Orpheus Musical Theatre Society of Ottawa

Orpheus Musical Theatre of Ottawa. (Orpheus Glee Club 1906-ca 1916, Orpheus Amateur Operatic Society ca 1916-49, Orpheus Operatic Society of Ottawa Inc ca 1949-94, Orpheus Musical Theatre Society Inc 1994 to the present). Founded by James A.

Orpheus Musical Theatre Society of Ottawa

Orpheus Musical Theatre of Ottawa. (Orpheus Glee Club 1906-ca 1916, Orpheus Amateur Operatic Society ca 1916-49, Orpheus Operatic Society of Ottawa Inc ca 1949-94, Orpheus Musical Theatre Society Inc 1994 to the present). Founded by James A. Smith in 1906, the society gave concerts in the Ottawa area for 10 years, then reorganized to perform operettas under the name Orpheus Amateur Operatic Society. Its first operatic production was Iolanthe, at the Russell Theatre in 1917, and thereafter Orpheus staged an operetta each year. Among the works presented were Edward German's Tom Jones and Merrie England, Gilbert & Sullivan's The Gondoliers and Yeomen of the Guard, and Gustav Luders's The Prince of Pilsen. After a fire at the Russell Theatre in 1927, the group moved to the Ottawa Little Theatre, where it gave concerts and presented operettas such as H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, Oscar Straus's The Chocolate Soldier, and Heinrich Reinhardt's Spring Maid. Later locations for the society's productions were the Ottawa Technical High School (1940-68), the Ottawa High School of Commerce (1968-95), and Centrepointe Theatre, since 1995.

By 1944 the group had begun to stage two operettas a year. In 1949 it incorporated, changing its name to the Orpheus Operatic Society of Ottawa, Inc. In 1955, owing to the change in public taste, the society turned its efforts to modern musicals, presenting its first, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!. Orpheus was the first amateur musical theatre company in Canada to present this show. Later productions included Brigadoon, Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me Kate, My Fair Lady, Pajama Game, Show Boat, South Pacific, and West Side Story as well as the English musicals Canterbury Tales, Lock Up Your Daughters, and Oliver.

Commissioned Canadian Musicals

The first original Orpheus show was the 1970 children's Christmas special, Beauty and the Beast and ???, by Berthold Carrière. In 1973 the society presented Glengarry Days, another original show commissioned by Orpheus, based on the book The Man From Glengarry by Ralph Connor. The musical's book and lyrics were by Bob Gardiner and the music by Berthold Carrière.

Directors and Administration

Musical directors have included Norman "Duke" McGuirl, Berthold Carrière, Drummond Hudson, and Derek Stannard. Among the dramatic directors have been Bill Glenn and Joseph Shaver.

The society has been financed through ticket sales, membership dues, and local patronage, augmented in the 1970s by grants from the Ontario Arts Council and Theatre Ontario to assist in building an extension to its building on Fairmont Avenue. This building, "Orpheus House," is the society's centre of operations, allowing Orpheus to rehearse, build sets, paint backdrops, and create its own costumes at one location.

Modern Era

In 1974 the society began to produce three shows a year and to offer a subscription series to its patrons. Orpheus sponsored a competition for an original Canadian musical in 1988 with prize money of up to $6,000, and the possibility of production of the work. William J. Davison and David Burger's Jane, based on Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre, was the winning entry, but it was not produced.

The society's move to the Centrepointe Theatre took place in Nov 1995; as a first show in this new venue, the society produced Brigadoon. A favourite show, it had previously been performed by Orpheus at both Ottawa Technical High School and the Adult High School (High School of Commerce).

Currently named the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society, the organization celebrates its 100th birthday in the 2006-7 season. The society is the longest continuing musical theatre company in North America.