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Unionville Theatre Company’s Peter Pan ready to soar!

                                    article and photos by Grant Weaver,


(Feb. 12.09)   Unionville Theatre Company’s production of Peter Pan, marking their thirtieth anniversary, takes flight February 18-22 at Markham Theatre and is sure to provide all the magic and thrills of this great classic.

When visited UTC on Sunday, February 8 at their afternoon rehearsal at Crosby Arena on Main Street Unionville, producer Carlene Flynn talked about the enduring charm of this work.

          “Do you remember the first time you saw Peter Pan?” she asked me.

          And, of course, I did.  Peter Pan on ice at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was a kid.

          “You remember it,” she said, “because it’s magic, and it’s fantasy.  None of us really wants to grow up and become responsible.  I know I don’t!”

          This was, of course, very amusing coming from the producer---and grandmother of one of the young performers!---of a spectacular production one year in the making, the preparations having started soon after the final curtain on last year’s highly successful Beauty And The Beast. 

          A hundred aspiring performers came out for auditions last September from which a cast of fifty-three was selected, ranging in age from seven to forty-plus.  This includes a number of performers who have appeared in previous UTC productions but also many new, and very young, recruits.  All of which bodes well for the future of this youth-oriented company.

          Pulling the on-stage elements together is Director David Bertram, now in his third production with Unionville Theatre Company, having directed The Music Man in 2007 and Beauty And The Beast in 2008. 

          UTC has a tradition of double casting the lead roles, with two sets of lead actors alternating over the eight shows.  As David explained, double casting does place an enormous burden on the Director who must make sure that not one but two sets of lead actors are stage ready. It also presents challenges for the costume people who frequently have to make two sets of costumes for each big role.

          But the benefits of double casting far outweigh the challenges.

          “UTC is a teaching theatre company,” he explained.  “This way, we can have more kids taking lead parts.”

          The other advantage would arise if one of the lead actors were to be unable to perform.  A backup would be immediately available.  And when one is performing the lead role, the alternate is playing a background role such as a pirate, a native or a lost boy.

          David Bertram is assisted this year by a Vocal Director and a Choreographer who are both in their first show with UTC. 

          Vocal Director Michelyn Wright is both a voice teacher and a performer.  She has been a soloist on the operatic stage, and in concert, and has sung as a chorister with the Canadian Opera Company for the last ten years.  Michelyn is now also an artist educator in the Company’s Education program and voice director for their summer youth program.  She is frequently called into service as an adjudicator at singing festivals and is an audition panellist for the Arts York Voice program at Unionville High School. 

          Choreographer Sharon Walsh-Mehaffey trained in London, England and at The National Ballet School in Toronto and in 1976 opened her own studio in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  In 1987, she moved to Toronto and six years later established The Dance Institute.  She has worked extensively as a choreographer, including for CBC Television, and is Rehearsal Mistress for Ballet Jorgen’s Nutcracker. 

          Conducting the orchestra is Music Director Doug Manning.  As our readers know, Doug is also conductor of the Markham Concert Band.  The core of the orchestra that is assembled for UTC productions is from Markham Concert Band but others are drawn in as well, including four students this year from Markham District High School.

          During my rehearsal visit, I had the pleasure also of meeting Thai Johnston, son of Michael Johnston, the founder of the Unionville Theatre Company.  This year being the company’s thirtieth anniversary, Thai was invited to attend the rehearsal in tribute to his family’s role in founding UTC.  The company began, he told me, in 1979 as the Little People’s Theatre of Unionville, with kids from the neighbourhood performing plays, written by Michael Johnston, in the basement of the family home in Unionville. By 1987, the company had grown and, for the first time, performed at Markham Theatre, a production that year of MacArthur Park.  In 1990, they performed their first musical, Oliver. 

          And this year, things are really going to take off.  Literally.

          What would a Peter Pan production be if Peter, and the three Darling family children, Wendy, John and Michael, didn’t fly? 

Flying, however, is not to be taken lightly.  Unionville Theatre Company brought in a technician from ZFX of Louisville, Kentucky, a company that specialises in training and equipping theatre companies to perform flying scenes.  This expert assisted in setting up the required cables at Markham Theatre and then gave the volunteers who will be backstage manning the rigs the mandatory eight hours training each.  With the rigs in place, it was time for the eight actors who will fly to get their training and for practice in the choreography of it all.  That happened last week at the theatre.  The rigging is now in place for when the company moves its set and rehearsals to the actual performance venue next week. 

          And what was that first experience of flying like?

          “Terrifying, and some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Sarah Wilkinson, one of the two Peter Pans, declared.

          “Really cool,” was the verdict of Sasha Stewart, the other Peter Pan.

          Another special feature of this production will be Tinkerbell.  She will be an effect of light and sound and, as Carlene Flynn told us, UTC is appreciative of the contribution of the Town of Markham, owners of Markham Theatre, who have acquired the special projector needed to produce “the most awesome Tinkerbell”.

          “She actually drops fairy dust as she is going along,” Carlene explained.  “So it is going to be just spectacular.”

          And Doug Manning, from his perch in the orchestra pit, will signal to his keyboard player to produce the voice of Tink.

          Sunday afternoon rehearsals are at Crosby Arena, with Tuesdays and Thursdays at Brother Andre Catholic High School. The set building and painting crew have been busy at 185 Bullock Drive, north of Highway 7 and McCowan Road, a large unoccupied commercial space on loan to them for this year's production. Spacious and well heated, it was made available to the company through one of its board members.  On Tuesday, February 10 and Thursday, February 12 the cast will be there, rehearsing for the first time around the now completed set.

