Stage Door News

Toronto: The Royal Alexandra Theatre will dim the marquee lights to mark the passing of the Lunds and Galt McDermot

Monday, January 7, 2019

Two theatre greats died in December 2018, both with history at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.  Dancer and teacher Blanche Lund died on December 1, 2018, and composer Galt McDermot died on December 17, 2018. Because of the holidays the theatre did not have a chance to properly mark the passing of these remarkable people. We will do so now.

On Tuesday, January 8, 2019, the marquee lights of the Royal Alexandra will be dimmed at 8 PM for Blanche Lund, and also to remember the passing of her partner and husband, Alan Lund, who died in 1992. 

And on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, the marquee lights of the Royal Alexandra will be dimmed at 8 PM for Galt McDermot.

Blanche Lund was a dancer, teacher and, with her husband Alan Lund, a pioneer of Canadian theatre. Born Blanche Harris in Toronto in 1921, Blanche met Alan Lund at an amateur dance contest at a downtown burlesque theatre. He took first prize and she came second. They met again when they were both cast in Thumbs Up, a show at the Royal Alexandra in the early 1940s. They became dance partners after that, eventually marrying and touring the world. Returning to Toronto, the two became household names through their performances on CBC TV. 

Alan Lund went on to work across Canada, eventually becoming the artistic director of the Charlottetown Festival where he launched the festival’s most prominent creation, Anne of Green Gables, which went on to have an immensely successful run at the Royal Alex in 1968. Blanche was always by his side but also became an esteemed dance teacher, touching the lives of countless young performers who would go on to illustrious careers.

Both Blanche and Alan have many other connections with the Royal Alex, especially through the annual satirical review Spring Thaw, which was a mainstay of the theatre’s annual playbill throughout the 1960s. Alan also created other shows that graced the Royal Alex stage — Return to the Mountain (1964), Sunshine Town (1968), By George (1976) and Singin’ and Dancin’ Tonight (1983)

Alan died in 1992. Blanche passed away on December 1, 2018. She was 97.

Galt McDermot also got his theatre start at the Royal Alex. In 1957 he was one of the authors and the composer of the satirical review My Fur Lady, which played the Royal Alex in 1957 and 1958. The show was remarkable for its use of rock and roll and jazz, in an era when these styles of music were not considered appropriate for musical theatre.

Born in Montreal in 1928, Galt wasn’t your run-of-the-mill composer. Study of African music was his specialty and he loved rock and roll and jazz. He won his first Grammy Award in 1961 for the recording "African Waltz”. When he moved to New York City in 1964, he became part of the burgeoning music and theatre scene, eventually partnering with Gerome Ragni and James Rado to create one of the landmark works of musical theatre — Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.

Hair began at the Public Theatre in 1967, where it played for only six weeks. It was revived at a midtown discotheque that same year for a short run. With a new director and choreographer, the show opened on Broadway in 1968 and musical theatre has never been the same since.

The Canadian premiere of Hair, with an all-Canadian cast, began December 1969 at the Royal Alex. As it had done on Broadway, the show was a sensation. It made Canadian theatre history by being the first show to play for a continuous 52-week run.

Galt’s songs from Hair — "Good Morning Starshine”, “Aquarius,” "Let the Sunshine In” and "Easy to Be Hard” — were all number one hits.

Revivals of Hair have been plentiful, including the 1993 25th anniversary production at the Old Vic in London, which was produced by David Mirvish.

Among Galt’s many other musical theatre works is Two Gentlemen of Verona (19871), which won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Galt died on December 17, 2018 at the age of 89.

Photo: Galt MacDermot. © 1969 Photofest.