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Theatre Orangeville’s new production, ‘The Last Christmas Turkey’ brings holiday joy to the community

November 25, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

This reprisal is like a new show, the cast and director, David Nairn assured the Citizen. We were seated in the Rehearsal Hall at the “Dream Factory,” as Mr. Nairn calls it, with the actors sitting on chairs and straw bales, discussing the upcoming show, The Last Christmas Turkey by Dan Needles, with music and lyrics by Clive VanderBurgh. This wonderful little tale, which premiered at Theatre Orangeville in 2017, previews on Nov. 30 and Opening Night is Friday, Dec. 2, with a run to Dec. 23.

In brief, the story follows a remembered adventure of a brother, Braden and sister, Nancy when they were young. Their memories are brought to us by their younger selves, meeting a turkey left alone in a barn, whom they befriend and name Tom. To their dismay, they learn he is scheduled to be the centre of attention, as the main course for the local church Christmas dinner!

Possible solutions for rescue come from Petunia the Skunk, Cleo the Cat, Spartacus is an Owl and Tom the Turkey himself.

A Christmas story to be sure, but the cast members seemed to feel that it has a wider appeal than Yuletide tales normally bring.

They said variously, “It’s about kindness;” “about the wonder of their world as seen in the eyes of children;” “an inspiration for the younger audience.”

Coming back to the script from a number of years, Dan Needles has made changes to the dialogue, Mr. Nairn told us and composer and lyricist Clive VanderBurgh has written a new song and done some rewriting with others. All this goes toward making a fresh approach to a musical already loved and enjoyed.

It is all about the magic of this time of year, the time when folklore tells us the animals can talk so that we can understand them.

Trevor Patt plays the role of Tom the Turkey. He is back again to revive Tom the Turkey and last time, his comment at playing the part of an animal was “something different, really fun.”

For this time around, he has high praise for the new costumes, designed and created by Wendi Speck. Others pitched into this conversation, beginning with Debbie Collins, who returns to present the hilarious Spartacus the Owl.

“They are real feathers this time,” she boasted happily. “It’s fabulous. I am majestic.”

The animals are beautiful was the consensus. A treat for us is coming up.

The play also relies on the excellence of the two young actors playing the younger versions of the brother and sister. They are Ruby Kalverda in the role of young Nancy and Lucas Nguyen as young Braden. Here is their challenge: not only do they have a full-time job of acting in this delightful musical, learning their lines, the blocking, the songs and the choreography but they must also attend to their school work.

The rule is, so David Nairn declared, “Not that their marks are in question but their responsibility of keeping up with their school is what allows them to stay in the show.”

Jill Agopsowicz is “absolutely thrilled” to be back at Theatre Orangeville, revising her role as Cleo the Cat. Further to learning her own part, Ms. Agopsowicz is, as well, the Dance Captain, coaching what the actors have learned from Janee Gowling, who is the choreographer for the show. Ms. Agopsowicz assists in their learning of the steps “for a nice and clear story-telling,” she said.

Ms. Agopsowicz remarked additionally, “I really appreciate how TVO handles Covid. And the thing now is the flu.”

Mr. Nairn explained how the timing and provincial laws about the children actors work out: “We are bound by regulations [for] the hours the kids can work. The nature of a musical is it can be divided. Everyone is working all the time. While scenes between a few of the cast are rehearsing upstairs, others can be learning some of the choreography downstairs.”

Stage manager, Jory McLean and [assistant stage manager] Grace Batten have come up with a game plan as to scheduling. 

At the time of this interview, the actors had only been in rehearsal for a week. They were given their schedule to be “off-book” by early or the middle of the following week.

It is lots of work but they concurred that “the warmth of Christmas cheer is carrying us through!”

Two actors playing the brother and sister adults double as the parents of their young selves. Welcome to her first engagement with Theatre Orangeville to Sarah Higgins, who plays Nancy and young Nancy’s and Braden’s mother. She comes to us with a long list of theatre work that includes such esteemed venues as Mirvish, Theatre Calgary and Drayton Entertainment.

She said, “This is the first rehearsal since 2019 and I’m so glad to be here. I’ve been made so welcomed. This show is about family and it is so relatable. It’s about our faith in the fairies.”

Her joy for returning to rehearsals for the first time since 2019 was reflected by Cory O’Brien, who said, “We’ve been longing for this and the way Theatre Orangeville’s handling it really makes us feel we’re in a safe environment.”

Mr. O’Brien returns to Theatre Orangeville from his parts here in Gift of the Magi and many of us remember him from the show 18 Wheels. In this moment, his role is Petunia the Skunk.

He went on to observe, “We have all done shows in Toronto. People come to Theatre Orangeville to see that talent here and we want to come here. This is a great show for kids. It brings joy to people and young people can think, ‘I could do that,’ when they see the two young actors on stage.”

Tyler Check, who plays the dual roles of Adult Braden and Father to the younger siblings was clear, “This show is great fun and Orangeville is a magic Christmas town. People come from all over to see this beautiful place.

“There’s not much that is guaranteed but this is guaranteed – that people will have a good time coming to see this show,” said he.

In keeping with Theatre Orangeville’s praise-worthy care against Covid and the flu, there is a mask mandate to enter the theatre and keep on during the performance.

For tickets and more information, or go to the Box Office at 87 Broadway; call them at 519-942-3423. Don’t miss it.

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