By Heather Lowe
(Author’s Note: When I wrote this chapter years ago I never thought any of this would be published. At the time, my writing was simply an extravagant journal of my life growing up in Niagara and what I witnessed while living downtown, I certainly never dreamed anyone else would read it. I would like to dedicate this chapter to Marilyn I. Walker who gave so much to our city. Through her amazing act of generosity, she encourages generations of creative children and adults to stop hiding in their bedrooms and to share their artistic passions with the world. To me, she will always be St. Catharines’ leading lady.)
Although I truly hate to admit it, I am and have always been a voracious (and slightly embarrassed) lover of musicals. (I can hear your snort-laugh from here.) I blame Judy Garland, Julie Andrews and Bernadette Peters for this lifelong obsession and I can’t help but cringe when I think of myself as a young girl. I lived inside my head more often than not, on any given day I could be Dorothy, Annie, Evita or Eponine and my two-disc original cast recording of Les Miserables was my most prized possession.
While the other children in my cookie-cutter community rode bikes, purchased frozen sugary drinks at the corner store or frolicked in the treacherous playground down the street, I could be found hiding in my bedroom listening to broadway soundtracks through my coveted and free pair of airline headphones. I painted my blue and silver CD player with glittery nail polish and covered it with stickers because I thought it would look spectacular but to my dismay it turned out sticky and flakey and collected an unimaginable amount of fuzz and hair. I went so far as to cast the family dog in a number of roles opposite me, her repertoire was expansive and impressive to say the least but I was the star of every show. I gorged myself on group numbers, cheesy duets and empowering solos sung by women that I admired. I only share this shameful and hidden part of myself with you now so you will graciously forgive my overly dramatic sensationalism to come.
This is my very typical but hopeful, full cast number prior to intermission. The musical number that makes your heart swell and causes you to catch your breath and house it in your throat. The music from the orchestra pit pummels you and you find yourself inexplicably tearing up from joy or sadness or both. Complete with glittering costumes, spirited dancing from the chorus and manicured waxy smiles, this is the turning point of the show. The depressing first act has come to a close and there is seemingly nothing but newness on the horizon.
Several backstage crew members hide in the wings as they carefully lower the leading lady from the fly loft with invisible wires (think Peter Pan or Glinda the Good Witch of the North) and she elegantly appears for all to see. The audience shares a collective gasp as their eyes widen to take it all in. She is a goddess, an angel, a fairy godmother and she sings of support, love and hope.
Suddenly, the conductor makes a jarring gesture, the music spikes and as she hits the high notes the leading lady showers down fifteen million gold coins over the rest of the zealous cast. While performing perfectly choreographed jumps and flips they reach out to catch the funding as it daintily floats toward the stage floor. The cast members strategically land in a beautifully sculpted group pose along the apron of the stage while the swollen suits from city hall enter from stage right a la The Rockettes. In a surprising plot twist the swollen suits momentarily redeem themselves as they sing out promises of matching the leading lady’s glittering donation. Her generosity answers the prayers and wishes of the revolutionaries and perhaps without even realizing it, we know she has changed the face of our Garden City forever.