Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir you say? Musical based on former GG coming to N.B. this fall

·3 min read
Julie Johnson's musical Rough Notes will run this October at the Second Wind Music Centre in Florenceville-Bristol. (Supplied by Julie Johnson - image credit)
Julie Johnson's musical Rough Notes will run this October at the Second Wind Music Centre in Florenceville-Bristol. (Supplied by Julie Johnson - image credit)

Julie Johnson wants to create more opportunities for people to experience the performing arts in New Brunswick's Upper River Valley region.

That's why the New Denmark woman applied for a Canada Council for the Arts grant to fund her idea for an original musical set in the 1930s on the eve of the Second World War, a play she's been working on for several years.

When she recently found out she'd won the grant, alongside local group McKencroft Productions, she was overwhelmed.

"It was all pretty exciting," Johnson said.

Rough Notes is a musical inspired by John Buchan, also known as 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, appointed Governor General of Canada in 1935, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

But he was really known for his writing, having published dozens books, including the novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, which was adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, and for his interest in literacy.

In fact, in 1936, he and the Canadian Authors Association established the Governor General's literary awards, which are still awarded today.

McKencroft Productions
McKencroft Productions

Johnson said the musical will also include a comic trio that includes a Scottish bagpiper who doesn't actually play very well. She said there are already a number of people lined up for roles that she's not yet ready to reveal.

Since the play tells the story, in part, of how Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir brought books to rural libraries across the country, Johnson said she's not selling tickets to the musical, but rather accepting book donations for local libraries.

Originally from Ontario, Johnson was an actress before travelling around England, Scotland, and Montana, teaching English and drama. She's also an author, with her very first novel set to be published in the U.S. very soon.

But she's never written anything like Rough Notes, which will have two acts and at least 10 songs, she said.

Cameron Slipp, a composer from Woodstock who now works as a production manager in Ontario, is on board for the musical side of things.

Slipp, who's written some of his own musicals and helped write others, is part of a Canadian musical theatre writers group, which is how he found out Johnson was looking for someone to help arrange pieces from her musical.

"I saw that she was based in New Brunswick, and so I was like, 'Oh, that's great to see someone from back home,'" Slipp said in an interview.

Johnson had already prepared all the melodies, Slipp said, so his job was to take those outlines and flesh them out into a score. Likening it to solving a puzzle, Slipp said he had to choose harmonies and accompaniments that fit with the musical's overall tone.

Supplied by Second Wind Music Centre
Supplied by Second Wind Music Centre

Calling Johnson a great collaborator, Slipp said he liked that she was "harkening back to the golden age" of musicals. In modern musical theatre, he said, the music is sometimes typical pop, which he loves and uses a bit on his own.

"But with Julia, it's much more like really digging into it and trying to find that timeless feel, more so than the really modern feel, which has been fun."

Slipp added it's nice to support the art scene in New Brunswick, especially the smaller arts scene near where he grew up, and he hopes to travel back east in the fall to actually see and help out with the musical.

The plan is for Rough Notes to run at the Second Wind Music Centre in Florenceville-Bristol this October.

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