Hail to the King

Work by Jodi Richard­son tells tale of New­found­lan­der who was a big hit on Broad­way

The Western Star - - Front Page - BY GARY KEAN [email protected]­ern­star.com Twit­ter: WS_GaryKean

The story of Don­ald Brian and his suc­cess on Broad­way play out on a Cor­ner Brook stage start­ing Sun­day.

Ev­ery­one re­mem­bers the New­found­lan­der once de­scribed by danc­ing leg­ends Fred As­taire and Ru­dolph Nureyev as one of the best dancers they had ever seen.

Right?

It’s the same guy who taught Frank Si­na­tra to dance and who Bob Hope said he mod­elled his easy-go­ing per­son­al­ity af­ter.

Still not ring­ing a bell? Here’s an­other hint: he could have signed on with the Brook­lyn Dodgers as a pro­fes­sional base­ball player if he wasn’t mak­ing 10 times as much money be­ing one of the big­gest Broad­way stars of the early 1900s.

He never signed on with the team, but did teach some of the pay­ers a few dance moves and it is be­lieved that his singing of “The Star Span­gled Banner” at Eb­bets Field be­fore a Dodgers game sparked the tra­di­tion of live per­for­mances of the na­tional an­them be­fore ma­jor league games.

For some rea­son, not many peo­ple have ever heard of Don­ald Brian.

Jody Richard­son is hop­ing to change that a bit with his orig­i­nal show, “The King of Broad­way,” named af­ter the book by Charles Fos­ter that tells the tale of Brian’s rise to fame.

Brian, who was born in St. John’s in 1875 and moved to Boston at age 18, was dis­cov­ered in New York by Ge­orge M. Co­han, who wrote Broad­way hit mu­si­cals such as “Give My Re­gards to Broad­way” and “The Yan­kee Doo­dle Boy.” It was Co­han who was de­ter­mined to make Brian a star, and did just that.

Now, Richard­son wants to make Brian fa­mous all over again.

“This is one of those sto­ries that you re­ally can’t be­lieve when you first find out about him and he is com­pletely un­heard of,” said Richard­son af­ter a re­hearsal at the Ro­tary Arts Cen­tre in Cor­ner Brook Fri­day.

The Gros Morne Sum­mer Mu­sic show, which opens Sun­day evening at 8 p.m., also fea­tures Wendy Wood­land, Ian Locke, Robert Hum­ber and Sarah Newell. It in­cor­po­rates 16 orig­i­nal songs writ­ten by Richard­son.

The one-act play is a bit of a biopic, ac­cord­ing to Richard­son, but it’s a rol­lick­ing ride from the cra­dle to the grave.

“It’s 75 min­utes of re­lent­less hu­mour, heartache, mu­sic and thrills,” de­scribed Richard­son.

Oh, and there will be a few cameos from some of the fa­mous peo­ple who Brian brushed el­bows with dur­ing his hey­day.

GARY KEAN/ THE WEST­ERN STAR

The cast of “The King of Broad­way,” from left, Ian Locke, Robert Hum­ber, Wendy Wood­land and Jody Richard­son re­hearse the Gros Morne Sum­mer Mu­sic show open­ing at the Ro­tary Arts Cen­tre Sun­day.

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