2 min

A queen’s obscure

Scott Ashton Swan's different kind of theatre company

Credit: Xtra West files

There’s a unique new offering on the menu for Vancouver’s musical theatre connoisseurs. Applause, founded and run by renowned Vancouver theatre producer Scott Ashton Swan, is a theatre company with a novel mandate: intimate, concert-style productions of forgotten, obscure musicals.

Born in 1997, the company took a five-year hiatus after its first season before resurfacing in 2002 with new shows at the Roundhouse.

Applause is economical in every way. Not only are its shows minimalist in execution, but each show is rehearsed only seven times, and runs for only five performances.

The company has had a fruitful summer, staging three shows over the last three months: Chess, by Tim Rice and ABBA-alumni Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus; Kander and Ebb’s Woman of the Year; and Cy Coleman’s On the Twentieth Century.

Last week, Applause continued its season with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love, one of the British master’s least known and most under-appreciated shows.

Swan, whose extensive producing credits include the commercial hits Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding, Nunsense, Party, and The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, says Applause was inspired by a similar company in New York.

“The idea actually came to me after reading, in 1997, about a company in New York called Encores, which began doing musicals in concert.

“As musicals are my passion, I had been trying to figure out a way to present them without the huge budgets that are so often needed.

“I had also started a series of play readings-mostly of gay-themed shows that might never get produced-that was hugely successful, so I wanted to see if doing ‘readings’ of musicals would work.”

Swan was eager to distinguish his company from the rest of the crowd. “You see, I don’t really think we need another theatre company in Vancouver, and I hate reinventing the wheel. I wanted to come up with something that no one else was doing. That is why the mandate of Applause is to produce rare or shelved works that Vancouver audiences might never see.

“So many of the works we choose are from popular composers. But I like to show people that even they can write flops or works that might not be known. For instance, Kander and Ebb’s Woman of the Year [was] written by the composers of this year’s award-winning Chicago.”

Part of Applause’s mandate is also education, Swan continues. “Educating the audience to different works other than the same old, same old like The King and I, Hello Dolly-the shows that are done over and over and over again.”

Swan waxes rapturous about the company’s latest show, Aspects of Love. “Mr. Webber is a household name. People know Phantom, etc, but most have never heard of Aspects, which is just gorgeous. It is completely sung. There are arguments about whether it’s an opera or a musical. And it’s a great love triangle. Boy loves girl. Girl loves girl. Girl loves man, etc.”

For the openly gay Swan, this whole enterprise has personal significance, for it has allowed him to indulge his deep love for musical theatre. “It kinda makes sense for a big old queen like me to be running a musical company-sure is no secret of the connection between gay men and musicals.

“Sure it might be a stereotype,” he continues, “But just come and check out our audience. It’s mostly gay men and big hair from the burbs (terrible of me to say)-usually gay men and older straight women.”

Swan’s musicals already seem to be drawing a crowd. “They keep coming, not to mention on non-traditional theatre nights-Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Proves to me there must be an alternative to large-scale theatre in town. For every big guy there needs to be an ‘alternative.’ It makes a perfect match, really.”


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