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The show must go on: Cranbrook musical theatrical tradition emerges from pandemic

Despite new restrictions, ‘9 To 5: The Musical’ will kick off the new year at the Key City Theatre
Scenes from rehearsal: ‘9 to 5 the Musical,’ featuring a dynamic local cast, runs New Year’s Eve at the Key City Theatre, then January 14, 15, 16 (matinee), 20, 21 and 22. Photos by Stephanie Moore

Cranbrook credentials as a town that loves its musical theatre are well established.

But it is the breadth and depth of community involvement that makes Cranbrook unique. So much of the citizenry have been involved in Cranbrook musical productions — children, students and adults — by local community theatre groups, the schools, and impresarios and directors like Paul Kershaw, that musical theatre is in our collective DNA. Most of us can claim, if not a direct experience with, then a few degrees of separation from the local theatre scene.

Out of this cultural history has emerged an evolving tradition of December 31 galas at the Key City Theatre — productions of renowned musicals that kick off the New Year, and continue with a run of shows later in January. Directed by Brenda Burley and produced by Galen Olstead, the presentations of shows like “The Producers” and “Chicago” have featured a local cast and crew of dozens,

The Key City Theatre has come out from an almost two-year pandemic slow-down, and is marking the return of live performing arts to local stages with this season’s offering — “9 To 5: The Musical.” It is based on the 1980 movie of the same name, and features music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. It centres on the downtrodden working lives of three women, Violet, Judy, and Doralee, secretaries who decide to get revenge on their tyrannical, sexist boss by abducting him and running the business themselves.

The Province of B.C. has recently enacted a new round of health restrictions, affecting public activity. But even so, “9 To 5” is going ahead. The show will go on — at 50 per cent audience capacity.

“We’re at the point of maximum effort and expenditure,” Director Brenda Burley said. “To have been shut down now would have been devastating.

“I just want the cast to have the opportunity to showcase what they’ve done. It’s really amazing, how much work they’ve put into it — and they bring it every week.”

This year’s production is the fourth such the Key City Theatre has mounted since 2017.

“It’s been different this year,” Burley said. “We were forced to take a year off [because of the pandemic]. Everyone [in the cast and crew] who came back to take part in ‘9 To 5’ missed it so much, that it’s become a celebration of us being able to get together and create together.”

The New Year’s productions — a huge community draw, have their roots in earlier shows of a different nature, Burley’s staged New Year’s Eve readings of at the Studio Stage Door — adaptions of “Young Frankenstein” (2015) and “Spamelot” (2016), put on in conjunction with Cranbrook Community Theatre.

Burley took theatre as a student at Mount Baker Secondary School, under the tutelage of the great Paul Kershaw. As an adult, she found a need to fill that space in her that theatre had occupied before. That was one reason she began presenting the staged readings, featuring casts of locals.

“They were so fun to do,” she said. “We were cheeky, and we could get away with so much, playing up that cheekiness.”

But in the fall of 2017, the productions moved to the Key City Theatre — bigger cast, bigger stage, bigger audience, bigger run — with a production of “The Producers,” with Jeremy Youngward, Mitchell Grew and Emily Bohmer.

It was not the original plan to segue the staged readings on to a bigger stage for live action productions. “The Producers” was originally meant to be a staged reading. But the transition made sense, and it was a smaller step than one might think — the amount of rehearsal would be the same either way, and a gala New Year’s event at the Key City Theatre was a good fit.

“It was terrifying, but exhilarating,” Burley said. “I knew I could do it, because the talent was there.”

And so the annual tradition of a the annual New Year’s Eve gala event and subsequent run took flight. “The Producers” was followed by by 2018-2019’s “Chicago,” starring Shannon Edmonstone, Emily Bohmer and Landon Elliott. For New Year, shortly before the pandemic hit, “Anything Goes” set sail into the New Year of 2020, shortly before the pandemic hit, with Shannon Edmonstone, Jared Bondy, Emily Bohmer, Bob McCue, and of course, many more.

“Every show has helped my skills in different ways, and to help the team develop in different ways,” Burley said. “Every show has its own unique challenges.”

Which brings us to the bottom of the year of 2021, and “9 To 5: The Musical.” The show features has large local cast and crew who have been at work since early September, dancing, singing and rehearsing. “9 To 5” Turk in the role of ambitious and fed-up Violet Newstead, with sidekicks Jelena Jensen playing Dolly-doppleganger Doralee and Amanda Casey as the naïve new employee Judy.

Landon Elliott takes on the role of the obnoxious boss, Franklin Hart. Matt Van Boeyen is Violet’s love interest Joe. Brenda Tyson is Hart’s love-struck assistant, Roz Keith.

In the meantime, the pandemic continues to bring its own unique challenges to projects like live theatre. While new restrictions have been put in place by the Province over the holiday season, “9 To 5: The Musical” can still go ahead. The gala that was to accompany the New Year’s opening, with all its mix and mingle, has been cancelled. Instead, December 31 will just be opening night.

But most importantly, even at 50 per cent capacity, and audience can still see the show live — the final part of the project that gives it its power.

“It’s not complete until that final piece is in place — the audience,” Burley said. “If the show is all wired up and ready to go, the audience are the ones who flip the switch.”

The audience’s connection is the performers is a key part of the community involvement that makes Cranbrook such as theatre town,

“It’s amazing, how it affects everyone, to see their friends and neighbours up on the stage,” Burley said.

“9 To 5: The Musical” opens New Year’s Eve The show then runs January 14, 15, 16 (matinee), 20, 21 and 22. Show and Raffle tickets are available at, in person at Key City Theatre or by phoning 250-426-7006


Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998, and has been part of all those dynamic changes the newspaper industry has gone through over the past 20 years.
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