Queen musical set to thrill crowds and honour 40 years of FFHS musicals

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

It’s a significant milestone to be celebrated as students at Fort Frances High School put the finishing touches on this year’s musical production, and the public will soon be able to see the result of their hard work and reminisce in the memories of four decades of high school musicals.

Dedicated performers at Fort Frances High School are gearing up to reveal We Will Rock You, a stage production set to the legendary music of Queen, which will run at the Townshend Theatre from Wednesday, April 24, 2024, through Saturday, April 27, 2024. The show tells the story of a post-apocalyptic future where individuality and music is outlawed, and how a band of rebels along with their prophesized hero fight to bring back the spirit of rock and roll.

With 2024 being the 40th year of high school musicals in Fort Frances, show producer Cathy Bruyere and director Susan De Gagne shared that they felt they needed to choose a musical that was suitably fitting for the occasion.

“We had several amazing shows to look at, but given that this is the 40th year of musicals at Fort Frances High School, we wanted something that would resonate with perhaps 40 years of audiences,” Bruyere explained.

Enter Queen.

We Will Rock You is a jukebox musical, the first in Fort Frances High School’s history, that was originally opened in London’s West End in 2002 and has since seen productions staged around the world. Bruyere said the music of Queen is “intergenerational” and likely something that many members of a potential audience in the district would be familiar with. Indeed, the show features dozens of hits from across Queen’s legendary catalogue, including songs such as Radio Ga Ga, Killer Queen, Somebody to Love and the title track, which was something that De Gagne said worked for some students right away, but not for all of them.

“I think there were some [students] that were already really big Queen fans before we even started, and they were very excited about it,” De Gagne said.

“And I think the ones that maybe weren’t as big of fans or didn’t know about it, I think it’s growing on them. I’d probably put myself in that category too. I think they’re having fun with it.”

Work on the show has been ongoing since the beginning of the calendar year with students rehearsing several times a week, learning dances and the tricky harmonies that are characteristic of Queen’s songs. Not content to only have the significance of the show itself represent the 40th year, De Gagne said it was also an opportunity to bring back one of the key figures in getting musicals at Fort Frances High School going in the first place to once more take part in a production.

“One of the things I’m most excited about is that we got John Dutton to come back and be our music director,” De Gagne said.

“I think that was a huge thing for us, just to get him back working in the theatre with us. He started it all, so that was a big thing, to be able to work with him, and it made it really easy for us to get other people to sign onto the team also. That was big.”

Now retired, Dutton, along with Murray Kitts and Jean Boileau, were the driving force behind the first musical to be produced by Fort Frances High School, Li’l Abner, going so far as to bus Grade 9 students from West Fort to rehearse during lunches and be part of the final performances. Bruyere said that without those initial efforts, as well as all of the effort put in by subsequent musical directors, directors, choreographers and musicians, it would be very difficult to imagine 40 years of high school musicals.

In an effort to further celebrate the history and legacy of the musicals, De Gagne said she is also preparing a video presentation that will run before the show each night and will feature words and videos submitted by previous performers that will celebrate 40 years of musicals as well as the impact they have had on their lives. De Gagne is also planning to have some previous cast members join this year’s cast on stage for a special performance, as well as hosting a reception after Saturday night’s show to allow those with fond memories of past shows to reminisce.

The efforts to honour the legacy og shows at Fort Frances High School are significant not only because it is marking a particular anniversary, but also because of how many people who today take part in helping students put on a new show are themselves products of the shows of their times. De Gagne said that many of the volunteers who are contributing to vocals, choreography and more are past performers of various high school musicals stretching back over the years, herself included.

“If you would have told me when I was in Grade 9 that I would be doing this now, I would not believe you at all,” De Gagne said.

“I was so shy and so terrified of being in front of people ,and I don;t even realy know what made me join, I think it was my brother, I think he said ‘you have to do something.’ So I did it and it grew on me, I think because it was such a safe place where you felt accepted even if you weren’t the star of the show. There was a place for everybody, and I really liked that. It helped me and it obviously gave me confidence to come back and do this.”

“I was one of those Grade 9 students that were bused in from West Fort,” Bruyere added.

“I think without that experience, I wouldn’t have the love of theatre that I do today. I’ve always loved English, but it really gave more of a three-dimensional perspective for me when I look at text and when I consider plays and things like that. I’m very fortunate and very grateful to have had that experience and for my children to have had that experience, but I know that mine isn’t the only story. I know that this is a legacy for many students who have graced both old Fort High and new Fort High. This is a really important milestone for many people.”

Bruyere and De Gagne both shared that they hope people turn out to the Townshend Theatre next week to take in the production of We Will Rock You, not only to enjoy the results of hard work on behalf of the student cast, or to listen to their favourite queen song, but to recognize and honour the legacy of musicals over the past four decades and how much of an impact they have had on

“What we’re hoping is that the community comes together to not only recognize the challenge, the enthusiasm, the love of theatre that our students have, but also recognize that the students are part of a larger legacy that goes back years, not just four years of high school. It’s something they can carry with them,” Bruyere said.

Tickets for Fort Frances High School’s production of We Will Rock You are available now at Northwoods Gallery and Gifts at $10 for students and seniors and $12 for adults. Doors open each night at 6:30 p.m. with the special retrospective video beginning at 6:45 p.m. and curtains going up at 7:00 p.m.