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A Collection of Toronto Godspell Stories:

Bruce Bell remembers the cast on his website:

"I was 17 the summer of '72 when I came down to Toronto from Sudbury to see if I could snag a part in the film Class of '44 being shot here.

My new hang out, Fran's Restaurant on College Street then the most happening late night hot spot in Toronto, was all abuzz one night when the doors flung open and in a flurry of commotion a group of highly charged people entered. I turned to one of my friends and said "I wonder who they are?"

Some one at our table said "The Godspell cast coming in from their show at the Royal Alex".

Time froze as I, wide eyed and impressionable having just arrived in the big city, stared in awe at this group of people which later I found out included Martin Short, Gilda Radner and Andrea Martin and vowed to myself that one day I too was going to be a Godspell-type person and come to Fran's after a show. Of course my next question was "Where's the Royal Alex?"

Thirty years later and that night is still fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday."

"I finally did make it onto the Royal Alexandra's stage when in December of 1974 I got a walk-on in Lionel Blair's Christmas Pantomime and as I promised myself after it's opening I went to Fran's restaurant on College Street.

While being a cast member of Cinderella didn't quite have the same cache as Godspell to me it was a triumph all the same."
http://www.brucebelltours.ca/

Fran's Restaraunt Sign


Day by day, Day by day, Oh Dear Lord Three things I pray ...
To see thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, Follow thee more nearly, Day by day.


Tom DiMaggio of Rhode Island visited this site and sent the following remembrance:

"I had just graduated high school in 1972 and went to Toronto to visit a childhood friend that July. At that point, I had heard the song "Day By Day" which was getting some airplay on the radio, and was aware of the show in New York but that was as far as my knowledge went.

When I went to Toronto and saw that the show was playing there, I suggested to my friend that we go and see it. We didn't know what to expect so we went in with completely clear minds. I still have the tickets stubs. First time was Saturday matinee, July 1st, and we sat in the upper balcony for $1.50. I remember that we were late in arriving to the theatre and we missed the entire "Towel of Babel" opening, resulting in us arriving at "Prepare Ye The Way of The Lord". We were confused as to why the cast was dressed as they were but soon after that we were immediately caught up in the show.

We returned on Sunday, July 2nd, to see the evening show. Once again, we sat in the upper balcony ($4.00) but this time we caught the beginning of the show.

Next visit, Wednesday matinee, July 5th (can't determine price on ticket stub) but we sat in the Orchestra. Then again on Sunday matinee, July 9th, also in the Orchestra (again, can't determine price on ticket stub).

My memory tells me we saw it five times; I thought we had seen it on Saturday, July 4th, but I don't have ticket stubs for that day. Perhaps we did see it only four times.

I have two programs from that time: one has Victor Garber's photo in the cast list, the second has Don Scardino's photo. All four times we had seen the show, we saw Don Scardino. The Victor Garber program has regular photos of the cast, while the Don Scardino program has the cast dressed in their costumes.

The cast I saw was: Valda Aviks, Avril Chown, Jayne Eastwood, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Gerry Salsberg, Don Scardino, Martin Short and Rudy Webb. The alternates were: Elaine Lansitie, Derek McGrath, Randi Sanfield and Robin White (but we didn't see any of these performers).

We LOVED it. Nothing in my young life had affected me that way before. Ever. It was this production that made me want to go into acting. That cast still remains one of the best ensemble performances I have ever seen, up there with the original Broadway cast of A CHORUS LINE. The Toronto cast of GODSPELL was incredibly gifted.

I have very strong memories of many of the scenes; almost all of the musical numbers I can still recall in my mind. Jayne Eastwood and "Turn Back, O Man", Martin Short and "We Beseech Thee", Avril Chown and "Bless The Lord" and Gilda Radner and "Learn Your Lessons Well" remain strong memories. Plus the whole cast lined up across the stage singing "Day By Day".

After each performance, we went to the stage door of the Royal Alex and talked with the cast, all of whom were very friendly. I have autographs from Valda Aviks, Avril Chown, Jayne Eastwood, Don Scardino, Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner, Gerry Salsburg and Rudy Webb. For some reason, I didn't get the autographs of Andrea Martin and Martin Short.

I also have a GODSPELL T-shirt that I *Think* I purchased in Toronto. It has never been worn and is still in its plastic bag.

After I returned home back to the States, my friend and his friends continued to see GODSPELL on a regular basis, even after its transfer to another theatre. They came to be recognized by the cast. I myself continued to see the show in New York City many times and then went to see the film version numerous times once it opened.

