Two of Miller’s Men in Broadway By Request

May 26, 2012

Poster for the Broadway Singers' "Broadway By Request"Two cast members from Miller and His Men (John Biehn and Neila Lawson), are part of the Broadway Singers’ “Broadway By Request” today (May 26th, 2012) in the Wolf Performance Hall in the Central Library. Performances are at 2PM and 7:30PM.

The Broadway Singers will be singing selections from Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Carousel, Chess, Guys and Dolls, and Wicked. Should be a wonderful time!

Details:

Saturday, May 26, 2012 – Season Finale
The Broadway Singers Present:
Broadway by Request

Location: Wolf Performance Hall
251 Dundas St., Central Library, London, Ontario

Matinee 2:00 pm
Evening 7:30 pm

Price: $20.00


Melodrama, “Miller”, G&S and Us

July 19, 2011

Joe Lella, Director

Pirate King

JB Amerongen’s The Actor in Dickens (1972) disparages melodrama in early 19th Century England. He states that the English love this mode of entertainment which has “continued down to the present day without there being much improvement in its insignificant plot, and for the most part, shallow wit.” He includes Isaac Pocock’s The Miller and His Men) in this scathing assessment, and says that only the work of Gilbert and Sullivan is a “brilliant exception” (p. 107).

Isaac Pocock’s The Miller and His Men was first produced in “big” London in 1813. It achieved some success and was later produced in Upper Canada (1842) at London’s first theatre, The Theatre Royal. We present it now as an homage to that theatre.

G & S’s first collaboration hit the boards in England in 1871, some sixty years later. By 2011 we thought it was time to inject new life into “Miller”, especially if we were to offer it to contemporary audiences. Our use of beautiful G& S songs and choruses from The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and Patience, recognizes these gentlemen’s rather dubious melodramatic heritage while enriching our adaptation of Pocock’s work.

Along with G&S’ music, we have tried to appeal to modern Canadian audiences by up-dating “Miller’s” language, nudging it towards Jane Austen’s effective and simple prose dating approximately from the same era. Our reading of “Miller” found it abounding in stuffy early 19th century verbiage. This may be unfair since we, of course, didn’t live then. But Jane Austen did and her language is like a clear drink of water compared to Pocock’s stale tea. Our language doesn’t achieve what hers does but maybe a later version shall approach it.

We trust we’ve made the play more engaging for our modern audience too by setting it near our London in Upper Canada almost immediately after the repression, exile, and executions of many MacKenzie and Papineau/Patriote (Lower Canada) Rebels (1837-1838). The British colonial power was wary of lingering rebel sympathisers and of possible American incursions into Southern Ontario. They sent a garrison here to keep an eye on things.

Pirates of Penzance Poster

Our play is set in a forested area, north of London. An old miller’s beautiful young daughter is pursued by two suitors: one older, but rich; another hard working, handsome and young but poor. The young hero makes a secret pledge to rid the land of robbers (clandestine rebels) who despise the crown and are yearning for Canada’s independence. The old miller knows not their dark intentions and how they have stolen his mill.  The hero shall try to restore the fortunes of the old miller to win the hand of the beautiful daughter. Little does he know that the older suitor is one of the rebels (bandits) and has darker plans for them all. These plans, however, must contend not only with the hero’s wily resolve but the force of the local British Garrison and its leader, Sir Walter Watford Hill, who pines for his dear ‘Loretta,” and his batman, Wilbur, who yearns for thick slices of roast beef.

Audiences are urged to cheer the heroes, and boo the villains!

Rather than what William Archer called melodrama then, i.e. tragedy without reason, we here present “almost tragedy” with historical reasons—or rather with the rationale that it might lead to greater appreciation of our heritage. That our play is being staged in a period barn (like London’s first theatre, the Theatre Royal) can only heighten this.

We have not, however, foresworn “corny” melodrama. Heritage can be campy fun.

Isaac Pocock’s plot for “Miller” fit the London situation in 1842 beautifully. The slightly adapted G&S music and lyrics fit it like a glove. For historic ‘verisimilitude’ we added a couple of 19th century Canadian songs for good patriotic measure (our show opened not long after Canada Day!).

