BWW Interview: 'Oh What A Lovely War's' Karen Rae

Oh What A Lovely War first hit the Broadway stage in 1963, and then went on to become a feature film directed by Richard Attenborough in 1969. The title is based on the music hall song "Oh It's a Lovely War" and the story is a commentary on the history of World War I. The show uses popular songs that have been re-worded and re-worked in an almost sarcastic manner to tell the tale of the "war to end all wars" from the perspective of those on the front lines.

This will be the first production of the 2010 Soulpepper Season, and also introduces audiences to the new Soulpepper Academy members. BWW was on hand to interview two of the Academy members about their experience being selected to be a part of the very prestigious Soulpepper Academy, and of course, about what it has been like working on Oh What A Lovely War.

First up is Karen Rae, who performs five different roles in the production, including Mrs. Pankhurst.

This is your debut performance after being selected to be part of the Soulpepper Academy, are you excited?

Totally excited. We did one other thing at the Canwest Cabaret Festival, we put on a little show called "Rebirth - EE Cummings and Songs" and that turned out to be quite a success. Certainly on a larger scale this is our first mainstage show and I'm very excited.

The search for new members of the Soulpepper Academy is long and nation-wide, could you tell us a bit about that process?

It was quite extensive. I was required to write an essay for the first part of the audition process. I had to send in an essay about why theatre was important to me. From there they chose a few people to audition. I was auditioning out of Vancouver and they came to see me, I guess they liked what I did so they flew me out for what they call the "mini-Academy" . The "mini-Academy" is a weekend experience where they choose thirty of the candidates from across the country to participate in a lengthier audition process. We did classes with some of the founding members. I got to do Shakespeare with Joe Ziegler and from there they observed us and chose ten people who seemed to work well together and I was chosen.

What is a typical day of rehearsals and preparation like for you?

Well usually we do music in the morning with Marek Norman. Typically we start with music review and choreography. And then afternoons are generally staging and blocking with Albert (Schultz).

Who do you play in "Oh What A Lovely War? "

I have several characters. This is quite unique in that it's a real ensemble piece. We are all playing five or more characters. Because we are doing little skits in order to establish some of the history surrounding the First World War I play lots of different people. I play a French woman, an Austrian woman, and an English woman. The character of note for me is Mrs. Pankhurst. She was a pacifist at the time and quite involved in the suffrage movement for women as well. I also have a cute little song called Hitchy-Koo, where I play a candy girl. The whole guise of the show is that it's a music hall show of that era. So I come out with some bon bons and then I put my candy aside and do a little number.

As far as you can tell, are there a lot of changes between the Broadway production and 1969 Film Version and the new version by Soulpepper?

I haven't seen the film version so I can't speak to that but I do know that we are working with the original script and we aren't making very many changes to it at all (in terms of the original English production from 1963).

Have you enjoyed getting to work with Soulpepper veterans and founding members?

Absolutely, it is awesome. It has been really incredible; I absolutely adore Oliver (Dennis) and Michael (Hanrahan). They are so experienced and they just have such an ease that I just enjoy watching them work. That is a great part of the learning experience you get in the Academy. It isn't simply learning in a workshop or classroom setting, you also get to learn by simply being in the presence of more experienced actors.

If you had to give one piece of advice to aspiring Canadians aspiring to get involved in musical theatre, what would it be?

I would say it's a combination of hard work and being prepared but also taking it easy and having a relaxed approach to things. I haven't personally done a lot of musical theatre but that combination is what I have learned being in this production. There is a lot of work involved in learning the music and the choreography, so I feel like I need to be prepared. However, you also need to be relaxed and open to new ideas - and having a playful attitude is very important.

"Oh What a Lovely War" is an intricate and multi-layered ensemble piece featuring several signature company artists, including Michael Hanrahan and Oliver Dennis, as well as introducing the members of the 2009-2010 Soulpepper Academy to our audiences," said Schultz. "These eight remarkable young artists bring tremendous energy, originality and a diverse musicality to their work." Albert Schultz directs Oh What a Lovely War with musical direction by Marek Norman, and an ensemble cast
featuring Oliver Dennis, Ryan Field, and Founding Member Michael Hanrahan. Making their Soulpepper debut are Alison Jutzi, George Masswohl, Doug Price, and Soulpepper Academy members Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Raquel Duffy, Gregory Prest, Karen Rae, Jason Patrick Rothery and Brendan Wall. Set design is by Academy member Ken MacKenzie, with costume and lighting design by Academy graduate Lorenzo Savoini, choreography by Candace Jennings and sound design by John Lott

When and Where?
Oh What a Lovely War
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Building 49, Distillery Historic District, Toronto

Performance Schedule:
March 11th - April 10th, 2010

Monday - Saturday at 7:30PM (no shows on Sunday)
Matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1:30PM

Tickets range from $29-$70 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-866-8666 or online at

Please note: There are a special number of $20 tickets available for persons aged 21-30 through StagePlay. StagePlay is sponsored by TD Bank Financial Group. For more information please visit


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