From Vienna to New York; from the deserts of North Africa to the sunny South Pacific Ocean; from the Highlands of Scotland to the gentle slopes of Japan. Is this an advert for a new travel guide you may ask? You may be right in some respects as this is the story of a journey, but, these destinations have not been arrived at in the traditional sense. No, this is an odyssey that is now entering its 40th year on the road and has no intention of easing up anytime soon.
The next stop on this incredible voyage will take place in the Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny on October 19 and 20 when Kilkenny Musical Society celebrates 40 years of providing quality musical theatre to the people of Kilkenny and surrounding areas. The preferred mode of transport for this magical trip has been the music of Strauss, Lehar, Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan and many more.
The list and variety of shows undertaken during this time is long and varied and ranges from “The Waltzes from Vienna” to “The Desert Song”, from “South Pacific” to “Brigadoon” and from “Guys and Dolls” to “The Mikado” as well as a host of other musicals representing a wide array of musical genres.
Founded in 1973 by Kilkenny theatre legend Donal O’Brien and the late and great Kitty Drohan, Kilkenny Musical Society has continued over 40 years to build on the foresight and hard work of its founding fathers and today is now recognised as one of the foremost musical societies in the country.
There has always been a great theatrical tradition in Kilkenny and the home of theatre in Kilkenny during the years 1933 – 1962 was the “Kilkenny Theatre” on Patrick Street which was run by the Stallard family and was affectionately known throughout Ireland as “Stallards”. The proud members of “St Mary’s Choral Society” were the flag bearers for light opera and musical theatre during the great days of Stallards and up to the time of its closure in 1962 Stallards played host to many national and international stars of the theatre and as a result Kilkenny was nationally recognised as being a centre for all that was good in musical theatre.
The closure of Stallards in 1962 also marked the slow decline of groups such as St Mary’s Choral Society and in particular their ability to be able to stage musical theatre at a level which was taken for granted during the great years of “Stallards”. Therefore when Messrs. O’Brien and Drohan founded Kilkenny Musical Society in 1973 they were quick to draw on past members of St Mary’s Choral Society to become the nucleus of this new project which was underpinned by the philosophy of bringing musical theatre back to the people of Kilkenny.
Kilkenny Musical Society performed their first production of “The Gypsy Baron” in the spring of 1974 in the Friary Hall, Kilkenny and this was to become the home of the society until 1992 when their production of “The Merry Widow” became the last show to be staged in the Friary Hall.
The opening of the Watergate Theatre in early 1993 was a milestone in the development of Kilkenny Musical Society and their production of “The Pirates of Penzance” in May of that year marked their debut in a professional theatre and introduced the society to the demands of staging a musical production in a professional technical arena.
Every year since then has seen the society staging a musical to the highest of professional standards and the society has had to battle through thick and thin in order to ensure that it can deliver on an annual basis.
The demands of staging musical theatre have increased manifold over the years in line with ever growing public expectation. There was a time when only the privileged few could boast about having attended a West End Musical. This has all changed and almost every body with an interest in Musical Theatre has now seen a professional show and the arrival of the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin has ensured that there is access to a touring West End production on almost a monthly basis.
As a result there are ever increasing demands on amateur groups to perform to professional standards as audiences are becoming more educated and comparisons are almost inevitable. Indeed it is true to say, for this writer at least (who has being involved for 30 years of Kilkenny Musical Society), that “You wont get away now with what we would have done thirty years ago”.
Year on year it is becoming more and more difficult to stage musical theatre to a standard that the Kilkenny public are used to. Rising costs and falling audiences combine to make life extremely difficult for the Society and the simple fact is that the group are only ever one production away from extinction.
Therefore, when the society stage their 40 year celebration concert on 19th and 20th October they not alone are reminding us of the golden era of musical theatre but the are also trying to raise badly needed funds to try and ensure that this incredible journey can continue.
Many stalwarts of the Society such as Brendan Corcoran, Olivia Smith, Pat Ryan, Donal O Brien, John Byrne, Tony Murray, Michael Hayes, David Heffernan, Stephen Murphy, Niamh Dooley, Ursula Egan, Kevin Reade, Audrey Larkin and Kevina Hayes will perform on the night. Never has such a group of performers come together on the one stage on the one night! This will be a concert to remember and a fitting tribute to 40 years of Kilkenny Musical Society. Tickets cost €15 and €10 groups and concessions. Book early at 056/7761674 to avoid disappointment.