          UTC was fortunate in obtaining on loan the nursery set from a theatre company in Brampton but they have built their own pirate ship and cave.

          On this third annual visit of ours to Unionville Theatre Company, it was a pleasure to say hello once again to Clennie Fraser-Mangialardi and Cathy Edwards who, as they usually do, are looking after costumes. Cathy's daughter Lyndsay Edwards is the "Blackbeard cast" Mrs. Darling.  Kathy Crupi, who is working on props and set dressing, was also on hand.

          Another familiar face was Stage Manager Rob Cline. Rob has two Asisstant Stage Managers, Barb Kwolek who also did the beautiful artwork for the promotional poster, and Hudson Scott.  

          We also got a chance to chat with the two young actors who will each be doing four of the eight performances in the role of Peter Pan. 

          Sasha Stewart is fourteen years old, and a Grade 9 student at Unionville High School.  It was the turn of Sasha’s “Sparrow cast” to be in the lead roles for the rehearsal that we visited.  So, she was pretty busy. 

Sarah Wilkinson is the “Blackbeard cast” Peter Pan and was doing service during this rehearsal as a pirate.   Sarah is seventeen years old and a Grade 12 student at Brother André Catholic High School.  I asked her what it was like playing the role of a boy.  Not a problem, she told me.  In fact, all her roles have been as boys.  Six years ago she played Michael Darling in UTC’s Peter Pan and last year she was LeFou in Beauty And The Beast

The culmination of almost a year’s work is nearing.  From the choosing of the play to be performed and the first decisions about the artistic crew, the sets and rehearsal space; from the first auditions and the first rehearsals, to the final product hitting the stage, a lot of hard work is done, by a lot of people.  And, everything is coming together. 

For its young performers, the UTC experience begins with the excitement of being selected to be in the cast.  Then, in hearing the first instructions from the Director.  Next, they are put through their paces by the Vocal Director and Choreographer who will also make their stamp on the show.  In the beginning, the cast rehearse with recorded music and in January the singing and choreography is blended with the real orchestra.  Costume fittings commence and the excitement grows.  As we mentioned, this week the cast will rehearse for the first time at 185 Bullock using the actual set.  On Sunday, February 15, the company moves the set into Markham Theatre and on Monday and Tuesday, the 16th and 17th the final two rehearsals will take place with all the elements of the show in place, including moments of airborne acting, and a light-and-sound fairy-dust-sprinkling Tinkerbell.

 “By this time each year everything is polished, and the excitement is just so high,” Carlene Flynn told us. 

Orchestra conductor Doug Manning, now in his tenth year with UTC, sees the challenges each year and how the actors rise to them.

“You are requiring people on stage to act, and sing, and dance,” he said,” and do all that at the same time as watching me so we can time the orchestra with what they’re doing.”

It is a great challenge for young actors. 

“But the most fun I have in this job,” Doug said, “is watching the progress from the first rehearsal to the finished product and seeing the growth particularly in the young kids as they find themselves on stage and see what they can do.”

The Sunday rehearsal began at noon, and at 4 o’clock, the orchestra now departed, it was time for the cast to sit and hear “notes” from, first, the Vocal Director Michelyn Wright and, finally, Director David Bertram, with Doug Manning also present and ready to add his input.  David picked out three scenes for more fine tuning.  So, there was more work to do and only at 5 p.m. was it time for the cast to go home, and for the Director and staff to talk over some last details. 

A demanding day but a very productive one.  It won’t be long till the cast will be performing for a real audience.  This year there will be two additional weekday matinées geared mainly, but not exclusively, toward the schools, making eight shows in all.

So, come for an exhilarating, thrilling and heart-warming trip to Neverland and back!


The Cast

Peter Pan
Sasha Stewart
Sarah Wilkinson

Mr. Darling/Captain Hook
Jeff Bolton
Jeff Jones

Mrs Darling
Rebecca Hallquist
Lindsay Edwards

Breanna Maloney
Madeline Mason

Jane Emblem
Dallas Jokic

Ryan Wynne
Matthew Coté

Catherine Gardner

Tiger Lily
Vivian Tran
Laura Sbordone

Tal Shulman

Janine Fuglerud

Alyssa Spear

Steven Cline

Liisa Davis
Lindy Sisson

Caela Kavanagh
Mary Anne Perta

Rosie Mak
Alexandra Russell
Melissa McConnell
Julia Gartha
Samantha Yim
Claudia Yu
Julia Moreland
Samantha Skynner
Alex Houghton

Native, Butterfly, Shadow
Marissa Lane

Gabriella Budidharma
Isabelle Gartha
Louie Mangialardi
Julia Mason

Thomas Jestin

Great Big Little Panther
Courtney Keir

Lost Boys
Marie Racioppa
Colin Pickard

Emily Silver
Cody Weeden

Courtney Wilson
Caelum Flynn

Annalisa Sisti
Amy Forsyth

First Twin
Angelina Leofanti
Sydney Keir

Second Twin
Meghan Harwood
Tara Chandran

David Wallis
Morgan Potter


For tickets, call the Markham Theatre box office at 905-305-Show.

Click here for complete show times and details.

To learn more about Unionville Theatre Company, visit


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