Show’s antics lift up a fallen cast member

[attach]7713[/attach]It’s a late March Thursday evening, and sounds of laughter echo through Havergal Junior School’s auditorium, where the Bedford Park Players are rehearsing for the April 3–5 run of their latest show, Bedford Park Live!, at Toronto Botanical Gardens.

The production is dedicated to fellow cast member Cathy Veres, who succumbed to cancer on the very day the troupe’s last show opened, but the mood on this night is anything but somber. After all, Veres herself could very well have played the “dance instructor” now leading six middle-age men in black tights and colourful tutus across the auditorium floor.

“Welcome to Billy Elliot’s fantasy camp,” trills Linda Lord.

She leads her eager “students,” who include co-director Bob Hillhouse, first left, then right, as they hold hands and cross their legs in one of the show’s 16 or so sequences. In another, “Seasons of Love” from Rent, Lord leads with a tribute to her close friend Veres, a mother of three who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year after joining the company in 2010.

“She laughed and sang and danced her way through rehearsals and productions,” Lord said while chatting afterward. “She really showed her kids what she could do and how she could live with cancer.”

Since 2008 the Players, organized by Toronto Sport and Social Club owner Kristi Herold and directed by choreographer Sarina Condello, have produced an annual musical to raise funds for the Big Little Caravan of Joy, Condello’s charity that is dedicated to creating a thriving artistic community in Africa.

This year the troupe will divide proceeds from ticket sales between Caravan of Joy and the Princess Margaret Hospital Cancer Foundation, which is dedicating a room to Veres in the hospital’s palliative care ward.

“(Veres’ 14-year-old daughter) Taylor was so moved by the love that Princess Margaret’s nursing staff and doctors gave her mother… that she wanted to dedicate a room in her name,” Lord said, noting that Veres would have played an Oompa Loompa in last year’s production, an adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which she attended rehearsals for until a month before her passing, on April 24.

The current troupe, whose ranks include a lawyer, a banker, a chiropractor and a pair of teachers, is showing the same level of
dedication — whether it’s the women practising a tribal dance number in Havergal’s dance studio or stage manager Allie Bell loaning her sweater to a “frozen” cast member despite wearing only a tank-top underneath.

With Condello in Africa at the time, commercial actor Hillhouse and co-director Jody Scotchmer Dembroski stepped up to the plate, collaborating with the cast to create the night’s sketches and musical numbers, which include iconic TV show themes and what Hillhouse calls a “history of Broadway.”