Klondike Korner: The Rooneys Want to Put on a Show

After a career that began when he crawled on stage at the age of 18 months and has hardly slowed at all in the 88 years since, Mickey Rooney has finally made it to the Yukon.

He and his wife, Jan, along with two of Canadian theatre’s biggest names, present Let’s Put On A Show at the Yukon Arts Centre Wednesday, Sept. 8.

You might think that Mickey Rooney would be ready to hang up his tux and take a well-deserved rest. He’s played everything from cartoon characters to juvenile movie serials (Andy Hardy) to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he’s been on the stage, on television and in over 360 films. His work has netted him four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one with his wife, Jan) and an Honorary Oscar.

His personal life has been just as busy, with seven marriages to his credit (or discredit) before he met his wife, Jan, 40 years ago. They’ve been married for 32 years now, longer than all of his other unions combined.

“She’s the love of my life,” said Rooney over the phone from Ventura County, California. “We just celebrated our anniversary. It’s 32 years, but really 40 because we lived together for four or five years before we married – and then I made it legal.

“Jan has helped me to stay focused. When you have a good wife who takes care of you and then yells at you when you’re wrong, it’s good.”

Asked why he isn’t taking it easy, Mickey shoots back with a favourite saying of his: ‘Don’t retire, inspire!

“The two most dangerous years of a man’s life are when he retires and goes away from his business and his friends. Then he says, ‘Well, I’m retired, I think I’ll die.'”

Everybody has a time to go, he says, but why not keep doing what you love as long as you can?

In addition to this travelling show and stage productions of Cinderella in London, Rooney is still in the movie business. The Rooneys have recently finished making a picture with Ernest Borgnine (Night Club, now in post production) and he has been a regular cast member in theNight at the Museum films, of which he says there will be a third instalment.

In total, they have been in nine films together and in a number of stage productions.

Their live collaborations began with One Man One Wife in 1999, which ran for five years in Australia and New Zealand, the USA and Europe.

The current production, Let’s Put on a Show, began in 2004 and they have alternated this touring show with performances of Cinderella in London since then.

Jan Rooney, 19 years Mickey’s junior, is described in reviews as an accomplished singer who can do a tribute to Patsy Cline or jazz standards with equal ease.

“Our show is lots and lots of music,” Jan said.

The opening act features Canadian tenor, Julian Gallo, singing arias fromCats, Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. He will be joined by fellow Canadian, Lenni Stewart, soprano, for duets from Phantom andThe Merry Widow.

Then Mickey comes on singing Nothing Can Stop Me Now, and nothing does for the rest of the show, according to Jan.

Accompanied by a trio on piano, drums and bass, the pair romp their way through duets and solos that cover Mickey’s career and, therefore, much of the stage and film music of the first three quarters of the 20th century.

Mickey also delivers anecdotes from his career, impressions of silver screen greats and plays a bit of piano.

“I set my career aside when I married and I decided to push the hell out Mickey,” Jan said. “He was right when he told me there could only be one star in this family.”

There was a point at which Mickey did want to retire, Jan confided.

“I said, ‘Oh no you don’t, young man’. I told him he had too much to give and too many people loved him. Besides, he’s not good with sitting around. I saw that right off the bat and told him there was going to be no vegging out here.”

Let’s Put On A Show has one showing at the Yukon Arts Centre, Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the YAC Box Office, Arts Underground and www.yukontickets.com.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

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