Streetwise singing

Musical Theatre Ensemble director talks annual production, “prodigiously talented” cast

Graphic by Gary Barringer.

From Feb. 6 to 8 at 8 p.m. each night, the U of M’s Musical Theatre Ensemble will perform their annual show compiling a series of scenes from popular musicals at the Gas Station Arts Centre.

This year’s production, Street Scenes, will see the ensemble perform excerpts from both immensely popular titles such as Anne of Green Gables, Beauty and the Beast, and Guys and Dolls, as well as lesser-known musicals like Dogfight and Title of Show, among others.

According to director and faculty of music sessional instructor Donna Fletcher, the ensemble has been putting on these annual shows for over a decade now with a cast that expands a little more each year.

“Because it’s an ensemble that’s a performance-based group, I try to make sure that everyone gets featured in some way,” Fletcher told the Manitoban.

“Everybody’s either in a big ensemble number where they have one of the principle parts, or they’re in a duo, trio, or something […] then we have a couple of big ensemble numbers. This year we’re doing a big tap number, just huge, and then we’re also doing the opening scene from Beauty and the Beast.”

Though Fletcher prioritizes students from the Desautels faculty of music (as work in the ensemble is often a part of their course load), she emphasized that auditions for the ensemble are open to all students at the U of M.

“From year to year, I’ve had kids from science, engineering, arts, theatre, business […] They either register to take the course or they pay a participation fee and then they’re in the gang.”

The theme of the ensemble’s annual production changes each year. In previous years, Fletcher has themed shows around heroines, relationships, and cafes, among many other subjects. One year, Fletcher even dedicated the show to a recently passed former student, performing a collection of scenes entirely culled from the student’s years in the ensemble, titled For Jay.

Ultimately, Fletcher says, the theme isn’t predetermined or set in stone so much as it is determined based on the ensemble she works with.

“If I have a year where I have kids who have really excellent more modern, pop-musical voices I’m going to tend to kind of skew it that way,” explained Fletcher.

“I try to pick the scenes for the people. From year to year I may have an idea, but then at the auditions I’ll go ‘no, we’re going to go a completely different way.’”

Fletcher is proud of her ensemble cast, and with good reason. Several members are already establishing themselves as performers outside of the faculty, and appearing on stages across Winnipeg.

“For example, Colleen Furlan is in the ensemble. She was the lead in [the Rainbow Stage production of] Little Mermaid and she worked with me last summer in [Rainbow Stage’s] Sister Act, playing the young nun to my Mother Abbas,” said Fletcher.

“Elliot Lazar was just in James and the Giant Peach at [Manitoba Theatre for Young People] and he’s in the show this year […] and out of the ensemble have come people like Julie Lumsden who was Éponine in [Les Miserables] at Rainbow last year and Darren Martens who was just in Alice Through the Looking-Glass at [the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, or MTC] and former student Aaron Hutton who’s in Billy Elliott at MTC right now.”

The Gas Station Arts Centre has hosted the ensemble’s annual production for the past six years. However, with the theatre’s redevelopment plans looming ever-closer, the ensemble will soon need to relocate for future productions.

All money gained from the annual production is put back into the Musical Theatre Ensemble, and is used by Fletcher to bring in guests as well as bolster the resources available to the program.

“Come and support them. By supporting them, you’re supporting creation of the next generation of musical theatre professionals,” said Fletcher.

“Maybe we have our next Tony award-winner here.”

Tickets for Street Scenes are $12 for students, $20 otherwise. Tickets are available at the door, and can be purchased in advance at the Desautels faculty of music office.