And after all is said and sung, we dare our audiences—dare you—not to enjoy this corn filled, but puffed up and patriotic pastry.

Songs Adapted for The Miller and His Men, in order of performance

Pour Oh Pour the Rebel Lager, sung by Miller’s Men
(Gilbert & Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance, Pour Oh Pour the Pirate Sherry)
Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well,
sung by Claudine (G&S, HMS Pinafore)
Stay, Lucas, Stay/Ah Leave Me Not to Pine,
sung by Claudine, Lucas (G&S, Pirates, Stay Frederic Stay)
Stay Prithee Stay, sung by Claudine, Sir Walter, Wilbur, Kelmar
(G&S, Pirates, Stay Frederic Stay)
Une Canadienne Errante, sung by Margot, Caroline
(Lyrics, Un Canadien Errant, M.A. Gerin-Lajoie [with translation])
I Hear the Soft Note…, sung by Margot, Caroline
(G&S, Patience)
•  Sad is that Woman’s Lot/Silvered is the Auburn Hair,
sung by Ravina (G&S, Patience, Silvered is the Raven Hair)
• Reprise, Pour Oh Pour, sung by Miller’s Men
(G&S, Pirates of Penzance)
The Maple Leaf Forever
(Alexander Muir (1867), with the 2010 version of Vladimir Radian’s lyrics)
Hail Poetry, sung by Miller’s Men (G&S, Pirates)
A Grenadier, sung by grenadiers and cast in finale
(G&S, HMS Pinafore, A British Tar)

 


Milling in London Today

July 12, 2011

This is the sixth in an an ongoing series of short posts by Dave Burnett, who trained as a real-life miller, and who also plays the old miller, Kelmar, in The Miller and His Men.

Milling in London Today by Dave Burnett

London continues today to be a major Ontario milling centre, from the small flour mill at Arva (still water powered), to Kellogg’s and Casco, two of southern Ontario’s largest buyers of corn. Water power has been replaced by hydro. Mill stones have been replaced with hardened steel. Burlap sacks and sweat have been replaced with sophisticated conveyors, bulk storage and computerized automation. Today’s plants are extensively regulated by all levels of government, protecting both buyers’ and sellers’ interests. The only connection to the military today is the Cheerios served at the breakfast mess.


The Army Comes to Town

July 11, 2011

This is the fifth in an an ongoing series of short posts by Dave Burnett, who trained as a real-life miller, and who also plays the old miller, Kelmar, in The Miller and His Men.

The Army Comes to Town by Dave Burnett

It was advisable for the miller to be on good terms with the local garrison. Many of the commanders had the authority to administer water rights and land holdings—both critical to the mill. The military also came with cash to purchase the flour and food produced by the pioneers in the community.

George Russell Dartnell, Old saw mill on the Thames River, from Blackfriar's Bridge, London, Canada West.  Library and Archives Canada, accession number: 1995-28-20

George Russell Dartnell, Old saw mill on the Thames River, from Blackfriar's Bridge, London, Canada West. 25 Oct 1842. Library and Archives Canada, accession number: 1995-28-20


Miller and His Men costumes — first peek

July 11, 2011

From our recent costume fitting, here’s a first peek at the costume wizardry of Brenda Fieldhouse. (Photos: courtesy Terry Fieldhouse).

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The Only Game in Town

June 26, 2011
Actor Andrew House, playing the dishonest Miller, "Grindoff", in The Miller and His Men

Actor Andrew House, playing the dishonest Miller, "Grindoff", in The Miller and His Men

This is the fourth in an an ongoing series of short posts by Dave Burnett, who trained as a real-life miller, and who also plays the old miller, Kelmar, in The Miller and His Men.

The Only Game in Town by Dave Burnett

Unfortunately, there was often only one mill in each settlement, so one was stuck dealing with a less than honest miller. Grain or timber were often the only commodities that the pioneers could turn into ready cash, apart from their labour. One common complaint among settlers was that they would deliver top grade wheat to the mill only to receive poor quality flour in return. The miller would be accused of keeping the best for himself. This attitude even exists today among some farmers.