Like almost everyone else, I developed a terrible crush on Don Scardino and wrote to him over a period of time at the Royal Alex. He did return correspondence to me one time and I still have that letter to this day.

I also have a cast photo that was clipped from the Toronto papers; it's yellow with age but still together after all these years."


You better pay attention, Build your comprehension, There's gonna be a quiz at your ascension ...


In Gilda Radner's book, It's Always Something (pages 138, 139), she wrote:

In 1972, a production of the play Godspell was going to cast a company in Toronto and there were open auditions. The notice said you had to act out a parable and sing a song you loved to sing. I worked hard on my audition and mastered my favorite song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." I was one of the first people chosen for the Toronto company. It was my first professional job in theater. I was admitted to the Actors' Equity union for stage performers and I joined an amazing company of talented people who continue to weave their careers into the 1980s, including Paul Shaffer, Martin Short, Victor Garber, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin.

Godspell was a way of telling the Gospel according to Saint Matthew through song and dance and humor. All of us were clowns learning and acting out the teachings of Jesus. I was always fascinated with Jesus, having studied him through art history, through the Christmas and Easter music I sang at Liggett, and through living in a Catholic neighborhood in Detroit and going to an Episcopalian church with Dibby. I was intrigued by the idea that he did all the suffering, that he took the rap for everyone. I was brought up Jewish, went to Sunday school, learned Hebrew, but along with it I was interested in Jesus and his influence on the world.

For a whole year, eight times a week, Jesus died in Godspell and we all suffered with him. I suppose that's why I sometimes wondered about getting cancer. Why do I have to be Jesus? Why all this suffering in my life? Why chemo and losing my hair? Why am I marked for some kind of suffering that I see others aren't going through? To make the connection to Jesus was not so far-fetched because he certainly, as I hear tell, didn't deserve to die in such a gruesome way. So I identified strongly going through the treatments. One I even joked to people that I would give them a picture of me to hang over their bed, that I suffered for their sins and for whatever they did. Jesus, too, screamed a lot and said, "Why me? Don't let me go through this. Can I get out of this please, Father?" He broke down a bunch of times.

Somehow I felt that I was being put through cancer so I could be an expert on it and I could teach about it. I decided I was meant to help other people who had cancer. As a public figure I could go back out into the world like Jesus and say, "I am still here. I went through this, and I am still here."


 


... Not to mention any threat of Hell, You better start to learn your lessons well.


Stephane Carret sent in this picture that he took of the original cast (except Andrea and Jayne) that he snapped on the streets of Toronto while they were entertaining lunchtime crowds to promote the show.  He wrote that he "went to see the show twice, and always felt happy inside afterwards. (I went there with my girlfriend, Bev, who married me in 1974, and, yes, we're still together.) I was the same age as most of the cast and felt jealous of their talents."


Talking About How Creative Toronto Was In 1972:

"The Invention of Toronto: A city defined by its artists" by Robert Fulford
"One of my favorites of all the foreign mirrors of Toronto I've noticed over the years was ("Stay Up Late",) a piece that appeared in The New Yorker in 1989. It was James Kaplan's profile of David Letterman's bandleader, Paul Shaffer (January 16, 1989). In Kaplan's view, Toronto of a generation ago was an enchanted kingdom of comedy, where the streets were lined with jokes. This is how he sees a certain moment in Toronto history:

"Toronto in 1972 resembled one of those artistic nexuses that crop up now and then, like Paris in the twenties, Los Angeles in the thirties, London just before the First World War. Often an influx of expatriates is involved. In 1972, in Toronto, the influx came from Chicago and from elsewhere in Canada. .... Paul Shaffer's life [merged] with the lives of some two dozen other creative people; the resultant agglomeration would go forth and change television."

That year, as Kaplan says, the production of Godspell brought together Shaffer, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, most of them about 22 years old. Dan Aykroyd also showed up about then. Out of all this came Saturday Night Live & SCTV, and much more. Of course Kaplan has created his own myth of Toronto, and one that is not at all disagreeable."
 


Don't forget that when you get to Heaven you'll be blessed, Yes, it's all for the best.


 

In 1999, Gotee Records, a Christian recording company, repacked the 1971 Godspell album for release as a 2 CD set aimed at the Christian audience. It included remembrances from both Paul Shaffer, the musical director of the Toronto show, and Martin Short, member of the cast. Hopefully a transcript is available and I'll be able to post it here. (Note the error on the cover. Not only should "Nite" be spelled "Night", but in 1999 Paul Shaffer was on the "Late Show with David Letterman". Also, a silver anniversary is 25 years, so the math between 1971 and 1999 doesn't quite work out, but it's good marketing, I guess.)


