General Henry Waverly's Eagle Brand & Sara-Jean Hosie's SwanThursday, December 06, 2012
Today, in the afternoon I parked my car in a back alley to the Stanley Theatre. I was removing my photographic equipment from the trunk when a gentleman, with a most pleasant smile came up to me and said, “I brought you something.” The gentleman, actor Allan Gray, handed me a can of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. I noticed the can was very cold.
On the previous day, my granddaughter Lauren Stewart, 10, and I went to the opening performance of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, directed by Bill Millerd, at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Granville. We dressed to the teeth, me in my only suit and a festive Brooks Brothers candy cane tie and she in her lovely wine coloured dress and black shoes.
I noticed that Lauren put her feet up (after she had removed her shoes) on her booster seat. She had a look of concentration as the show progressed that proves that even a 10-year-old can understand that Irving Berlin’s musical is more than just holiday fluff. Add to this that Arts Club productions always have solid sounding orchestras, this one directed by Bruce Kellett (alas Henry Christian brought his trumpet but left his flugelhorn at home).
There is a bit of confusion in my mind as to how this musical ever came about. Here are some of the facts. The 1954 film, with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen came before the Broadway musical. The signature song, White Christmas was an Irving Berlin hit in 1940. The now ever present jazz standard, How Deep is the Ocean? was composed by Berlin in 1932. And one of my fave ever songs Blue Skies (especially the 1978 version by Willie Nelson ) was a last minute song in 1926 by Berlin that was inserted into the Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy.
This Arts Club’s musical is a combination of the Paramount Pictures film and with the music and lyrics by Irving Berlin with Book by David Ives and Paul Blake of the Broadway musical.
As Lauren watched all the terrific tap dancing (never my cup of tea but I am warming up to it thanks to choreographer Valerie Easton’s involvement, and I must add here a disclaimer that I did meet her many years ago at the CBC’s Wolfman Jack Show) and the even more terrific number of the second act I Love a Piano I could not get my eyes off two people on stage.
One is the mesmerizing Sara-Jean Hosie whose David Cooper portrait, as Patsy Cline (before I had ever seen her or met her) in the lobby of the Stanley a couple of years ago made me fall hard for her as Gene Tierney’s portrait in Laura did for Dana Andrews.
The other is Allan Gray playing General Henry Waverly. While Hosie can sing (a smoky voice that puts Circe’s sirens to shame) dance, and wear tight dresses (designed by Sheila Whie) that instantly rejuvenate my aging plumbing system, Gray told me while posing in his general’s uniform, “I am not a hoof and sing kind of actor but I love being in this production of White Christmas because I can watch and listen to Hosie sing.”
The Arts Club production of White Christmas seems to put a particular emphasis on the general and how his men love him and in the end help him with his bills, manage to produce snow with help from the Chief of the Joints Chiefs (upstairs). Perhaps this emphasis has something to do with Gray’s stage presence.
In my years (since 1975) there are three theatrical performances by men that I can fondly remember. There was Christopher Gaze as Richard III in an early 80s precursor of Bard on the Beach, Bill Dow’s 2008 performance of Little Mountain Studio’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross and Gray in 2007 a Tennessee Williams in Daniel McIvor’s His Greatness an Arts Club Theatre presentation at the Stanley.
Of His Greatness, Allan Gray told me as I was taking his portrait, “I forgot I was acting and I was Tennessee Williams.”
This presence somehow also projected an honesty and demeanor that made me reflect that Gray’s General Henry Waverly represented an image of great generals that has been recently tarnished by the shenanigans of General David Petraeus. I also noted that there is more than a passing physical resemblance between the ideal general and the fallen one.
Lauren and I left the show amused and entertained. Of particular note is the fact that I can now take Lauren to more theatre and for at least a while (and I hope I am not around when either of my grandchildren have children of their own) I will not have to sit through one more Nutcracker in the holiday season. The two Arts Club Theatre gems, White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life (which Lauren enjoyed a week ago) are much better options.
But alas there is only one wrinkle in all this joy. Sara-Jean Hosie is picking up sticks (after the present run) and moving to Stratford. It will be hard to top this year’s White Christmas without her.
If you are still reading this and wondering about that can of Eagle Brand? I wrote in a recent blog:
I am not embarrassed at all to disclose this here. I sleep with a night shirt. Sometimes I bring a tin (previously chilled in the fridge) of condensed milk and a spoon to bed and...
I have no idea what Gray wears to bed but he did write this for me:
As a little boy in Scotland after WW2, we were on rations for quite some time, and consequently
I never got much in the way of candies or treats. My mother happened to be a friend of one of the cooks at Balmoral Castle, and she would occasionally smuggle food out and share it with us (don't tell the queen)- butter, flour, but especially tins of condensed milk, which became my major sugar hit and source of intense childhood pleasure. To this day, if I feel the need of serious comfort food, I will buy a tin of Eagle Brand condensed milk, chill it in the fridge so that it gets to the correct consistency, then proceed to eat it with a teaspoon - the method is to dip the teaspoon in the deliciously gooey substance, then, as I did as a wee lad, lick it off the spoon then repeat. The only difference is that now I can consume an entire tin, only taking a break to allow my tongue to return to normal after the sugar assault.