By Philip Round
Special to the Record
The all singing and dancing Beach Street Players will be boppin’ down memory lane at this year’s Have a Heart dinner-show being promoted by Strathcona Sunrise Rotary Club.
That’s because the storyline of the three-night presentation, being staged from Feb. 15-17, is based on a reunion of players from past shows and a revival of musical memories of earlier performances.
As always, the Beach Street Players will take to the stage at Courtenay’s Florence Filberg Centre under the direction of Comox musician Gloria Herauf, who also crafted the script.
Herauf retired to the Valley from Saskatchewan 11 years ago after an award-winning career in musical education, theatre and composition — but was in no mood to stem her creativity.
Before long she was working on the very first Beach Street Players show, staged eight years ago, and the following year the Strathcona Sunrise Rotary Club teamed up with them to establish it as an annual fundraising event.
In next month’s production, the cast will perform a fast-moving mix of almost 50 popular tunes spanning six decades, from rock to pop, gospel to Broadway, and opera to country. All are songs that make up a soundtrack of people’s lives, with the linking storyline featuring lots of gags.
Act One sees the performers gathered in the Have a Heart workshop, the backstage lot where scenery is built, props assembled and costumes are stored. They reminisce about highlights from past shows as they rummage through a treasure-trove of memories, rediscovering a jukebox, the ‘hippy dippy bus,’ and even Elton John’s illuminated jacket. Each fresh find triggers a nostalgic song or two, and plenty of witty lines.
The second act switches to front-of-house, as the earlier recollections lead the performers to commit to a new show. The scenery is set as a theatre stage, complete with an adjoining balcony from which three curmudgeons, based on old guy characters from The Muppet Show, provide a running commentary and heckle as the live show goes on.
For both acts, it is the eclectic songbook of well-known tunes that provides the bedrock of the show.
“There is a huge amount of music — and a wide variety of styles — for the 18 singers to learn in a very short time,” said Herauf.
To help them master their roles in just six weeks, the cast has drawn on music previously recorded by Herauf, allowing each performer to practice for their solo and group parts at home.
They are now meeting together three times a week at Comox United Church to work in teams, rehearsing their roles and singing together in groups and as a chorus.
“There’s tremendous enthusiasm from everyone involved on and off stage,” Herauf added. “As always, we’re all determined to put in a quality show to entertain everyone, and have a ton of fun doing it.”
Exercising their vocal cords this year are ten women — five of whom have been in Have a Heart shows from the very start: Laurel Erhart, Patty Forbes-King, Carol Jennermann, Jackie Lambeth and Noreen Robertson. They are joined by seasoned performers Marni Fisher, Montana Pistell and Shaleena Faust, along with two newcomers, Robbi Ling and Joanne Wiens.
Of the eight male singers, three were in the original show and have been on stage every year since: Erik Eriksson, Ross Griffith-Cochrane and Ken Newman. Rhett Wade is an ‘original’ too, but is back after a two-year break; and joining them are regulars Marty Douglas, Walter Jordan and Bruce Walkey, plus newcomer Clark Fliss.
For the rehearsals Herauf and Sharon O’Hara are accompanying the vocalists on the piano, but for the show itself they will be joined by five other musicians: Al West (bass/banjo), Tom Spratt (saxophone/clarinet), Dave Munro (guitar), Donna Crozier (harp), and Ross Moxley (percussion).
In addition to the on-stage cast, a lot of work is going on behind the scenes. The scenery is being built or refreshed by Herauf’s husband, Les, with James Taylor, Julie and Larry McDonald, Dale Erhart, Juanita Olsen and others helping with tasks such as painting and sourcing props.
Much effort is also going into creating appropriate costumes for the production to reflect the different decades of music, with Glayne Axtell and Evelyn Keith leading volunteers; while the task of stage management is being taken on by Jane Wilson and Sue Newman.
The president of the Strathcona Sunrise Rotary Club, Richard Clarke, said they were “absolutely delighted to be working for the seventh year in a row with Gloria Herauf and the Beach Street Players to mount this wonderful dinner musical theatre, just days after Valentine’s Day.”
He added: “Gloria and her team of incredibly talented local actors, vocalists and musicians put on a wonderful performance every year. Our goal is to raise $25,000 or more with this year’s event, all of which will stay in the Comox Valley to help make this an even better community.”
The money raised will be shared three ways — between the Rotary Club, Comox United Church’s community support efforts, and this year’s chosen partner organization, the Wachiay Friendship Centre. Clarke offered particular thanks to all the event sponsors, including the title sponsor, Canadian Western Bank; Plates Eatery and Catering Company, which will prepare the meal to accompany the show; and to WestJet for their gift of flight tickets.
Tickets for the show, including dinner, cost $60 for the Thursday and Friday performances and $65 for the Saturday night event. They are available from Blue Heron Books in Comox and from the Benjamin Moore House of Color on Fifth Street, Courtenay.