In 1959, Queen Elizabeth took in a night of Vancouver theatre — a night a teenage ballerina would never forget

·3 min read
Queen Elizabeth takes her seat in Row H for a special performance of The Chocolate Soldier at Theatre Under the Stars in Vancouver on July 15, 1959. (Vancouver City Archives - image credit)
Queen Elizabeth takes her seat in Row H for a special performance of The Chocolate Soldier at Theatre Under the Stars in Vancouver on July 15, 1959. (Vancouver City Archives - image credit)

Anita De Domenico doesn't remember being nervous as she stood offstage, awaiting her entrance for a special performance of the operetta The Chocolate Soldier at Vancouver's Theatre Under the Stars.

That was despite there being a very special guest in the audience that night in July 1959: Queen Elizabeth II.

The legacy of that night lives on in the memories of those who were there, especially in the aftermath of the Queen's passing on Thursday.

De Domenico, née Ludovici, grew up in Vancouver and was just 17 at the time. As a ballerina, she said nerves weren't an option because if she was nervous, her knees would begin to shake. Instead, she was hyper-focused on giving her best performance.

"To think that I got to dance for the Queen," said De Domenico, now 82, from her home in Santa Fe, N.M.

"I just think about it every day. It never goes away."

Intense rehearsal

On a royal tour of Canada in 1959, the Queen had made a quick stop at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) on July 15 for a short performance highlighting a few numbers from the show.

The stakes were high, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun about the last rehearsal for the special performance, which detailed choreographer Aida Broadbent's intense preparations.

The Vancouver Sun
The Vancouver Sun

Sing louder, march faster, face the microphones, the article said, describing Broadbent's orders to the cast.

"We'll have to get better singers or microphones," the choreographer is quoted as saying. "For this — this Theatre Under the Stars rehearsal of The Chocolate Soldier — will be what the Queen sees."

'A highlight of our history'

For more than 80 years, TUTS has been delighting summer audiences at the open-air Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. Every summer, the company presents two musicals, rotating every night, featuring large casts of multi-talented performers.

Under the stage, tucked away in an archival drawer, hidden behind dozens of programs for productions that have come and gone, sits one from 1959 with the Queen gracing the cover.

"The Queen's visit in 1959 is surely a highlight of our history," said Kevin Woo, general manager, holding the well preserved program.

"It's something we're proud to mention when we talk about Theatre Under the Stars."

Not everyone on the night was able to keep their nerves at bay like De Domenico.

Submitted by Chana Correia
Submitted by Chana Correia

The family of Paddy Cairns, a singer in the production who has since died, remembers how she regaled them with stories of that night.

"I remember her telling me she was so nervous and she didn't want to make a mistake in front of the Queen," said her niece Chana Correia.

"It was a special day for her. She was so honoured to have that opportunity."

But the highlight for some of the cast came after the performance, when a select few were chosen to be presented to the Queen. De Domenico was among the lucky few and that moment, she says, is just as poignant more than 60 years later.

Vancouver City Archives
Vancouver City Archives

Someone was able to capture a picture of the encounter and a copy hangs in De Domenico's bedroom.

"It really tugged at my heart ... because she was really nice. And I didn't expect it," she said.

"As I spoke, she just watched my eyes. It was like she was listening to every word. It was amazing. I still can't believe it. Here I am, the daughter of poor Italian immigrants and the Queen is listening, really listening to me."

De Domenico later moved to Hollywood to further her career and became a dancer on The Steve Allen Show. But she says it was that moment in the summer of 1959 that has stayed with her the most.

"It was the most amazing thing," she said.