After an absence of two decades, eight low-rent vaudevillians trying to evade the secret police in their homeland have returned to Whitehorse. The Guild Theatre opens its 2019/20 season this week with a remount of the wacky comedy, El Crocodor, written by Vancouver playwright Peter Anderson.
Describing it as “just the most ridiculous show,” director Allyn Walton outlined the backstory of the rag-tag group.
After state officials in the war-torn country of El Crocodor shut down the vaudevillians’ “subversive” cabaret, they still want to perform. Upshot: they flee to Canada and continue performing illegally. In a Bingo hall. In Whitehorse, Yukon. The two-act play, with music by Sandra Head, had its first production at Vancouver’s Touchstone Theatre in 1986.
“Peter Anderson had written it kind of with the current B.C. politics in mind. There’s a few references to ministers’ names, and they reference Expo 86, so we’ve changed it a little bit,” Walton said. “We’ve been gifted with the wonderful timing of an election at the same time, so the cast was able to just play around with how they might want to change some of their lines.”
Even in the final stages of rehearsing, Walton said the dialogue was still pretty fluid, and contemporary references could change during the three-week run. “You have to come every night to see who we make fun of.”
A former student of the music, art and drama (MAD) program at the Wood Street Centre, Walton holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Simon Fraser University. She also studied arts and entertainment management at Capilano University. Although she has done choreography at the Guild before, El Crocodor marks her debut as a director. The idea first arose while she was working on Newsies, a Yukon Theatre for Young People project, with the Guild’s artistic director, Brian Fidler.
“Brian asked if I had ever directed, because he had a show in mind that he thought would be a good fit for me. I was so excited that he thought I could do it, I immediately said, ‘Yes, for sure. Whatever you say, Brian. You say jump, I’ll jump,’” she laughed. “Afterwards, I was terrified, but still really, really excited.”
Besides her day job with the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon (TIAY), Walton also teaches ballet at the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre. But it’s her previous life as a Frantic Follies performer that helped prepare her for her current task.
“Because of my time with the Frantic Follies, I know what it’s like to be part of a rag-tag group of vaudeville players on a small stage, trying to make the impossible happen in six square feet.”
She’s quick to praise the show’s imaginative set, designed and built by Donald C. Watt and Al Loewen, which was in place even before rehearsals started. “We have so many physical levels on the stage. The first couple of rows are cabaret seating, so it hasn’t been too much of a challenge,” she said. “The cast is eight, and one of them is always sitting at the piano, so we’ve had enough space to work with.”
One of those eight performers is Fidler, in the role of Michel Lafayette, one of the show’s two emcees. He also played the same role in the Guild’s original production 20 years ago.
“I was pretty candid with Brian when we decided I would be doing the show that I would probably be looking to him for support. He assured me I could do it, so I cut Brian loose and he was able to just be an actor in the show from the jump,” Walton said.
“He’s been amazing. He’s an amazing teacher, and he’s so wonderful to have in the cast. I think the whole cast appreciates his presence and his energy and his focus. It’s been really awesome.”
The show’s other emcee is Bonzie Brash, played by Brenda Barnes. Singer and sometime cabaret producer, Fiona Solon, plays the cabaret owner and leading lady, Madeira Madame, who supervises everything.
“We have the fun Cheeky Ya-Ya (Guild newcomer Sheridan Curteanu), who just has a good time. We have a poet named George Nothing (Bandon Wicke). He’s pretty serious and a little dark at times, but I think he secretly just loves the show,” Walton said. “We have a Ken Doll (Daniel Little, another first-time Guild performer), who is exactly what he sounds like. And we have a Rita Cocorazelle (Annie O’Connor), who’s a little bit spicy.”
Telek Rogan rounds out the cast in the role of Dame Anna Maria Anybody. Musical direction is by Scott Maynard. Walton admits El Crocodor and its characters “have moments of being racy,” but what makes it subversive? “That’s a funny question for me, because I think that’s exactly what a cabaret should be,” she said. “I guess if you don’t like cabaret shows, it would be subversive. It’s all song and dance. It’s a bit sexy and a bit dingy, but also just hilarious.”
El Crocodor runs from Oct. 3 to 19 at the Guild Hall on 14th Avenue. Curtain is at 8 p.m. sharp. For details, go to GuildHall.ca/Shows.