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Royal City Musical Theatre returning to New Westminster stage

Crazy For You was shut down by COVID-19 just before it opened. Three years later, it's finally coming to the Massey stage.

It was March 2020, and Royal City Musical Theatre was on the verge of opening its annual musical extravaganza on the Massey Theatre stage.

Popular Vancouver performer Todd Talbot was set to star in Crazy For You. Sets and costumes were nearly complete. The cast was ready. It was to be the final run-through before the whole production moved in to the theatre for technical rehearsals.

Artistic director Valerie Easton had been rehearsing with Talbot in the afternoon and was on her way to meet with the rest of the cast that evening. On her drive to rehearsal, she heard the announcement that would send the company reeling: as of that moment, COVID-19 public health orders had effectively shut down British Columbia.

The show would not go on.

“It was a very emotional evening,” Easton recalled. “The cast wanted to complete the rehearsal anyway.”

They did. Then they packed up, promising themselves and each other that they’d come back to it whenever COVID was over. More than two-and-a-half years later, COVID isn’t over — but the company is making good on its promise.

Crazy For You will return — and, yes, Talbot will be in the spotlight when the production finally hits the Massey Theatre stage in April 2023.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Easton, who’s at the helm once again — and who still can’t quite believe the long road the company has travelled since that last fateful rehearsal. “When we originally had to shut down the show, which was literally two weeks before we opened, it came as quite a shock. We all thought, ‘Hey, we’ll get through this, and we’ll redo it in the fall, and everything will be fine.’ Of course, that did not happen.”

Theatre shutdown 'devastating' for RCMT

As theatres across the country went dark, theatre companies were forced to regroup and figure out what to do next. For RCMT, the problem was compounded by the fact that they were so close to opening night.

“If we had been less into the production before COVID hit, it would have been, ‘You know, we can stop everything,’” Easton said. “It certainly left us in a state of flux. We have spent a good lot of time dealing with the repercussions of that.”

RCMT producer Peter Jorgensen pointed out that being forced to cancel a production at that stage in the game is “pretty devastating” for a theatre company.

“By that point you’ve already spent tons of money, because with live productions, most of your costs come up front, and your revenue doesn’t come until the show runs,” he pointed out.

The company had already sold a healthy number of tickets, and it was left scrambling to track down those audience members to ask: Did they want a refund? Did they want to donate the money to the theatre company? Or did they want to hold on to their tickets for whenever the show would be staged in the future?

Easton has nothing but gratitude for the “wonderful” audience members who have long supported the company and who stood by them at their bleakest moment.

“There was so much support for us,” she said. “Very kind people kindly said, ‘Hold my ticket for when you do the show.’ We just had amazing, amazing support from the community.”

Talbot returns to star in Crazy For You

One good thing about staging an already-almost-complete show is that much of it is ready and waiting. The set, costumes and props have been in storage for the past couple of years, and Easton, Jorgensen and the team are working to figure out what remains to be done.

And that all-important ingredient, the cast?

“As soon as I put the word out just saying, ‘Are you interested? Are you busy with something else?’, it was a resounding ‘Yes, we want to do it,’” Easton said, noting about 90 per cent of the cast was available to come back.

Among them are some established names in the musical theatre world: Todd and Rebecca Talbot (yes, married in real life) returning to their roles as Bobby Child and Polly Baker, and veteran actor Kirk Smith as Bela Zangler.

The company held auditions this past weekend to recruit more triple-threat performers into its ranks to fill those roles that were left vacant when original cast members weren’t available.

Jorgensen noted the production, as always, will see professional performers working alongside emerging artists and community members.

“There’s a great opportunity for everyone from young, emerging artists who are hoping to forge a career on stage, to just people who love to sing and dance and would just love the opportunity to be onstage in those amazing costumes under those amazing lights with a full, 18-piece orchestra in front of them,” Jorgensen said.

Royal City Musical Theatre needs New Westminster's support

The next big step, of course, will be ticket sales.

Jorgensen is hoping to have tickets available soon to capitalize on pre-Christmas sales, with some early-bird bonuses for those who buy ahead of time.

He also welcomes volunteers to step forward, noting the company needs people to help in a whole range of capacities — fundraising, marketing, coordinating volunteers, serving as front-of-house ambassadors during performances.

Jorgensen knows Royal City Musical Theatre has always had a solid base of supporters in the city, and he’s hoping those people will come flocking back — both to help and to see the show.

“Royal City has a 30-year history in New Westminster, and we want to have 30 years plus going forward,” he said. “If there was ever a time to support this company, this is the year. If we can get back on track and get the support of the community, the future will be bright for Royal City.”

He and Easton are both looking forward to bringing musical theatre back to local audiences.

“We weathered the storm,” Easton said. “We’re back, and we’re all really excited.”

For Jorgensen, to have the company return with Crazy For You could not be more perfect.

“The fact that we’re returning to that production and getting it on its feet, it’s going to feel restorative,” he said. “The show itself is the perfect kind of show for what we need right now. It is a light, musical comedy, full of amazing songs and amazing dance. It’s joyful and funny. I think that’s what people want right now — just give me some joy.

“This show has that in great supply.”

Want to know more about Royal City Musical Theatre?

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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