Musical Chairs, May 16, 1982

This is what I remember about Musical Chairs, the one-night fundraising gala that helped establish The Guild Of Canadian Musical Theatre Writers in 1982.

It was an amazing night, and it felt like everyone who was anyone in the Toronto musical theatre seven was there, either onstage or in the audience. There was a cast of 90 performers, and a 24 piece orchestra.

We held the show at what was then The Talk Of Toronto Dinner Theatre, 410 Sherbourne St. Jeff Braunstein produced and directed the show through his company, Asterisk Productions, and I’m not sure even he remembers how he could possibly have coordinated a show that big.

Stephen Witkin was the Head Writer, and there were some amazing sketches – complete mini-musicals – in the show. One of my favourites was a send-up of Anne Of Green Gables set in the Caribbean that featured Salome Bey and Denis Simpson. Another, “Beaver On The Roof”, sent up the typical “Canadian” musical (not unlike the ones I write).

I was the Executive Producer and I remember getting phone calls on the day of the already sold-out performance from movers and shakers in the Toronto Theatre scene who were begging and demanding to be allowed to come.

BMI Canada had been sponsoring the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshops in Toronto since the early 1970’s. Many successful Canadian Musical Theatre writers – David Warrack, Joey Miller, Leslie Arden, Stephen Witkin, Bob Ashley, and a very long list of others – had been a part of these workshops.

When BMI chose to stop their sponsorship, a number of us – probably led by David Warrack, who led pretty much everything back then – decided to start what would become The Guild Of Canadian Musical Theatre Writers, through which we would continue to bring Lehman to Toronto to lead his workshops. The money raised from Musical Chairs went to helping make that happen.

(If you don’t know who Lehman Engel was, shame on you.)

There have been hundreds of Gala Fundraisers in Toronto since that night in May, 1982, but I’m not sure many of them have topped this one for the wealth of talent involved.

That’s what I remember. Who else remembers what else?

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