast.

Madison Reynolds and Nathan Domarchuk-White play Jebediah’s children, who have their own ideas for their father’s nest egg, while Phelan Gotto, Paul Kirkwood-Hackett, Jeunesse Pearson and Kaila Sinclair play the townspeople.

Mark Trussell, who acted as the lead character in Ned Durango Comes to Big Oak last year, takes on three roles, as a bartender, chef and townsperson LaFlesche.

“He is changing hats literally,” said Penner. “We wrote music especially for him so he would have time to get his clothing changed.”

Pearson, who is from Vernon and is new to the Armstrong stage,  also has three roles, one as a saloon girl. She is also the only actor in gender role reversal, playing two male characters.

“There’s a couple of new people who have never done theatre before. The whole point of community theatre is to work with every talent level,” said Penner. “Those with lots of experience and those with no experience meet in the middle and everyone works together.”

Penner’s stage experience has also been beneficial as she is able to show her cast what she wants them to do.

“I am finding that really helpful. We don’t waste time that way. I know this theatre inside and out for spacing and blocking,” she said.

However, both the barroom brawl and a duel provided a bit of a challenge because of the choreography.

“I’m not a dancer and the word choreography was the scariest. After we blocked the songs, it was less scary,” said Penner.

Julie Dorsey, who is doing one of her last shows with Asparagus as she is moving to Lake Country,  brings Gold Dust’s music to life as musical director and as pianist, while Kim Sinclair accompanies on guitar.

“The music is not traditional saloon music in terms of having just a piano player. There’s guitar and piano and the musicians are on stage for the whole show. There’s a couple of love ballads that are beautiful songs. And during the bar brawl, they’re singing the whole time,” said Penner.

Local antique collector and proprietor Allen Bensmiller worked on the set design and is providing a 19th century English bar he purchased to the set, while his brother, George Bensmiller, hollowed out an 1875 piano donated from the Hullcar Hall to fit an amplifier and keyboard inside.

“It’s nice that every show in the future will have this beautiful piano,” said Penner, adding the saloon singer,  played by Reynolds, performs a song where the piano emits an unusual sound.

“It’s this weird synthesized sound, which is a shock to hear coming out of an old piano.”

As the play is set in the wild, wild west, Gold Dust also features some “fake” gun shots, and has one swear word.

“It’s not really a kids’ show, but that’s not saying that youth wouldn’t get it,” said Penner.

Gold Dust runs at the Centennial Theatre in Armstrong May 28 to 31 and June 4 to 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at The Guy Next Door, located  at 3450A Okanagan St. in Armstrong or reserve by phone at (250) 546 0950.


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