The Miller’s Reputation

June 15, 2011
Dave Burnett with millstone in front of Miller Barn, Fanshawe Pioneer Village (Photo credit: Michael Gelman)

Dave Burnett with millstone in front of Miller Barn, Fanshawe Pioneer Village (Photo credit: Michael Gelman)

This is the third in an an ongoing series of short posts by Dave Burnett, who trained as a real-life miller, and who also plays the old miller, Kelmar, in The Miller and His Men.

The Miller’s Reputation by Dave Burnett

Ten bags of wheat to the mill did not mean returning home with ten bags of flour. Several factors contributed to the inefficiency of the process, including honesty. Today, the industry is tightly regulated, but each miller and mill in the 1800s had their own standards.

Since many pioneers had limited cash, the miller would hold back some of the flour as payment for his troubles. The considerable variance in the miller’s take gave rise several decades later to our contemporary standards.


The cast in action on Victoria Day

May 30, 2011

Michael Gelman, our intrepid ASM, also a skilled photographer, has begun photographing the cast in action. Here are some glimpses of our Victoria Day rehearsal (23 May 2011) as seen through Gelman’s lens:

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The Water and Other Perils

May 30, 2011
Detail of Mill

Detail of Mill

This is the first in an an ongoing series of short posts by Dave Burnett, who trained as a real-life miller, and who also plays the old miller, Kelmar, in The Miller and His Men.

The Water and Other Perils by Dave Burnett

Ontario is dotted with old mills and remnants of them. Locations for settlements were often chosen on the basis of proximity to year round running water / topography to create a mill pond as a reservoir to manage water flow. The water flow could then be diverted to drive a water wheel and power the mill.

Coping with floods, torrents and drought were part of the miller’s lot. A miller would heed the weather because failure could mean the demise of his mill.

Likewise the grain and flour in the mill had to be kept clean and dry lest the flour not be fit for human consumption.


The Miller and His Men

May 26, 2011

On February 2nd, 1842, the Officers of the London Garrison, Canada West, performed a Melo-Drama—Sir Isaac Pocock’s Miller and His Men:

Advertisement for "The Miller and His Men" at the Theatre Royal in London, Canada West, to be performed on 2 February 1842We chose the Garrison’s Miller for our theatrical re-enactment because we were tickled by the idea of “repeating” a show had already been brought back “by particular request”. We have no record of the first production of Miller in London, but we must presume from this advertisement that there was another, earlier London performance of Miller in 1840 or 1841.

We know from Daniel Lysons’ autobiography that when he was stationed in London he “had charge of the theatre and painted the scenes.” Our re-production of Miller and His Men includes one of Lysons’ paintings as a scene backdrop, as well as paintings by other officers stationed in the London Garrison in the 1840s, including John Herbert Caddy and Sir James Alexander.

Daniel Lysons

Lieutenant Daniel Lysons, detail from Grand Military Steeple-Chase of May 9, 1843

Alexander described Lysons as “an officer of great talent and taste.” By his own account, Lysons was “a smooth faced boy” then, and regularly took on the ladies roles. At the time, all of the female roles were played by men. Lysons apparently excelled at these. A review of one of his performances from the London Herald of February 18th, 1843, reports:

Emma Leslie (Mr. Lysons, Royals.) wore the petticoats with an ease and grace well becoming the character. Every emotion, every gesture and movement, indicated a familiarity with the peculiarities of womankind, that does not fall to the lot of most men. Had we not known that he was a man, it would have been almost impossible to have convinced us to the contrary. (p. 2, c. 6)

We know that Lysons played Ravina in Miller and His Men when his regiment (the 1st Royal Scots) performed the play in Québec, and since he was still playing female roles in 1843, there is every chance that he also played Ravina when Miller and His Men was performed in London, Canada West. As a nod to this tradition, in our production of Miller and His Men, three of roles that men played are now being played by women!

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Alexander, James E. S. L’Acadie; Or, Seven Years’ Explorations in British America. London, EN: H. Colborn. 1849, p.237.

Lysons, Daniel. Early Reminiscences. London, EN: John Murray, 1896. p. 161.