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Showbiz icon had local roots


The title of John Murray Anderson’s 1954 autobiography, “Out Without My Rubbers,” has dual significance.

In the literal sense, Murray was known, as a child growing up in St. John’s, for going outside in the rain without his rubber boots. Metaphorically, the title signifies the risks the renowned but often locally forgotten Broadway director, actor, songwriter and producer took during his life, propelling him from Newfoundland to New York to Hollywood and beyond.

Kyle McDavid admits he, too, is about to go out without his rubbers and is both excited and terrified about it.

McDavid, also a theatre producer, director and actor (as well as a musician), is about to present “Impresario,” his version of the life and times of Anderson, on stage at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. McDavid created the script, music and lyrics and will play the role of Anderson and provide piano accompaniment, alongside a cast that includes seven other performers.

Born in St. John’s in 1886, Anderson studied at Bishop Feild College before being sent to boarding school in Scotland and studying in Lausanne, Switzerland, and London. He later moved to New York, opening an antique shop and getting involved in theatre. He made his Broadway debut in 1919 as writer, producer and director of “The Greenwich Village Follies,” and ran an acting school, where he taught the likes of Lucille Ball and Bette Davis.

In Hollywood, Anderson directed the first all-colour musical film “King of Jazz,” starring Bing Crosby, in 1930, and wrote the screenplay for 1946’s “Ziegfeld Follies,” among other projects. He died in New York in 1954.

“I first read about (Anderson) in a book in 2014, and I was amazed that this man, who was born here and became this huge, huge Broadway producer and Hollywood director,” McDavid says. “I was fascinated the second I started reading about him.

I started reading about him online and at the library archives at MUN, and it occurred to me that his life would make a great production with music.”

McDavid — a 2016 MusicNL Award nominee for Music Educator of the Year — is one half of Best Kind Productions. Together with theatre partner Tim Matson, he has directed and produced local shows including “Pirates of Penzance,” “Spelling Bee,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Honk!” and “Avenue Q.” McDavid turned Anderson’s story into a script and under Matson’s direction, staged a reading of it at the LSPU Hall’s Second Space last year, to a good audience reception.

Tonight and Saturday, Best Kind will take the show “Impresario” to the next level, presenting a workshop production at the Barbara Barrett Theatre. 

“It’s a semi-staged production,” McDavid explains. “There’ll be some costuming, some choreography, and scripts in hand for parts of it. It’s for development purposes, and to gauge audience reactions.”

Best Kind will mount the full production next May as part of the Resource Centre for the Arts’ Presentation Series at the LSPU Hall.

“Impresario” follows Anderson’s life from his childhood in St. John’s to the end of his life, with some twists and turns and a romance along the way (Anderson was married just two short years; his wife, Genevieve, died of tuberculosis in 1916).

“He didn’t have any children or any other family that I know if,” McDavid says. “That could be the reason why people have forgotten his story.”

Along with McDavid, “Impresario” stars Emily Follett, Vicki Harnett, Dan Lasby, Peter Andrew MacDonald, Kiersten Noel, Jeff Simms, John Williams and Grade 7 student Evan Natsheh in a lead role. Tickets are $15 and are available at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900, and online at www.artsandculturecentre.com

In the literal sense, Murray was known, as a child growing up in St. John’s, for going outside in the rain without his rubber boots. Metaphorically, the title signifies the risks the renowned but often locally forgotten Broadway director, actor, songwriter and producer took during his life, propelling him from Newfoundland to New York to Hollywood and beyond.

Kyle McDavid admits he, too, is about to go out without his rubbers and is both excited and terrified about it.

McDavid, also a theatre producer, director and actor (as well as a musician), is about to present “Impresario,” his version of the life and times of Anderson, on stage at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. McDavid created the script, music and lyrics and will play the role of Anderson and provide piano accompaniment, alongside a cast that includes seven other performers.

Born in St. John’s in 1886, Anderson studied at Bishop Feild College before being sent to boarding school in Scotland and studying in Lausanne, Switzerland, and London. He later moved to New York, opening an antique shop and getting involved in theatre. He made his Broadway debut in 1919 as writer, producer and director of “The Greenwich Village Follies,” and ran an acting school, where he taught the likes of Lucille Ball and Bette Davis.

In Hollywood, Anderson directed the first all-colour musical film “King of Jazz,” starring Bing Crosby, in 1930, and wrote the screenplay for 1946’s “Ziegfeld Follies,” among other projects. He died in New York in 1954.

“I first read about (Anderson) in a book in 2014, and I was amazed that this man, who was born here and became this huge, huge Broadway producer and Hollywood director,” McDavid says. “I was fascinated the second I started reading about him.

I started reading about him online and at the library archives at MUN, and it occurred to me that his life would make a great production with music.”

McDavid — a 2016 MusicNL Award nominee for Music Educator of the Year — is one half of Best Kind Productions. Together with theatre partner Tim Matson, he has directed and produced local shows including “Pirates of Penzance,” “Spelling Bee,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Honk!” and “Avenue Q.” McDavid turned Anderson’s story into a script and under Matson’s direction, staged a reading of it at the LSPU Hall’s Second Space last year, to a good audience reception.

Tonight and Saturday, Best Kind will take the show “Impresario” to the next level, presenting a workshop production at the Barbara Barrett Theatre. 

“It’s a semi-staged production,” McDavid explains. “There’ll be some costuming, some choreography, and scripts in hand for parts of it. It’s for development purposes, and to gauge audience reactions.”

Best Kind will mount the full production next May as part of the Resource Centre for the Arts’ Presentation Series at the LSPU Hall.

“Impresario” follows Anderson’s life from his childhood in St. John’s to the end of his life, with some twists and turns and a romance along the way (Anderson was married just two short years; his wife, Genevieve, died of tuberculosis in 1916).

“He didn’t have any children or any other family that I know if,” McDavid says. “That could be the reason why people have forgotten his story.”

Along with McDavid, “Impresario” stars Emily Follett, Vicki Harnett, Dan Lasby, Peter Andrew MacDonald, Kiersten Noel, Jeff Simms, John Williams and Grade 7 student Evan Natsheh in a lead role. Tickets are $15 and are available at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900, and online at www.artsandculturecentre.com

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