Canadian composer Leslie Arden’s love of theatre started as a 10-year-old, watching rehearsals of “Anne of Green Gables-The Musical” at The Charlottetown Festival, where her mother, Cleone Duncan, performed for many years.
“Mostly everything I know about theatre was learned right here, watching Allan Lund direct when I was a little kid,” says the musical writer as a wave of nostalgia sweeps over her.
“Once I wanted to write a drum chart so (music director) Fen Watkin sat me down in his kitchen and showed me how to write one.”
Arden was an only child, and the theatre was like a baby sitter.
“The best thing was they were developing a new show every year. So, I got to watch John Fenwick and Alan Lund and other people build a musical from the ground up. It was better than any university,” says Arden who, after following her own music theatre career, is back in Charlottetown this week watching rehearsals for “The House of Martin Guere”, her own musical which will be presented as a concert at the Homburg Theatre of the Confederation Centre of the Arts on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.
“It’s amazing to be back…and it’s amazing to be back with this show. The cast is fabulous – a roomful of talented, talented people.”
Starring Adam Brazier and Josée Boudreau and directed by Mary Francis Moore, with musical direction by Wayne Gwillim, it’s the story of a young peasant girl, Bertrande, who is forced to marry the abusive Martin Gueurre. After years of unhappy marriage, he abandons her and their son.
But, years later a stranger claiming to be Guerre appears at her door. He is a changed individual, and Bertrande accepts him but then declares him an imposter and he is sent to jail and trial.
Brazier saw the show almost 20 years ago and says it’s one of the “best original Canadian musicals he’s ever seen”.
“ ‘The House of Martin Guerre’ is a powerful musical about community, tradition and what we’re willing to believe for love,” says Brazier, artistic director the Charlottetown Festival.
Based on a true story from 16th century France, the musical was first produced by Theatre Plus in 1993 at the Jane Mallet Theatre in Toronto where it won a Dora Mavor Moore Award.
It was then developed further by the Toronto theatrical production company, Livent, and went on to be produced by Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 1996. In 1997, it was produced once again in Toronto by the Canadian Stage Company again.
While the musical enjoyed great success, it was lost to the public for decades because rights of the piece were locked up by American commercial producers.
When the rights became available again, Arden began looking for opportunities to market it.
This past season, when Brazier invited her to bring the musical to the Charlottetown Festival as a concert, she was humbled.
“It’s lovely,” Arden says.
And, while she doesn’t rule out the idea of another full-scale production, in the future, she prefers to count her blessings.
“I’ve been fortunate that it’s had three major productions. They’re also doing it at Sheridan College in the spring.”
Leslie Arden fast facts
Worked as composer/orchestrator, lyricist, librettist, performer, director and teacher.
Wrote over a dozen musicals, including the awardwinning “The House of Martin Guerre”, “The Happy Prince” and the Dora Mavor Moore-nominated “The Princess and the Handmaiden”
Wrote the score to “Harvest Moon Rising” as well a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Collaborated with Canadian playwright Norm Foster on the oft produced “The Last Resort” and “Ned Durango”
One of 13 professional musical theatre writers chosen by Cameron Mackintosh and Stephen Sondheim to be part of a sixmonth master class taught by Sondheim in Oxford, England in 1990