All good gifts around us are sent from Heaven above, So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love.


In Dave Thomas's book, SCTV - Behind the Scenes, he recalled this about the show:

"Godspell opened at the Royal Alex Theatre in Toronto in 1972, but sometime during its first year it moved to the Bayview Theatre. After the show had run for a year, the Second City from Chicago held auditions for a new theatre on Adelaide Street. All the funny people went to audition - Danny (Aykroyd), Valri (Bromfield), Gilda (Radner), John Candy, Jayne Eastwood and Gerry Salzberg (both of whom had also been in Godspell) - everybody except Eugene and me. I joined the cast of Godspell when Marty, Gilda, Jayne Eastwood, Don Scardino and Andrea Martin left. Eugene stayed, moving from the role of Herb to that of Jesus. The promotion appealed to him. In fact, I jokingly accused Gene of thinking he really was Jesus during that part of the Godspell run.

One night during a performance of Godspell we were doing a song called "Swath of Sinners," in which everyone except Jesus had to lie on the floor on their side and sweep their free arm back and forth in a fanning motion. Well, I swept my hand back too far and hit a fellow cast member, Karl Bleindheim, in the face. He thought I did it on purpose and started laughing. Gene saw this and turned from the frost fence where he was milking his dramatic moment and glared at us. Well, this pissed me off.

In the "Last Summer" scene which followed shortly after, Gene had to pour grape juice into two paper cups for communion. Judas sat on his immediate right and I sat on his immediate left. Gene as Jesus solemnly handed the cups to Judas and me. We were each supposed to take a sip and pass the cups down the line to the other disciples. Well, I drank all the juice in my cup and then handed it to Karl Bleindheim empty. He looked into the cup, looked at me, I made a face, and he lost it. The he had to pass the empty cup down the line and everybody got the joke and started laughing. I turned to Gene when everyone was laughing and flashed him a look, as if to say, "Well, Jesus, where's your Heavenly Father now?"

Paul Shaffer stayed on at Godspell too and we became fast friends during the remaining six months of the show. We would go out almost every night and party, often until the sun came up. Our parties were not the typical "party hearty" parties of our peers. We drank a bit, but mainly we talked about comedy and what and who was funny and why. Paul, as everyone knows, is an amazing musician. But he was also an incredible comic, whose greatest asset was an amazing memory. If something struck Paul as funny, he would repeat it over and over. Sometimes he did it out loud, replaying the funny moment for everyone's pleasure. But most often he repeated it just to himself, quietly under his breath, committing it verbatim to the Library of Congress cortex of his. Then, at some later date, he would play it back, word for word, and blow us all away!"

 


Dave and Eugene backstage


Turn back, O man, Forswear thy foolish ways.


In her book "Sliced Bread", published in 1996, Rosemary Phillips wrote the following about her (unsuccessful) audition for this production of Godspell:

One Sunday afternoon, when I was getting ready to open up the doors for the public, a short dark slender woman, dressed for the cold weather and wearing black from head to foot, walked by me pulling a shopping cart as she came out of the change room. Her drawn face was covered with a protective layer of gel, and her finely arched black eyebrows shone. I hadn't met her before so Art introduced us. "This is Gloria Ferrer. She comes in early on Sundays to swim lengths in the pool before the children come in and crowd her out."

We chatted for a while, then Glo mentioned that she taught singing in a studio on Yonge Street. At hearing this I told her of my own secret passion to sing.

"Why don't you come and have a few lessons?" she suggested. "I have a special rate for students."

"I'd love to," I replied, "but I'm scheduled for a tonsillectomy over the Christmas Holidays. I've been getting a lot of sore throats and colds, and at times can barely talk, never mind sing."

"Well, when your throat is better, give me a call. We'll test it out," she laughed as she headed out through the door and into the cold white wintry street.

It was quite a while before I felt comfortable enough to phone Glo and book a lesson. I was nervous about taking this step forward, to actually do something about that which I so enjoyed and yet was so shy about. In no time Glo had me bouncing all over her studio on the rough woven floor mats, dancing my way through the sun's rays as they poured through the windows overlooking Yonge Street, while I sang scales and fun vocal exercises. Glo encouraged me on as she sat buoyantly behind her grand piano and played scales for me to sing and waved her arms in time. She had me prepare a song of my own choice for a get-together with all of her singers. Here I met professionals, including members of the cast of Hair which had just finished playing at the Royal Alex Theatre. Some of her students were preparing for auditions for Godspell, the next major musical, and others were practicing with bands that were going on tour. I was intimidated. My first song in front of these people was a soprano ballad from My Fair Lady. It sounded really flat, without feeling and energy, and was basically a very uncomfortable experience.

