Cowboys and follies abound in musical fundraiser for Comox Valley charities

The second annual Have a Heart fundraising weekend of fun-filled dinner theatre will run at the Filberg just before Valentine's Day.



The second annual Have a Heart fundraising weekend of fun-filled dinner theatre will run at the Filberg just before Valentine’s Day.

Gloria Herauf has earned herself a bit of a reputation — for putting on a great show, that is. The multiple award-winning musical director, who moved to the Valley from Saskatchewan a few years ago, has already acquired a loyal following of music and theatre fans who know that any show she is involved in is guaranteed to be full of great songs and lots of fun.

Last year she directed My Heart Is Over There, a Second World War musical revue that sold out more than two weeks in advance. Prior to that she directed, I ‘Luv’ a Piano, which also got rave reviews.

Fans and newcomers certainly won’t be disappointed this year, when the Best Little Broadway Show in the West, written and directed by Herauf, hits the Filberg Centre stage for two dinner theatre performances and a Sunday brunch matinee from Feb. 10 to 12. (Fair warning: Get your tickets early. Another sellout is expected.)

All of the proceeds of this event will go to charities. Organized by members of the Strathcona Sunrise Rotary Club with assistance from Courtenay and Comox Club Rotarians, the Have a Heart event is all about enjoying some lively original entertainment and good food as we open our hearts to support worthwhile causes.

Major sponsors, BMO (Bank of Montreal), BMO Nesbitt Burns, Crown Isle Resort, and the New Car Dealers of the Comox Valley, are leading the way by providing generous support to ensure healthy donations to three charities. This year’s beneficiaries are: Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society; Rotary International’s End Polio Now immunization program that is close to eradicating the crippling disease from the planet; and numerous local charitable groups supported by Comox United Church.

This original musical comedy revue takes place in the early 1950s, in Tumbleweed Junction, a little outpost in the West that Herauf describes as, “a backwater, going-nowhere-in-the-slow-lane, kind of place.”

When a glamourous movie star, played by Crystal-lee Young, gets off the train at the Tumbleweed station by mistake, things start changing fast around town. Lana Lamarsh arrives incognito, but her identity is soon revealed when the local cowboys and womenfolk recognize her from a photograph in a glossy movie magazine that arrives with their latest shipment of supplies on the same train.

“Ain’t you that big movie star?” asks one of the local cowpokes, and before long, Lamarsh is enlisted to come to the aid of a struggling local saloon and hotel owner. Molly, played by veteran singer and performer Jackie Lambeth, is in dire financial straits and at imminent risk of losing her hotel if she can’t come up with some money fast.

No problem.

The sarcastic but soft-hearted Lamarsh offers to bring one of her New York dancing-girl friends to Tumbleweed to help the locals put on some entertainment to raise funds and save the hotel. Thus begins a show within a show at the Golden Garter Saloon.

Rich with classic Broadway tunes, popular songs from the ’40s and ’50s such as Just In Time, and some favourite Western standards, the singing and dancing is laced with comedic highlights to produce plenty of good old-fashioned fun.

Anyone who saw Nunsense recently will recognize both Young and Kate Morrison, a pair of local 27-year-old rising stars with unlimited passion for performing.

Morrison plays Roxie in this production, the follies girl brought in from New York to teach the cowboys to dance and lend some Broadway flair to their show. Her achingly beautiful solo of Someone To Watch Over Me is not to be missed.

Young, a makeup artist by day who lives for doing theatre; and Morrison, who works as an insurance broker when she’s not dancing, have also appeared together locally in Fiddler on the Roof, Curtains, and Oklahoma.

Bouncing around the floor in bright red sneakers, Herauf directs a rehearsal with all the passion and patience community theatre demands. With a gift for inspiring both seasoned and novice performers to put their very best feet and voices forward, she moves like a maestro conducting an orchestra: her hands rising, falling, and turning like magic wands coaxing out every cast member’s best performance.

“Three years ago I had never sung a solo in public,” says Ross Griffith-Cochrane, who plays a cowboy called Wyatt. “Then I met Gloria, who convinced me that I could sing and dance. Now I’m singing solos and loving it.” Griffith-Cochrane is a perfect example of the diversity found in the cast of this show. “For 32 years I was a probation officer,” he states, “and for 20 of those years I volunteered many hours with Search and Rescue. So this is a radical departure for me.”

His character in the show, Wyatt, is also a man’s man who has never sung or danced before. “He’s a man of the West,” Griffith-Cochrane explains, “and he’s quite intimidated by these dancing girls from New York City.”

Another one of the male characters in the show, Custus, a pig farmer amongst cowboys who is on the slow, bashful side and not too smart, is played by a newcomer to showbiz, Ross Moxley. He is a retired judge who, like Herauf, moved to the Valley not long ago from Saskatchewan.

Moxley says that although he has previously done a little performing just for fun, “thank goodness Custus is a very dumb guy, so that role is not hard to play for a beginner like me.” When Herauf met Moxley and found out that he loves music, she recruited him to see what he could do. Now he is a budding performer joining the impressive wealth of talent in the Valley.

The Western leading lady of the show, Lambeth, is becoming well known to local audiences for her fabulous voice, whether she is singing classical, jazz, or Celtic tunes. Along with being an accomplished singer and performer, Lambeth is a vocal coach who counts several fellow cast members among her students.

The Best Little Broadway Show in the West has a cast of 14 in total, and this performing group has recently named itself The Beach Street Players. Sharon O’Hara and Herauf take turns on the piano, and Al West plays bass and banjo.

In addition to the players already mentioned, the cast includes Roger Goodman, Erik Eriksson, Ken Newman, and Rhett Wade, as the motley crew of cowboys, along with Patty Forbes-King, Carol Jennermann, Noreen Robertson, Laurel Erhardt, and Valetta Nixon, as the local womenfolk. Nixon steals a nostalgic moment when she struts her stuff as Aunt Irene, a bubbly senior who danced and sang on the Broadway stage of the Majestic Theatre many years ago, and can still kick up her heels to save her town.

“The dialogue is corny and fun, and strings the songs together,” says Herauf. “This production is really designed to showcase the singing and dancing.” With her deft, professional touch, there’s no doubt that it will.

Tickets are selling swiftly at BMO Courtenay branch, Laughing Oyster Bookshop, Blue Heron Books, and at Carmie’s Café in Cumberland. Earlybird discounts for tables of eight are available until Feb. 4.

For more information, call 250-702-7057.

— Rotary Club of Strathcona Sunrise