The players are putting a “cap” on their “madness”

It’s Wednesday night. The Lions’ Hall is set, round tables for six, linen and china and scrumptious roast beef buffet. Lights on the stage are subdued. Men in purple vests are selling bar tickets. Women in purple vests are running the coat check.

People are arriving in the full blush of expectation, handing in their tickets and finding their tables. It’s two hours to showtime and a wonderful dinner awaits.

It’s Cabaret Night.

For 15 years, the Madcap Players have owned the stage at the Lions’ Hall in Barrie’s East End. This group of 15-20 volunteers writes musical comedy, tailored in three acts and guaranteed to provide an evening of laughter and nostalgia.

Some, like Tony Gilsenan and Michael Coughlin, design and paint sets.

Some, like Lori Kennedy, Mary Lou Bertram and Heather Smeding, design and sew costumes.

Some, like Aldo Manno and Jay Rothenburg, abandon their teachers’ classrooms and arrange the music. They team up with Ian Thurston and Neil Mavor (others in the past, like drummer Doug Bruton) and make orchestral sounds from four musicians.

Some, like Mareka Martin and Debra Shelswell, write lyrics and music, develop choreography, and listen to others on the team while they shape another musical mirage for sold-out audiences.

Some, like Richard Birch, Nancy Knapp, Rose and Kevin Phillips, Michael MacVittie, and Tom Mercer put their hearts into their voices and thrill us all with their sound.

Some, like Stephen Bainborough, are new.

And some, like Rob Townsend, go back to even before Madcap players, to the Nicolodeon Theatre which had its birth under the tuteledge of Nick Schols and spurned a future Madcap group. And even before Nicolodeon came Little’s HIll Players from whom the bud of amateur dinner theatre, music, laughter and fun was first born.

Some, like Gloria Munro, defy the odds, charm the audience, and thrill ears. Some, like Jim Horne and Bette Jewitt, have been part of Madcap right from the start.

And some, like Brian and Joan Frawley and Rose and Kevin Phillips, met on the Madcap stage and decided on permanent partnerships.

Fifteen years. Over $200,000 raised. A remarkable combination between a creative, zany, energetic bunch and a group of Barrie business men and women, Madcap players do everything they do for the coffers of the Barrie Lions Club… and the entire community benefits.

This week and next, and next, for nine nights, the Madcap Players will perform their final Cabaret. And for Debra Shelswell, the only cast member who’s been part of each of the past 15 shows, it’s bittersweet.

“This is a huge production for all of us. I think about it all the time. I’m constantly taking notes, writing down ideas, listening to music and thinking about how this song or that can be worked into a number. A lot of us are like that. We start in the fall with creative meetings, fleshing out each act, deciding who’s writing what. And then we begin the choreography and right after Christmas, rehearsals start. Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons for January, February and March. And all Easter weekend.”

Scouring thrift stores for bits and pieces of costumes, the entire troupe is on the lookout for props. Debra’s husband Jim finally built a room in the family barn, big enough to house 15 years of costumes and set backdrops and furniture. In fact, the life partners of all the Madcap players have been unbelievably supportive of this production.

As the troupe sang its final song on opening night last Wednesday, it was to say goodbye to Cabaret. In song, they announced a simpler, shorter musical effort will take its place. More nights of dinner theatre (currently there’s only one) and a shorter production run.

“We love doing this, but it’s a huge commitment and we’re a bit burned out,” admitted Debra this week. She talked of the early days when Nick Schols left for the west and the Madcap Players picked up where Nicolodeon left off. Ben Struckwick (regular Cabaret-goers will long remember Ben as the Duracel Bunny) was an early performer.

“We made a connection with the Lions Club. It seemed like a good arrangement; we didn’t want to run the show; we just wanted to sing and dance. We asked them to do the organization and we have become their biggest fundraiser.”

Debra said the greatest motivation for the troupe has been each November when on a Sunday afternoon people lineup in the Lions parking lot and push in to buy every single ticket for a show four months away. “It’s a huge motivator… we haven’t even written the show, and it’s sold out!”

Debra easily remembers the first show in 1986. First Act was Rock n Roll. Second Act was a Speakeasy, gangster spoof with little dialogue. Closing Act was a Beach Boys segment. It was a very full show and though the audience was thin, according to Debra “it was so there!”

Each year, our audience grew and a dinner night was added five years ago. And then the Lions set up their own Cabaret Committee, so big was the task. And they’ve invested in lighting and sound equipment, each year offering more drama and bigger stage area.

Debra’s favourite? Gloria Munro as Judge Judy. Digging through the Madcap costume room in the Shelswell barn, Debra is reminded of show after show, performer after performer…Maria Branje, Jean-Louis Pitre, Jerry Smeding, Roger St. Gelais, Jamie Miller, Wayne Luymes, John & Sandy Porter, Marg Ball, Jane Beaton, Steve McDonald, Randy Styles, Mark Moreau, Maureen McCall and Brian Tracey. Some performers have come for awhile and then taken a break; others have stayed on for the whole show. One thing’s sure… the gift of laughter, given from the heart, through the voices and the dancing legs and arms of volunteer talent, is the gift of applause. And that’s exactly what Madcap deserves for these years of musicality. Applause. Bravo. Standing Ovation.

Thanks, Madcap!