The Charlottetown cast of Heard it Through the Grapevine takes a break from rehearsals. From left are Kaitlyn Post, Michael Peters, Brielle Ansems, David Woodside and Jaime Hunter. The show plays Tuesdays through Saturdays at Brothers 2 in Summerside and the Rodd Charlottetown.
Writing a script for dinner theatre is like creating a sitcom-length musical, says Mike Allison.
There’s lots of details to consider.
“It’s always a romantic comedy. It usually involves something from pop culture. And it takes a lot of work to come up with the characters and figure out the logistics of how things will work,” says a P.E.I. rooted comedy writer for This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
Sometimes the show is a direct spoof of something that is happening. Other times, writers touch on characters and shows that people would recognize.
So when Allison was asked to write a script for the 2014 summer edition of Feast Dinner Theatres, he turned to newspapers and television to find his inspiration.
One of first people he noticed was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Whether the red-haired politician was entering rehab, throwing a social for his constituents or appearing on the late night talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live in Los Angeles, the public is fascinated with the antics of this colourful Toronto mayor.
“He’s like a bad accident that you can’t look away from. At the same time, people seem to think he’s done some good for the city (of Toronto). He’s so divisive. He can appear to be so racist and have so many problems with alcohol and drugs but, as far as a lot of people are concerned, he’s the right man for the job,” says Allison, who has added a sprinkling of Ford jokes into Heard It Through the Grapevine, a dinner theatre production currently running at Rodd Charlottetown and Brothers 2 Restaurant in Summerside.
Municipal and federal politics have made it an exciting year for comedy writers.
“There have been a lot of scandals, especially with Rob Ford. That’s why we set the show in a town where civil politics come into play,” says Allison adding that, although there are chuckles at his expense, there is no Ford character in the play.
Instead, the story revolves around a mayor who steps down from office, amid controversy, leaving the public to figure out what went wrong and wondering who is going to replace him.
“Unlike Ford, he’s straight-laced. It’s only when he’s taken out of office that he becomes undone.”
Scandal is a perfect theme for a dinner theatre show, says the show’s director.
“It’s everywhere. We all identify with it. With any political debate, there’s always drama. The highs and lows make for some great comedy, as well as some great enemies,” says Sherri-Lee Darrach, adding the musical director is Adam MacGregor.
Allison, who has been writing for CBC for the past few years, was thrilled when Don Groom, Feast Dinner Theatre producer, asked him to write this year’s show.
“I’ve been out of it long enough to get the spark back. So I really enjoyed writing the scripts and having fun in the process.”
Sally Cole is an entertainment writer with The Guardian. She welcomes comments about her column as well as suggestions for future columns from readers. She may be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 902-629-6000, ext. 6054.