Hail to the King
Work by Jodi Richardson tells tale of Newfoundlander who was a big hit on Broadway
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.
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.
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.