At my next lesson Glo handed me some music, and said, "Here, try this one."

It was John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" as recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. It was a big hit on the charts and Glo figured that I could sink myself into it. While we were rehearsing she said, "I can teach you all the technique in the world but it won't help the song. You have to sing from the heart, and feel each word, each line, and live the story. Then the voice will follow."

At that time I was experiencing my first real romantic heart break. The pain was compounded by my feelings of loneliness, the frustrations I had experienced with my thesis work at Ryerson, and by the sadness I felt for the street people who frequented Harrison Baths. I put all those feelings into the song, and imagined myself standing beside someone, telling them that I was leaving, that it hurt, and that I didn't want to be alone. The end result was nothing like Peter, Paul and Mary's recording. I slowed the tempo down before the last verse and could actually feel myself crying as I choked out the last chorus, then finished the song with a soulful plea.

At our next Sunday gathering I sat on an old chair in front of my fellow singers who occupied bleachers on the other side of the room. We were in an old dance studio that had wooden floors, grab bars, and huge windows that were ablaze with golden sunlight. I propped my guitar up on my knee and began to sing and play. My voice reverberated all over the room and the guitar strings hummed. I closed my eyes as I came to the end of the song and felt the tears on my cheeks. When I finished I opened my eyes and through blurred vision saw tear streaked faces on my peers in the bleachers. The song had worked.

Glo then arranged for me to take the song to audition for Godspell. When I went for my initial interview I shook with nervousness, and the interviewer, who had welcomed me so warmly, said, "Do you realize that your voice has come down a full octave from when you first came through the door." He explained how when we are nervous our voices go very high, then as we relax they come down to our normal voice range. He then booked me in for an audition at the Masonic Hall for the next week.

In addition to singing a song I needed to work out a mime to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here was my downfall. The only mime I had done was of my own creation in high school. I had no formal training. I did my best in creating some form of dance and movement to the story.

Upon arriving at the hall I stood alongside many others who were getting ready for their audition, some warming up and doing stretching exercises, others preparing their voices. My insides were in turmoil because I didn't feel I belonged, after all, I was a student of interior design, not a professional musician and performer. I loved going to the theatre and had a secret passion and dream to be a part of it, but it was a world I was totally unfamiliar with, and therefore most shy about.

When I was called for my turn I took my guitar up on stage and sang "Leaving on a Jet Plane", and while remembering Glo's instructions, sang passionately from the heart. The adjudicators let me sing the whole song then asked for my presentation on the parable. Here I failed miserably and knew it, and shyly left the stage.

A couple of Glo's students made it to the cast of Godspell, joining the likes of Gilda Radner and Martin Short. I did finally get to see the production and wondered what might have happened with my life had I felt more secure in my talent, dreams and passions and projected more confidence in my audition and really seized the opportunity. Life would certainly have taken a different turn. Who knows?

I returned to being an interior design student, and moved on with life's many twists and turns. Now when I perform "Leaving on a Jet Plane" I close my eyes and imagine Glo beside me, prodding me on, saying, "Feel it, from the heart."


Father, hear thy children's call, Humbly at thy feet we fall, Prodigals confessing all, We beseech thee, hear us!


Don Wauchope visited this site and sent the following:

Elaine Lansite, one of the original alternates, is still acting in Los Angeles today. She is still married to the guy she started dating while in the show at the Royal Alex and her 3 daughters have also become successful actors. Vicki Wauchope, her youngest has the most extensive bio. Elaine turned 50 in 2002 on the same date as The Today Show. Someone submitted her picture for the birthday show and although she was featured, they almost refused to show her picture because they didn't believe she was 50. Here she is today.

 


Ken Cowan wrote in to tell his story about auditioning for Godspell:

The main thing about the Godspell audition in Toronto was that there was an incredible respect shown to the hopefuls by the producers/directors. The first thing they did was give everyone more or less a week to prepare...unheard of, nowadays I suspect.

They gave me a copy of The Good Samaritan, and told me to come back in a week ready to perform it and also to do a song. The instructions for the text were "simple": I was to imagine that half of my audience was blind, so that I would have to get the message across vocally. The other half of my audience was supposedly deaf, so what I did had to be visually interesting. However, even though the parable of the Good Samaritan is basically pretty glum, I was to imagine myself to be a clown, so that whatever I did had to also be funny.

