The Thousand Islands Playhouse Presents Two Plays to Take You Places

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Beneath Springhill rehearsal

written by Lorraine Payette, July 25, 2016

Whether you are heading “Beneath Springhill” or “Into the Woods”, the Thousand Islands Playhouse has wonderful times in store.

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Into the Woods rehearsal

“‘Beneath Springhill’ is the incredible story of Maurice Ruddick, ‘the singing miner,’ an African-Canadian who survived nine days underground during the historic Springhill mining disaster of 1958,” said the Playhouse.  “This multi-award-winning one-man show recalls the events during the disaster, the effect it had on the rural Canadian community, and the racial tension that grew from it.  The play is a celebration of hope, courage and community.”

Written and performed by Beau Dixon, the play started as an educational piece put together to help young people learn more about their own history.  He spent three years constructing and polishing the piece, creating ten distinctive characters who tell the story of this incredible disaster with warmth and compassion while never losing our interest.

“I think I’ve done the play in about 90 to 100 schools,” said Dixon.  “I started touring schools in Ontario, then spread out.  I had the honour of touring it in Springhill, the Cumberland County area, where the kids knew this as a household story.  They would raise their hands and say things like, ‘My great-grandfather was in the mine,’ and I would meet people who were related to these miners I was writing about.”

Eventually the 50-minute play outgrew the classroom and found its way to the general public.  Performing it on a new stage meant lengthening it by a good 25%, adding texture and interest for a new audience.  The addition is seamless, and the play compelling.

Dixon’s portrayal of all of the characters is flawless, from little Valerie who wants her daddy home again, to wife Norma whose stubborn faith will not allow him to die as long as she is standing watch.  Ruddick himself comes across as a man who will not let circumstances beat him down, and he is determined to keep the others who are trapped with him in the best possible spirits until help can arrive.

“Into the Woods” is pure magic, presenting Sondheim’s enormous musical on a small stage with a cast of 14.  This is not for the very young or the faint of heart – the recommendation is for theatre goers aged ten and up.  The music is there, the costumes are amazing, and the choreography by Shelley Stewart Hunt makes the dance look as natural as breathing.  The tales are based on the original Grimm, so don’t expect the sweetness of Disney when the step-sisters try on the shoe or Rapunzel cuts her hair.  Several familiar fairy tales are woven together and expanded upon to create a new tale about a baker and his wife who want nothing more than to lift a curse and bear a child of their own.

“‘Into the Woods’ is a musical that takes familiar fairy tales and turns them on their heads,” said Michael Hughes who plays Rapunzel’s Prince and the Steward.

“It’s what happens after the happily ever after,” said Gillian Reed (Rapunzel).  “There are happy endings, not so happy endings, plenty of surprises.”

This is a long, complicated play, yet it came together beautifully in only three weeks of rehearsal.  Spellbinding to watch, the dialogue is quick and witty, the songs musically complex, it flows beautifully from one moment to the next.

“It’s a play that was written in the 1980s and played on Broadway before becoming a feature motion picture,” said Marcia Tratt, Jack’s mother.  “It features music by Stephen Sondheim, which is really hard, really complicated, and I think this is one of the hardest and most complicated and most beautiful of his shows.

“The challenge for me is that I’m in and out of the musical all night,” said Ian Deakin, the Narrator and Mysterious Man.  “It’s a roller coaster, but it’s very exciting.  The music is fabulous, the cast is wonderful, the voices are beautiful and it makes for a fantastic evening of theatre and music.”

Both plays are compelling, promising great things for those who sit in the dark eager to share in some terrific theatre.  Treat yourself to one, the other, or better yet, both.

“Beneath Springhill” runs from July 19 – 31, 2016, at the Firehall Theatre, 185 South Street in Gananoque, Ontario.  Running time for the play is about 65 minutes and there is no intermission.

“Into the Woods” runs from July 22 – August 13, 2016, at the Springer Theatre, also on South Street.  Running time for the play is about two and a half hours, plus intermission.  Suggested audience is aged 10 and up.

Show times are Tuesday 7:30, Wednesday through Saturday 8:00 pm, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm (starting the Sunday after opening night).  Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors age 65+, <30 Club $20.  HST is applicable to all ticket prices.  For more information, please go to www.1000islandsplayhouse.com or contact the box office at 613-382-7020.

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