Parksville’s Knox United Church will soon be the stage for several firsts, including the launch of the National Stage Company of Canada’s inaugural season.
The Dec. 3 production of Home for the Holidays: A Nat King Cole Christmas will also mark the professional debut of 13-year-old Vancouver Islander Samantha Madill.
Madill will guest star alongside headliner James Rich, an international recording artist and actor, in a holiday concert celebrating the music of Nat King Cole.
“I am beyond excited to be a part of this, especially with everybody in this whole production who is so talented — James Rich, the band, it’s just incredible,” Madill said. “I’m so honoured to be working with them.”
The concert will be the first time Rich, based in New York, has been on stage in front of a live audience since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and his first performance in Canada.
“We’ve all been on lockdown for the past 20 months, so I think it’ll be a sigh of relief for everybody,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to getting back on stage.”
Madill, who began dancing ballet at age three, has performed in theatre for seven years. Her first performance was a production of the Jungle Book.
“I was five or six years old and I got cast as a big elephant and that is when I knew I wanted to be a star,” she said.
Pandemic restrictions and geography made rehearsal for the concert series challenging — Madill and the concert band are based on Vancouver Island.
Rich rehearsed with the band using a program similar to Zoom, but for musicians, that allowed him to plug his microphone into the system. He was able to fly to Vancouver Island for in person rehearsals in late October.
He said his favourite song from the concert is a modern version of Take Me Back to Toyland, covered in Cole’s Christmas album.
“The arrangement we’re doing is very different from the way he does it,” he said. ”I think it’s more relevant to contemporary music, but I think it fits in with the sophistication of the way Nat Cole covered Christmas songs or basically any music. There’s a sophistication to it that I really like, but also a quirkiness.”
The Parksville concert is the first stop in a series of that will see the performers travel across the Island, with performances in Nanaimo, Campbell River, Courtenay, Duncan and Sidney.
The National Stage Company of Canada was formed by Anthony James in 2020. James is the producer and creator of Home for the Holidays: A Nat King Cole Christmas and has worked as a writer, director, performer, producer and choreographer during his 38 year career.
Nanaimo’s Pierre Komen will lead a six-piece holiday band. For the last 15 years he has been active in the 10-piece jazz band Decadence, which is composed of alumni from Malispina College and Vancouver Island University.