Theatre in St. John’s has been rich, diverse and a force unto itself for a long long time. Here is the place that nurtured legends who left, as well as brilliant thespian and troubadour visionaries who stayed. The performance landscape is knit tight and close in a pattern that generates as it goes along, so this rich and fertile environment responds well to incomers who have the heart and soul and will and courage to bring something new. Or old, as the case may be.
Kyle McDavid, founder and co-artistic director of Best Kind Productions wrote the original musical theatre work about John Murray Anderson – Impresario – after getting got caught up in Out Without My Rubbers, John Murray Anderson’s memoir. If you were born after, say, 1965, you may have not heard of John Murray Anderson (JMA). Born to a prominent St. John’s family, JMA figured large on the BIG stage in the entertainment business, and brought a bit of Newfoundland to Broadway and to Hollywood about a century ago. In days of the success and impact of Come From Away, we know that’s a huge deal. But when Kyle first got here, details about John Murray Anderson were scanty.
Born and raised to Moncton, NB, love for his baby girl brought Kyle to St. John’s in 2009. He and their daughter’s mother chose different paths, but Kyle set down new roots. He hung out his shingle as a music teacher, graphic designer, troubadour, thespian, actor, and in 2010 he founded Best Kind Productions. Best Kind is a community theatre company that, among other things, has made the amphitheater in Bowring Park a go-to destination in August when Best Kind shows take their run. Kyle’s way with performers starts with what is there inside, and coaxes will to try out over fear of messing up. What comes out is performance from deep and soft spots within – vulnerable, exuberant, unexpected, but also obvious.
Kyle’s roots in St. John’s were fortified when he found his partner with Megan Morrison and their family grew. All along the way, Kyle was picking up hints of the JMA story. With fresh eyes looking in, Kyle knew the story of JMA was something to sing about.
The development of Impresario involved a bit of time travel (just as it should, given that the daylight savings time warp we live today began close to JMA – you’ll know it when you see it), a couple of years, and couple of trips to New York where Kyle was thrilled to clap eyes on a JMA original playbill of the time. In 2015 the first version of Kyle’s Impresario was performed – set-free, with a cast of 9 all in black and playing different roles all on stage throughout the performance – in the second space at the LSPU Hall (where the bar is). Infused with verve, catchy tunes, and story that needed to be told, the one-night run called for waaaay more. In September of 2016 a two-night workshop production at the Arts & Culture Centre’s Barbara Barrett Theatre built it up and served as a testing ground for further rewrites and potential. Randy Bell, nephew of JMA’s brother Hugh Anderson, saw this production and came on to sponsor further development.
The result is the musical Impresario, billed as an original biomusical based on the life and memoirs of St John’s born John Murray Anderson. “From the streets of late 1800’s Newfoundland to the uppermost echelon of Broadway notoriety as a revue producer, the JMA journey is one of love, loss and overcoming adversity.” It’s based on and includes text from the memoir “Out Without My Rubbers” by John Murray Anderson & Hugh Abercrombie Anderson (Randy’s uncle). Kyle wrote the music, lyrics and book, it’s directed by Best Kind’s co-artistic director Timothy Matson, and presented by Resource Centre for the Arts Thursday (sold out), Friday and Saturday May 18-21. Tix here.
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