It's "madcap fun with a murderous twist." It's set in Saskatchewan in a run-down inn. It's a whodunit where no one is who he seems to be. It's The Last Resort, a new musical having its world premiere at Ontario's Theatre Orangeville, June 19. The show, by librettist Norm Foster and composer Leslie Arden, begins previews June 18.
Ken Walsh directs the musical, which features Charlotte Moore, Avery Saltzman, Karen Skidmore, Larry Herbert, Ian Deakin, John Devorski, Neil Foster, Deann De Gruijter.
Songs in the show include "Death In Saskatchewan," "Brazil," "Life's Short" and "Live A Little, Julia."
Plays by Foster include the Drama-Logue winning The Melville Boys, Sinners, The Affections Of May, The Motor Trade and Wrong For Each Other.
Director Walsh has staged more than 135 productions in Canada and served as founding director of the BFA Musical Theatre Program at the University of Windsor, CA. Arden wrote the score for 1994's House Of Martin Guerre (not the London one) which played at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. She also wrote the scores for Harvest Moon Rising and The Prince And The Pauper (with Joey Miller). Interviewed by the Canadian Theatre Review (Fall 1992), Arden said of her craft, "You really have to write on instinct. You have to have all the technique there, and the craft, and the form has to be right, but you have to be able to feel it."
Asked about the impetus for Last Resort, Arden told Playbill On-Line on the show's opening day (June 19), "Norm Foster had already written the script when I was approached to do the show. I thought it would be a great exercise to write something completely different from Martin Guerre -- and this is. I got a chance to write a blues, a Gilbert & Sullivan number, vamp number, a three-part Andrews Sisters trio -- everything you could imagine. I'm just happy it doesn't take place in 16th century France! Although, to tell the truth, I'm more comfortable with the Martin Guerre style; I'm never sure what the audience will find funny, but I often know what they'll find moving. I find it much more frightening to write comedy than something serious that has a point."
Likening Last Resort to Forever Plaid or Crazy For You, Arden says the show is, "Just a fun, wonderful piece of entertainment. Plus it's a murder mystery, so presumably the audience is trying to figure out whodunit. I hope it's a night filled with fun and comedy and music."
As for Arden's future plans, she's scrupulously trying to avoid rehashing her work on Guerre: "I've been approached about a couple of projects. One was a period piece on the community against the individual, but it was too close to Guerre. Instead, I'm currently working on a dance piece with the Danny Grossman Dance Company. The Mirvishes brought me in to help organize and structure the project."
Again, however, the talk turns to Guerre, which goes into rehearsal Aug. 25 for a production at Toronto's Canadian Stage, to star Julain Molnar as Bertrande and Jeff Award-winner Kevin Gudhall as Pierre. "Martin Guerre probably would've come to New York if Cameron Mackintosh hadn't been producing his own version. I understand that, he's one of the biggest producers in the world."
Asked why Canadian playwrights and theatre composers so rarely receive attention in the United States, Arden replied, "There are very few places in Canada to get your work produced. The ones who cross the border are usually playwrights -- like Brad Fraser, George Walker -- rather than musical theatre people. it's difficult when you've written a show with, say, 25 people, because literally, only three or four places in Canada can produce it. And if nobody's gonna see it here, nobody sees it from the U.S. I was just lucky that Garth Drabinsky did a workshop of Guerre, and someone from the Goodman came, so now people in the States are interested. Still we have to wait and see what happens with the other one."
With the opening of The Last Resort, Ontario's Theatre Orangeville will have mounted three world-premieres in two years. In 1996, Dan Needles' Wingfield Unbound took center stage, and in summer 1997, the theatre staged the new Canadian musical The Shooting Of Dan McGrew.
For tickets ($21) and information on The Last Resort at Theatre Orangeville June 18-July 12, call (519) 942-3423.
--By David Lefkowitz