The shrill sound of a train whistle breaks through the evening quiet at Rosewood Senior Residence.
The screech of brakes comes from a nearby speaker.
Residents gathered in the living room close their eyes to imagine a passenger train grinding to halt at the Charlottetown station.
When they open their eyes again, they see that a reporter (Olivia Barnes), carrying a notebook and pen, is the first out on the platform set to welcome Sadie Calhoun a vaudeville stage and moving pictures star, who has come to perform at the Charlottetown Opera House.
Seconds later, W.C. Whitlock, a local promoter, (Nicholas Whelan) joins her on the platform. He invites a crowd that is gathering to buy tickets to Calhoun’s performance at the Charlottetown Opera House.
Then, as they wait for the celebrity to disembark from the train, the performers break into a lively rendition of “She’s Coming”.
It’s the opening scene from “Sadie off the Rails”, the latest offering of Young at Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors.
Written by Diane Barnes and Wade Lynch, this lively musical about the age of rail is touring Prince Edward Island, playing for senior citizens in long-term care and retirement facilities, as well as in community centres and churches.
Last Wednesday, the crowd consisted of 20 or more seniors seated in the living room of the Rosewood Senior Residence, watching the actors perform as they arrive on the station platform.
“This is really great. I like the songs and dances and I’m learning about Prince Edward Island,” says resident Shirley Metlin, who is from Nova Scotia.
When Sadie, played by Shawna van Omme, finally disembarks from the train, those waiting on the platform give her a musical welcome.
But things do not go as expected.
The Charlottetown Opera House has just burned down. Without a venue and not wanting to disappoint her fans, Sadie hops a P.E.I. Railway train for a concert tour, stopping at towns across the Island.
What follows are pop-up performances in Tignish, Alberton, Summerside, Murray Harbour, Georgetown, Souris, Montague, Elmira and more. At each stop, she meets different Islanders, learns local history, views beautiful scenery and has a few comical moments, like running into a mouse in Souris.
After Sadie arrives at her final destination and there’s a moving closing number, the play comes to an end and van Omme goes backstage to reflect on the experience of playing the historical figure.
“It’s really fun process to bring this character to life. It’s so neat to know that she was a real person who actually (visited) here in the 1900s. It’s allowed me to explore the relationships she had with other characters, who were real people as well,” says van Omme.
The experience has also allowed her to explore bringing live theatre to a special population.
“This is an amazing experience performing for seniors. At times, it seems like they’re not enjoying it but, afterwards, they’re just raving about it. We’ve had comments like, ‘it’s amazing to have you guys come here. I’ve always loved theatre, but now I can’t get out as easily to see it.’ So, they really appreciate it.”
In addition, she enjoys seeing the audiences become engaged with the performance.
For example, when the actors performed “Keep the Home Fires Burning” last Wednesday the residents spontaneously became a choir, singing along with them.
Back in the living room where everyone is enjoying cookies and juice, resident Don MacDougall is reminiscing.
“That show brings back memories. You don’t hear the sound of a train anymore,” says the former Canadian National Railway employee.
The show also resonates with Marlane O’Brien, who directed it. She says the show transports audiences back to yesteryear when the Prince Edward Island Railway played a major role in everyday life.
“I’m a senior myself. And there’s nothing more stimulating than the visual and the oral (parts) of our own history. I wish we still had the train. I just love that sound.”
What: “Sadie off the Rails”, featuring performers Olivia Barnes, Nicholas Whelan and Shawna van Omme and stage manager Jeana MacIsaac
When and where:
Saturday, April 20, 7:30 p.m.: Benevolent Irish Society, Charlottetown
Monday, April 22: Milton Community Hall, 7 p.m.
Thursday, April 25, 7 p.m.: St. Paul’s Church Charlottetown, a fundraiser for Young at Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors, with opening act: Fascinating Ladies with Kelley Mooney, Alison Kelly and Catherine O’Brien
Saturday, April 27: Seniors Active Living Centre, 2 p.m. and Three Rivers 50 Plus Club, St. Andrew’s Church, Cardigan, 7 p.m.
Details: Pay at the door. For tickets, call Catherine at 902-393-9419 or email [email protected]
Website: Go to http://yahtheatre.com/yaht/