The Three "R's"

Ramblings, Reflections, Reviews … From the "Pen" of William Land

The Case of the Curious Cabaret: A Three Bs Mystery

The Case of the Curious Cabaret: A Three Bs Mystery

Toronto, August 2001

On July 22nd, a close friend and a fellow series book collector, and I went to one of our favourite used book haunts, The Sunday Flea Market in downtown Toronto. That day didn’t yield many books, but I learned about another theatrical production based on series!

One of the series book dealers I know gave me a postcard when I bought some books from her table. “You may be interested in this,” she said.

This card advertised the Toronto premiere of a musical comedy play titled The Case of the Curious Cabaret: A Three Bs Mystery. The play was running from July 30th to August 12th at Ryerson Studio Theatre.

Upon reading the reverse of the card, my pulse quickened. I quote: “The Case of the Curious Cabaret is not only a tribute to the all-girl singing groups of the 1940’s and 50’s (the Andrews Sisters, the McGuire Sisters), but also an affectionate tribute to the girl’s adventure stories of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Enid Blyton. The original songs have a nostalgic flavour and are guaranteed to transport you to this world of mystery and intrigue. The Port Hope Evening Guide called The Case of the Curious Cabaret ‘a wonderfully humorous night out!'”

I knew this was one play I knew I had to see! The first week passed in a blur of activity and I didn’t get a chance to attend. By Friday evening of the second week, I realized that I would definitely have to go that weekend or I would miss out!

On Saturday, I spent the day with another friend who wasn’t free to accompany me to the theatre that evening. Instead of going home when our visit came to a close, I went to the Ryerson Studio Theatre and purchased a ticket to that evening’s performance.

I settled into my seat in the fourth and last row of the theatre. My gaze settled on the stage. An old chair stood in front of an equally aged table. On that table were an ancient desk lamp, a manual typewriter, a partially filled water glass, and a few other items that I barley noticed because several series books were also on the table!

However, the best part of the set was the books in a battered suitcase near the front of the table. This valise held a large assortment of picture cover series books with art from the 1950s and 1960s: Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, Beverly Gray, Trixie Belden, Enid Blyton, and a few others. I tried desperately to read the titles, but the lights were dimmed low.

When the play began, I missed the first several minutes because my attention was focussed on the series books on stage! I was able to determine specific titles: The Scarlet Slipper Mystery, original text (Nancy Drew), The Riddle of the Frozen Fountain, original text (Dana Girls), The Mark on the Door (Hardy Boys) and several others. Unfortunately, I don’t remember other specific titles. But I had questioned why volumes from The Hardy Boys were included in a play about girls’ books.

Within moments, though, my attention returned to this intriguing play. To quote Shane Andersen, Artistic Director, “Without relaying on a lavish budget and expensive things, this show transports you to an exciting world of teen detectives, mysterious women, and darkened nightclubs.”

Words from the playwright, Greg Finnegan, explain the development of this production. “‘Three girls who sing tunes and solve mysteries.’ That’s how The Case of the Curious Cabaret all started – with that one idea. And what resulted was my tribute to girls’ adventure books. I started to research these books by happily reading (and buying) all the old children’s books I could find (Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, Ginny Gordon, Kay Tracy, Judy Bolton, The Dana Girls, The Famous Five). I was struck by the sophistication of the plots and language. I also researched the women (and men) who wrote for the publishing syndicates turning out these pre-pubescent potboilers. Thus I came up with the expositionary device for my play – the author ‘telling the story.'”

And what a thrilling story! It was entertaining to see the elements of favourite books brought to life. The three exciting heroines, Billie Willow, Binkie Wilson, and Bonnie Wentworth, are students of the Wakefield Academy for Bright Girls. The trio are also known as the Three Bs, a musical singing group.

Additionally, a mysterious woman and her look-alike in a turquoise sheath, a darkened haunted nightclub, a second one in the seedy part of town, missing opals, a daring rescue of a near drowning, a high-speed car chase, an unconscious sleuth, a strange, but attractive man, and long-lost loves made for exciting viewing for almost two hours!

