Musicalmania! panning for gold
Saturday, Aug 16, 2014 06:00 am
Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival
Aug 20 to 23
Venue 53 Masonic Hall
10318 – 100 Ave.
Tickets: $12.50/adults; $10/students, seniors. Call 780-409-1910 or online at fringetheatre.ca
The Klondike brings to mind images of scruffy miners loaded with gold panning equipment stampeding up the Chilkoot Pass to stake a claim.
Contrary to popular myth, it was not solely male-dominated territory.
The fair sex was also infected with gold fever. Over a thousand resilient women trekked north partnering with husbands, brothers and sons, and signing on as cooks for groups of men.
Within that select group were two real life “Klondike Kates” who mirrored the aspirations, dreams and stark reality of that era.
They were the flamboyant, fun-loving saloon girl Kitty Rockwell and the upright, law-abiding RCMP officer Kate Ryan – two strong, self-assured women who eventually clashed.
As the Edmonton Fringe Festival swings into high gear, Musicalmania! tells their story with the world premiere of Days of the Klondike running Aug. 20 to 23 at the Masonic Hall.
This is the St. Albert-based musical theatre company’s 10th Edmonton Fringe Festival production and a landmark event.
A departure from the troupe’s trademark dark musical dramas of historical figures (Cleopatra, Riel, Saint Joan and Me), Days of the Klondike is a frothy, fun-filled take on gold-rush history.
“You’re gonna have a blast. It’s the biggest show at the Fringe. It’s colourful and has an enormous amount of depth squeezed into one hour,” says the high-energy director Maureen Rooney.
She directs a cast of 30 in this historically accurate production. It is the largest show in the company’s history.
From the cast, eight are St. Albert actors including the two leads – Maria Kolasis-Harrigan as Kitty Rockwell and Julien Constantin, as Alexander Pantages. He was Kitty’s lover and the great impresario who built a theatre in Dawson City during the mining town’s boom.
Cindy W. Oxley, founder and driving force of Musicalmania!, has composed a 16-song original score with a cocktail of upbeat contemporary grooves and “old tyme” honky-tonk music.
“There’s honky-tonk piano in some. Others are very popular or techno dance with honky-tonk in it. I even have my first country tune with a plucked guitar in it,” said the soft-spoken Oxley during a telephone interview.
Oxley took up the challenge to create Days of the Klondike at the urging of close friend Rita Martin, a former dance hall girl in East London who later transformed herself as Edmonton’s Queen of the Klondike.
“She was heavily involved in Musicalmania! right from its beginning in 1996. She supported the concept and encouraged me,” Oxley explains.
Martin was fascinated by the Klondike and completed extensive research on it hoping to work on a collaboration with Oxley.
However, three years ago Oxley was hit with a stroke and a short while later, Martin was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“Two years ago after Cleopatra, she knew she was going down and handed the research to me. We ran themes over the phone and she encouraged me to write light stuff, not executions – dance hall light stuff.”
Although this project was Martin’s baby, Oxley picked up the torch willingly.
“Rita was a close personal friend. She was very supportive of me. I felt I owed it to her family, but it was also fun. It was a departure from the heavy dramas.”
Although Martin had contributed the research, Oxley injected her experiences about her travels to the Yukon. In an interesting coincidence, when Oxley was a child, Canadian National Telecommunications employed her father, Jack, for five years.
During that time, the family kept two residences and Oxley spent a portion of each year in the Yukon.
“I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it is extremely beautiful.”
The plot of Days of the Klondike evolves in chapters narrated and tied together by the character of poet Robert Service.
“The challenge for me was to create staging that would tell this complex story while using minimal props and have a thrown together look like Dawson City did,” Rooney says.
Another challenge was how to inspire the cast to set a higher bar for themselves.
“We have a song – Cold. It’s really fun to rehearse when it’s plus 30 outside and you have to imagine it’s minus 40 and you’re on the Chillkoot Trail,” laughs Rooney.
Both Rooney and Oxley credit the triple threat cast for the production’s success.
Oxley describes the petite Kolasis-Harrigan as the ultimate Kitty Rockwell.
“Maria is an amazing actress. She’s done her research. And yes, her Kate is popular with men, but she’s compassionate, warm and spent many hours listening to them. And that’s part of Maria. She really shows it in her body language. She’s really a triple threat.”
Constantin plays the charming, charismatic Pantages, a persuasive businessman who built a theatre empire across North America and let nothing and no one stand in his way.
And Michelle C. Freebairn, a lawyer in real life, portrays the first female RCMP officer Kate Ryan. A statuesque no-nonsense actor, she is the perfect foil to Kolasis-Harrigan’s Kate.
“Michelle was one of our ‘musical maniacs’ since her early teens. She’s been involved in all aspects of our productions and has amazing leadership qualities. She looks like a supermodel and gets the job done.”
There are many ways to enjoy this show.
“I hope it rips off the lid in a good way. It was a poignant time in history and Days of the Klondike brings it back with a bang.”