As we sit on the bottom few steps of the stairway that leads up from the vestibule to the balcony, performers and crew hurry past, through swinging doors that lead to the theatre. It’s the fifth day of rehearsals and with still a week before opening night, I can’t imagine the band could possibly sound any better.
Maynard Morrison looks across at me, coffee in hand, and nods with satisfaction as Heather Rankin’s voice fills every corner of the 90-year-old theatre. The Savoy, on life support not so many years ago, has risen again; a fitting venue for Morrison and alumni to stage The Cape Breton Summertime Revue: The Next Generation. Morrison and his troop of thespian friends had been the creative force behind The Cape Breton Summertime Revue since 1986, though the roots of the popular variety show go back much further.
Morrison credits the Boardmores, namesake of the Boardmore Playhouse at Cape Breton University, with providing the opportunity and inspiration for what would become The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island, an earlier incarnation of the Summertime Revue.
“I went to university at Xavier College, which was a part of St.F.X. We used to call it little-X. It was in the north end of Sydney, where the Lyceum is now. We were introduced to theatre by Harry and Liz Boardmore. In the early ’70s, myself and my friends started doing plays. We had never done anything like that before. We loved (Harry and Liz) so much, that doing something they loved became important to us.”
Maybe we can create something that could go on for another 15 years. I’m not going to be in it … I can’t imagine myself dancing around on the stage when I’m 80. So, for the next 15 years, hopefully some of these new characters will have the experience that we were privileged to have.Maynard Morrison
Morrison and a group, under the direction of Kenzie MacNeil, had a grant to do serious theatre, an the summer of ’77. “We were supposed to be doing a play by Tom Gallant called ‘Step Dance.’ We really liked the play, but we wanted to make some changes. We asked him if we could … and he said, ‘Absolutely not.’ So, we had nothing.”
With no play to perform, and faced with the prospect of losing their summer grant, the group instinctively did exactly what the Boardmores would have expected of them. “We thought, ‘Maybe we could write something.’ Kenzie was a songwriter, we could use some of his songs, and Ronnie MacEachern was a fiddler and songwriter … Ron Keough, who was in the group, said ‘let’s call it The Rise and Fall of Cape Breton. Then Kenzie, or Max, or somebody said, The Rise and FOLLIES of Cape Breton Island. The show was born, and it never would have happened if it hadn’t been for our experience with Harry and Liz.”
Morrison takes a swig of cold coffee and looks wistfully up the stairs. Perfectly on cue, Heather Rankin belts out, “Everybody’s going to the bungalow!” it’s impossible not to smile.
Morrison continues to recount how Kenzie MacNeil decided that 1985 would be the final year for the Rise and Follies, in spite of the others’ desire to continue. If they were to continue, Morrison and the three remaining members had to come up with another title. When Stephen MacDonald suggested they call the 1986 show The Cape Breton Summertime Revue, Morrison recalls saying, “No, that’s stupid!”. He laughs and shrugs his shoulders. “But I was wrong and he was right, because that title served us very well from 1986 until 1998.”
The cast reunited for a string of shows in 2010 and again in 2011, but busy schedules made it impossible to continue during each successive summer. In 2015, Maynard Morrison is once again thrilled to be directing The Cape Breton Summertime Revue, ushering in The Next Generation.
“Maybe, with this new Revue, the Next Generation, maybe we can create something that could go on for another 15 years. I’m not going to be in it … I can’t imagine myself dancing around on the stage when I’m 80. So, for the next 15 years, hopefully some of these new characters will have the experience that we were privileged to have.”