Daughter takes mother's role in 'Makin' Time with the Yanks'

Lillian Simmons lsimmons@cbncompass.ca
Published on July 12, 2011
The remount cast of "Makin' TIme With The Yanks" (above, from left): Philip Goodridge, Susan Kent, Wade Tarling, Alison Woolridge, Neil Butler and Rebecca De La Cour. Inset is a Resource Centre for the Art file shot of the original 1981 cast: Brian Downey, Kay Anonsen, Paul Steffler, Janis Spence, Rick Boland and Jane Dingle. Submitted photo by Jennifer Butler

Thirty years ago, Jane Dingle played the part of Laura in the musical comedy "Makin' Time with the Yanks" when it played to sold-out audiences at the LSPU Hall. Next week her daughter, Rebecca De La Cour, will take on the same role when the show opens at the same venue in downtown St. John's.

Set in 1939, the show follows Vivian, Laura and Irene, "three working class Newfoundland girls who get caught up in the thrill of making time with the Yanks, Stretch, Tiny and Tom."

The musical comedy was first produced by the Mummers Troupe in 1981, directed by Mary Walsh and starred Dingle, Janis Spence, Kay Anonsen, Brian Downey, Rick Boland and Paul Steffler, who also created and/or arranged the music.

"It's a lot of work, but it's so much fun for actors because you get to play three or four characters each," Dingle recalls.

In fact, six actors play 27 characters in all.

Dingle took on the role of Laura and four other parts, including the non-fictional Newfoundland character of torch singer Nellie Ludlow.

"The songs are difficult to sing with weird configurations of sharps and flats. They've added harmonies to it now," Dingle says, sipping tea on her small balcony downtown on a rare sunny day towards the end of June. "They've got six talented singers now, so the numbers will probably be 50 times better."

The current show is using the same lighting designer, Boo Noseworthy.

"And Marie Sharpe is the costume designer for the show. She dressed me for shows at the Arts and Culture Centre when I was in my 20s."

Dingle says the original group had a certain chemistry going on during the creation of the show.

"Even back then Mary (Walsh) was an excellent director. Being an actor herself, she knows how to work with actors; she knows what she wants and she has a great sense of humour."

In 1981 Rebecca was a year old and Dingle wasn't certain she wanted to take that time away from her daughter.

"But Mom (Melanie Dingle) encouraged me to do the show because I love the 1940s era, and to be able to sing, dance and act in that era was a real dream for me. So Mom said, 'You do the show; I'll look after Rebecca'."

Thirty years later, Dingle is happily encouraging her daughter - from the other side of the stage.

"I've never had a chance to see the show, I've only performed in it, so it truly will be bizarre, but wonderful.

"I'm so glad Rebecca gets the opportunity to work with Mary and to work in St. John's, because working here is different than working anywhere else. It's home, it's where she was born and she's playing characters from St. John's.

Feels like home

De La Cour has lived in Toronto since she, her sister Elena and their mother moved there in 1985.

She got her first real taste of acting, courtesy of her mother, when they lived in a housing project in Toronto. At age 11 she played Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

"Mom ran a theatre group - there were sports programs but no art programs, so she decided she would teach us kids from age 7 to 18. And she was teaching us all at the university level - how to break down scenes, that kind of thing ... so yes, everything I know goes back to you," she says, flashing a smile her mother's way.

The group played festivals and wrote shows collectively.

"Mom would hold improvisation sessions to write a show together. We toured a big variety show to different schools around Toronto. They loved it."

Dingle even squeezed enough from the grant money to take all the kids to see live theatre shows.

The group performed at Toronto's Jane Mallett Theatre annually for four years.

"We did original stuff on family violence, guns, whatever were issues for us got turned into art."

When she was 16, De La Cour earned pocket money teaching kids through Peers Teaching Peers, also started by her mom.

She went on to do acting classes with casting director Karen Hazzard and currently is a member of a satirical comedy group called Cynically Tested.

Cynically Tested has done several TV shows in Toronto, including "Twixters," based on the millennial generation, which also aired in New Zealand and the U.K and was used as an educational tool in universities in the U.S. They tried a radio pilot for CBC Radio called "The Truth From Here" and most recently a show for Rogers called "Dan Speerin's Truth Mash-Up."

De La Cour is also part of an original new musical based on the cabarets of Weimar-Berlin in which she is the hostess. "Kinky Kabaret" premiered in Toronto last summer to a receptive audience.

"I just want to be able to work as an actor and make a living, to pay the bills and eat," she says. "I'm so excited to be working with Mary Walsh. She's a comedy icon in Canada.

"I've loved the 'Yanks' show since I was a kid," she continues. "With six actors playing six main roles along with several other secondary roles, there's a lot of quick changing going on and with all the singing and dancing, it's really fun."

And being in St. John's always feels like home, she says.

"Coming out of the airport, there's a certain smell ... it's like you're in another country."

Trying to break into the same field as your well-known parents comes with its own special difficulties. Being the daughter of an actress and a songwriter (Ron Hynes) can make for a lot to live up to, and De La Cour admits taking on her mother's role in the show came with a little uncertainty.

No doubts

There are no such doubts in director Mary Walsh's mind.

"Rebecca is perfect for the role, she's musical by nature. She's an enormously talented actor and singer," says Walsh, after wrapping up the first week of rehearsals.

"We did a lot of auditions and she was the best, and one of the reasons she is the best is she's the progeny of Ron Hynes and Jane Dingle."

Walsh says the original show, researched, written and produced in just three weeks, was hugely successful in its day.

"They were an extraordinary crew."

The good-time show, with music, dancing and comedy has an underlying bitter-sweetness, she says.

"In 1939, 65 per cent of the people in Newfoundland were unemployed; by 1941 with the new (American) bases, everyone was employed and there were higher wages," she explains. "All told there was some bitterness - the town of Argentia was burned to the ground to build the base and there was land taken down in Pepperell - but economically it was a boom."

Along with visits from celebrities "there were chocolates, nylons and hope. What the Americans brought were good times, despite everything else.

"With the exception of Jane, Paul and Brian, the rest of us weren't musical," she says of the 1981 production. "It was a great show then and it's an even greater show now."

Along with De La Cour, the cast includes Philip Goodridge, Neil Butler, Alison Woolridge, Susan Kent and Wade Tarling.

"They're all brilliantly talented in terms of music and dancing as well as comedy."

Walsh, who "never did leave home, only to go on the road," is also working on a second draft of "Marg, the Movie," based on her legendary "22-Minutes" character Marg Delahunty. In the fall she'll be teaching satire at Memorial University's Harlow campus in England and in March she begins a one-woman show ("Dancing with Rage") in Toronto.

"Makin' Time with the Yanks" runs from July 12 to 24. See the Resource Centre for the Arts website for times.