Not at all an easy thing to prepare...but as I said, hey, I had a week to work it up.

I immediately got the original cast album and listened to it a bit before choosing my song. I decided to find something that was sort of spiritual to go along with the basic theme of Godspell - and so I chose "The Fool On the Hill" by the Beatles - which is often thought to be about Jesus. I started off slowly and then changed into an up-tempo gospel kind of thing. I found a friend to back me up on guitar, and I used a tambourine to add to the whole effect.

I was particularly lucky in choosing to bring along my friend as the guitarist. As I was pacing outside the stage door nervously waiting for my turn, he spent his time watching a little more closely what was going on. He came over to me and said "They are running late. They are stopping everyone part-way through the text and sometimes stopping people halfway through their song, so don't get fazed if this happens to you." Thank God he told me! When it was my turn, in fact they DID stop me halfway through the parable of the Good Samaritan - but thanks to what my friend had told me, I was able to maintain my confidence. We started doing the song ... and they must have liked what they heard, because they allowed me to go all the way through it to the end. They then announced that my song was fine but not in the right key for Godspell, and asked me to do it again a fifth higher! In preparing the song, I had added a finish that took me all the way to the top of my range...doing it a fifth higher would have made it impossible for me to finish! But again, my guitarist friend saved the day. He pretended that he didn't know how to transpose. They then asked the pianist who was working with them to play three notes on the piano, and they asked me to sing them... I did, and then went one or two notes higher. They said "That's ok, you just hit the highest note in the show!" Then they asked the pianist to play three more notes, and I recognized them as the first three notes of Prepare Thee The Way Of The Lord. Thanks to having bought the record as soon as I signed up for the audition, instead of singing the three notes for them, I lit into a complete rendition of the song...the result was that they asked me to come back the next day for the second round of auditions! I hadn't known, but the day I tried out was scheduled as the last day of the first round. I had made it to the "short list"... because the next day was probably the day they would decide who got into the production! I was overjoyed - and scared as hell!

The problem was - since the song I had prepared was not in the right key...and my guitarist friend wasn't available to accompany me the next day - should I re-do the same song or work up another one? I decided to work up another song directly from Godspell ... I think I prepared O Bless the Lord. In any case, I only had a few hours to work on it instead of a whole week... deciding to work up another song is perhaps where I made my error, but I'll never know.

The next day I showed up at the theatre scared out of my wits! But again, the producers/directors were wonderful. They knew just how nerve-wracking this must have been for all the people there...and they were extremely kind. They began by asking all of us to get up on the stage and to lie down..60 -odd people ended up stretched out on stage. Nobody had any idea of why. Then they told us: "Take in a large breath of air, and let the air out slowly, intoning 'OM' for as long as possible. When you finish that, take another breath and intone it again and keep doing this until we tell you to stop."

So we did. Quickly we were surrounded on all sides by sixty voices mixed together, all chanting 'OM'... it continued and continued and continued... and little by little we all relaxed and just concentrated on our breathing. How wonderful! After about ten minutes (or more...who can say?) they finally said "OK, now we can begin". And each of us in turn was asked to sing our song for them. At the end of this part is when I was eliminated - which is why I wonder if I shouldn't have simply re-done The Fool On The Hill. And so ended my audition for the Toronto production of Godspell.

I have to say that it was one of the best experiences of my life, specifically because of how wonderfully everyone was treated. The respect they showed us as budding actors/singers/performers allowed everyone to feel that we had been taken seriously. And no-one was ever let go with a harsh word. Knowing from other experiences just how bad some auditions can be for the "talent"... I'll always be grateful to them for having made my audition into a totally positive experience, even though I wasn't chosen in the end.

And that's that. Obviously, considering who WAS chosen and the successful artistic lives that they had afterwards, my own life would have been very much different if I had made it into the production. But that's life! (Not only that, but I read up a bit on what happened to many of those who made it into the film version of Godspell - two people dead of "brain tumours" and three people dead of AIDS. I have to admit that two people in the same cast dying of "brain tumours" sounds a little suspicious to me...brain tumours are not all that common... I personally believe that they probably had AIDS too, which can create lesions on the brain. But perhaps their families - especially at that time - didn't want people to know that it was AIDS. So I wonder - knowing how easily people in show biz sleep around - if I HAD been chosen for the production and gone on to a life in the theatre, would I still be around today to talk about it? Anyhow, all of this is just speculation.)



This page last updated:
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
© 2004-2012, Brian Gedcke


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