ONE of the town’s most respected organisations, Lyme Regis Musical Theatre (formerly the Operatic Society), is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The society was formed in 1920 and performed its first show, ‘The Mikado’, at the Marine Theatre when it was known as The Drill Hall in 1921.
Since then, with the exception of the Second World War years, the society has performed no fewer than 84 productions, including some of the most popular hits seen on Broadway and in the West End.
The first six shows staged by the society were all Gilbert & Sullivan operettas – ‘The Mikado’ (1921 and 1926), ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ (1922), ‘HMS Pinafore’ (1923), ‘Iolanthe’ (1924) and ‘Yeomen of The Guard’ in 1925.
The society then moved away from the tried and tested G & S productions by staging ‘The Country Girl’, an American play written in the 18th century which became a long-running musical in London in the early 1900s, followed by ‘The Highwayman Love’, a light romantic operetta, also set in Elizabethan times, and ‘The Arcadians’, an Edwardian musical comedy.
The last show before war broke out in 1939 was Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Gondoliers’ and they did not return to the Marine Theatre, occupied by American GIs in the war years, until 1948 when the society reformed to stage ‘The Yeoman of The Guard’ again.
During the 1950s and 1960s the society performed all the popular stage operettas and built a loyal following, introducing to the stage such performers as Elaine Kendrick (nee Broom), Liz Broome (nee Searle), David Coates, John Wallis, Harry Williams, Charlie Broom, Gordon Broom and Les White, all of whom became firm favourites with audiences over the years.
Well known local faces who took leading roles up until that time included Albert Lane, Phil Moore, Roland Stratton, Molly Wiscombe and Jesse Searle.
Highlight of the 1970s was the society’s 50th anniversary, celebrated by performing their own home-grown show, ‘Golden Revenge’, written jointly by musical director Brian Manners and producer Roy Deasy, which they also staged at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, a huge achievement for an amateur group.
The society also held a Golden Jubilee dinner at the Woodroffe School at which toasts were made by president Albert Lane, who appeared in ‘The Mikado’ in 1938; Alderman Phil Moore, who was in ‘HMS Pinnafore’ in 1923; Norman Bosence (‘Highwayman Love’, 1928 and stage manager 1948-54); Reg Pocock, who was musical director and producer (1956-64); Brian Manners (musical director, 1966-70); and Roy Deasy (producer, 1966-70). The toastmaster was Charlie Broom.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s Lyme Regis Operatic Society built on its reputation, mixing the traditional operettas with more challenging theatre shows and attracting other talented performers from around the area.
The society reprised ‘Golden Revenge’ to celebrate their 90th anniversary in 2010.
In 2015 they changed their name to Lyme Regis Musical Theatre to fall in line with public demand for the blockbuster musical shows so popular with theatregoers.
The encouragement to take on some of the more challenging productions came from Nick Lawrence who spent 18 years as musical director and producer before going on to be elected National President of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association. Mr Lawrence was elected a Honorary Life Member for his services to the society.
In recent years LRMT have staged such popular musicals as ‘Me And My Girl’, ‘Calamity Jane’, ‘Mame’, ‘Evita’, ‘Sister Act’, ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’, ‘Hello Dolly’ and are hard at it rehearsing for this year’s production of Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’, last performed by them in 2005, between May 14-18.
The society has also switched venue from the Marine Theatre to the Woodmead Halls to take advantage of increased capacity but will be returning to their true home at the Marine to celebrate their centenary with a concert version of their very first show ‘The Mikado’, August 1 and 2 2020.
This year’s show, ‘Anything Goes’, also sees Kelly Apps (nee Street), one of the most popular stage performers in the area, taking her first role as director with the experienced Ian Crew as musical director and the much-in-demand Rachel Worsley as choreographer.
Organising shows of this calibre starts as soon as the current production is finished with licence and production costs rising all the time. That calls for an active committee, currently led from the front by Johanna Hopkins (nee Perry) whose family is steeped in the operatic society.
Johanna (pictured left) first appeared in the 1968 production of ‘Gypsy Baron’ and has only missed two shows since then.
Mrs Hopkins said: “We are looking forward to celebrating our 100th anniversary but concentrating all our efforts on the forthcoming production of ‘Anything Goes’.
“It’s a marvellous show with some wonderful music and we look forward to welcoming all our many supporters to the Woodmead Halls for what I am sure will be great evening’s entertainment.”
‘Anything Goes’ will take place at the Woodmead Halls from May 14 to 18. Tickets available from Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre (01297 442138).