The cast was wonderful! Each actress was superb in her role. I won’t go into much detail now, but will save my observations and comments for an article I’m planning for one of the series fanzines.

Viewing this play was such a wonderful experience for me that I decided to attend the matinee and final performance the following afternoon.

I wore my Nancy Drew Sleuths tee shirt (and pants, socks, shoes and underwear in case anyone is wondering about my attire!). I had hoped my tee shirt would draw attention from other series fans.

Arriving approximately 30 minutes before play was scheduled to start, I found the box office not yet open. Slipping past the “box office ” (a chair and table), I viewed once more a bulletin board display I had noticed the evening before. Large, full-colour photocopies of book covers, and black and white copies of title pages and endpapers from various series were on display, including the colourful cover art for the original text of`The Scarlet Slipper Mystery.

A few moments later, a tall, pleasant-looking man approached me. He said the box office would be open in a few minutes. Politely, I thanked him. To my surprise, he introduced himself as “the playwright.” My immediate response: “I want to talk with you!”

Quickly, I explained my interest in series books and collecting. Greg Finnegan and I chatted about various aspects of series books, collecting, and the play. I don’t remember the order of the conversation, but do recall some of the highlights.

In response to my question, Greg told me The Hardy Boys books were added to the collection on stage “for colour.”

Greg told me of his reading and collecting interest and how the idea for the play grew. He mentioned his brother, Emmett, who lives in Vancouver, is a very serious series (the pun is intended!) collector. He told of his favourite books and I mentioned some of mine and the discussion turned to the music that is truly splendid!

Greg’s partner, David Walden, put music to the lyrics for the songs of The Case of the Curious Cabaret. I love these songs and wish I could have a cast recording, similar to that of Mamma Mia, that I saw earlier this summer.

Greg introduced me to the artistic director, Shane Andersen. I knew I was “star-struck” when I forgot to introduce myself (generally, I’m not that rude)! Both men commented on my Nancy Drew tee shirt and I told them about the e-group, Nancy Drew Sleuths.

The second viewing of the play was even better than the first. This time I was able to pay attention to the first ten minutes or so of the entertainment! Of course, meeting Greg and Shane was terrific! Before leaving the theatre, I signed a guest list and asked Shane if I could buy a poster. The poster is identical to the front of the postcard except, of course, that it is larger.

To my delight, Shane gave me the poster because I had “attended two performances.” I thanked him and we joked about selling it on e-bay some day. For the first time in my life, I understood what being a “groupie” meant!

Upon checking e-mail the next afternoon, I noticed a message from Greg. Eagerly, I read it quickly. He thanked me for my support of the play and said the “cast was very impressed when I told then that a Nancy Drew e-group member was in the audience!” He also informed me that Creatif Productions is seriously considering a re-mount of the production (late October possibly) again in Toronto.

In my reply, I asked more questions and told Greg of my intention to write about The Case of the Curious Cabaret for the series e-groups and one of the fanzines. Near the end of my message, I extended an invitation to get together to talk about books and collecting. At the time of this writing, we are trying to set a date to get together after the September long weekend.

Connecting with some of those connected The Case of the Curious Cabaret has been so cool for me! Discovering a musical comedy based on girls’ series, connecting with another collector, and someone who lives in the same city (this doesn’t happen frequently!), and, possibly, new friends. Could I ask for more?

Probably! (laughing). I still desire a copy of two books from the Nancy Drew series. One is The Message in the Hollow Oak with wrap-around dustjacket; the second is the Sampson and Low edition of The Password to Larkspur Lane in wrap-around dustjacket.

The original to this edited version was originally posted to some Yahoo series book discussion groups in August 2001.

I did form a strong friendship with Greg Finnegan and his life partner, David Walden, following dinner at their home in September, 2001. I counted them among my close friends for many years. They relocated to British Columbia in 2005. Sadly, David suddenly passed away in December, 2008. Greg and I are in contact periodically.

I also was fortunate to add the two books I mentioned at the close of this article to my collection. The Sampson and Low edition of The Password to Larkspur Lane was my first e-Bay purchase when I decided to buy books and other items through that source.

February 7, 2015
©2015 William Land

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