BACKSTAGE

BACKSTAGE IN SHOW BUSINESS

The song-and-dance spoofs that laugh at Canada — and pile up profits at the box office

May 10 1958
BACKSTAGE

BACKSTAGE IN SHOW BUSINESS

The song-and-dance spoofs that laugh at Canada — and pile up profits at the box office

May 10 1958

BACKSTAGE IN SHOW BUSINESS

BACKSTAGE

The song-and-dance spoofs that laugh at Canada — and pile up profits at the box office

FOR A WEEK OR TWO in April three vaguely similar stage shows were in action at three leading Toronto theatres—all pulling good audiences. They were My Fur Lady, a by-now-celebrated McGill student revue: Spring Thaw, for 1 1 years Toronto's top revue, and Now We Are Six, a newcomer but also a revue. All had one thing in common: they were spoofs on Canadian manners and people and on our neighbors.

If their survival at one time in one city proves anything at all it is that Canadians have at last learned to enjoy laughing at themselves and, in a quasi-wicked way, at their friends. At all three revues audiences were often laughing at the same things—Toronto's subway, Canada’s culture and American money.

It is the same kind of intimate, semi-private humor that has made Brooklyn Dodgers and Harry Truman's piano playing rib-rocking laugh lines to almost every American. But in Canada the spoof has been carried beyond one short laugh line to the point where it sustains a whole company for weeks—and years. Up to this spring My Fur Lady had played 313 performances to 214,000 people and grossed half a million dollars. By the time the troupe tours the west to the B. C. Centennial every Canadian city and town of any size will have seen it. Spring Thaw last year ran a record 1 17 shows before 60,000. While giants among the revues, these two are not the only testimonials to native humor.

Three years ago comedienne Jane Mallett and friends put on Fine Frenzy, still another spoof, paid actors above-equity wages and netted 33% on a $10.000 investment in five weeks. In the same tradition, Now We Are Six is backed with $2,000 from the sale of one principal’s car.

What is there about a topical revue that so tickles Canadians? The rocks they throw, according to French-Canadian comic Gratiën Gélinas, who says, “I get my best laughs when I sound as though I'm throwing bouquets when I’m really throwing rocks.” The favorite targets for most revues are well known to every theatregoer—Vincent Massey, Kate Aitken, Charlotte Whitton, Barbara Ann Scott and almost any political bigwig. When Spring Thaw first presented Governor-General Massey in 1954 slightly nervous laughs greeted this introduction:

Taken from a family firm by a set of curious chances,

Liberated from a term of selling farm appliances. But the laughs were less restrained and Massçy a confirmed spoof this year when he sang:

Young men in long underwear dancing May not give the backbenchers a thrill.

But it’s better than some of the prancing I see up on Parliament Hill.

. . . favorite targets for fun-loving troubadours.

Both Spring Thaw and My Fur Lady owe a lot to Kate Aitken. though she's never uttered a line in self-defense. My Fur Lady's chorus sings:

If you need sophisticatin', call Kate Aitken, referring to Kate's beauty hints, and

If you like your girls hard-bitten, call up Charlotte Whitton,

When actress Pegi Brown first lampooned a leggy blond skater with a baby lisp, scores in the audience wrote protesting "this slur on Barbara Ann Scott.”

A topical revue often has its work cut out trying to stay topical. In February 1957 a line in My Fur Lady went:

Uncle Lou, Uncle Lou, tell us what to do—and Howe!

After the election in June that year it was changed to:

Uncle Lou, Uncle Lou, what's become of you— and Howe?

And after the Liberal convention Uncle Lou got the hook and choristers in polka-dot ties were singing:

Lester B, Lester B. what's our policy?

That didn’t last long either. By the time Honest John had indicated right from wrong Lester B was in the wings and the familiar GG (Massey) was doing a bit in French with Honest John:

Comment ça va? That’s French, John . . .

Spring Thaw has often toyed with the notion of going on the road, perhaps to the U. S.. but the barrier has always been, "Will outsiders laugh at it?” Probably not. Canadians see little that’s funny in outsiders’ spoofs. When an English company tried Toronto with Collector's Item—hits from London's West End — they lost money. The lesson: Canadians would rather laugh at THEMSELVES.-JOHN CLARK