~ HISTORY OF MUSCOM ~
The Wolverhampton Musical Comedy Company was formed in 1938. It came into being after the disbanding of the Wolverhampton Opera Company, which had been in existence since 1907, run by Dr.
Ernest Darby and his wife Mrs Florence Parkes-Darby. In its early years this company specialised in performing Grand Opera, with visiting artists, to be followed by Gilbert & Sullivan and pre war
musicals such as “The Geisha”, “The Chocolate Soldier”, and “The Arcadians”. A further change in the choice of show came in 1935 with “The Student Prince”, ”Rose Marie”,” The Desert Song” and
In 1937 Dr Darby died, and his wife decided to close down the company. The prime personality in the formation of the new company was Alfred Kemp, a member of the Opera Company, who was well known in local drama and musical comedy circles. He was joined in the venture by several others and during the war years this small company performed two musicals “The Cousin From Know where”, and “The Cabaret Girl”, at the Wulfrun Hall, gave concerts at troop camps and hospitals and took part in the Councils “Holiday at Home” programme. Alfred Kemp acted as producer and remained in this position until ill health forced his retirement in 1961. He kept a keen interest in the Society and his two sons Gerard and Michael also joined, and had many leading roles with the Society, and still remain non-acting members today.
“The Count Of Luxembourg” and “The Lady of the Rose” were performed at the Wulfrun in 1945 & 46. The original small band were then joined by Mariana Ladies choir from the Volunteer Transport Service, and as the company became larger a new venue was needed, so the company moved to the hippodrome in Queen Street, which sadly burned down as is now a retail store.
The Wolverhampton Opera Company had always performed at the Grand Theatre and it had been Fred Kemp’s wish to return there with the new company. A date in March 1952 was given and “Showboat” was performed there. Since this time “Muscom” has always enjoyed a March date at the Grand Theatre, and its audiences know that March means “Muscom”.
For 14 years Fred Kemp & Fred Southall acted as Producer & Musical Director, and enjoyed a very successful partnership. In1961 Fred Southall retired and a lady MD. was installed in Zena Cooper, who had been accompanist for 8 years.
In the first 6 years of the new company’s life, dancers had been drawn from local dancing schools, and then in 1959 Hazel Lee, a pupil from the Vera Hildreth School of dancing joined the company, and became its dancing mistress. She continued as choreographer and played parts until 1966, when she became Producer & Choreographer to the company. She played this role for 14 years, and the company went from strength to strength.
After Hazel’s appointment Geoffrey Turner became the companies new M.D. after being the accompanist for 3 years. “Music Man”, “Half A Sixpence”, “Sweet Charity”, to name but a few were just some of the companies’ successes.
In 1966 the company entered the Midland Festival of Musical Theatre, which was held in Sutton Coldfield Town Hall. 14 competitors took part and Muscom won the premier award. In 1971 they entered
again and won a further 5 awards. 1973 saw the company winning 4 more awards, including Best Chorus, Best Musical, Best MD & Best Choreography.
1977 the company was greatly saddened by the death of Geoff Turner, and the Wolverhampton Grammar School was given by his wife a bursary to provide scholarship for outstanding musical talents.
1979 saw another loss to the company in Brian McGrath. He was a member who played many parts, but had also written and produced some of the smaller shows that the company performed at the Wulfrun Hall. Some of these were “Half Time Scores”, ”The Amazing Musical Showcase”, ”The Boyfriend”, and “Love From Judy”. Brian’s wife is still a non-acting member of the society.
The society since that time have always performed two shows a year, and the proceeds from the summer show donated to local charities.
In 1980 the Grand Theatre went into liquidation just 5 weeks before the society were due to perform “Irene”. The Wolverhampton Council agreed after a time to let us still hire the theatre for one week and stage the show, during which a collection each night brought in a total of £1,000 which went towards the Grand Theatre Fighting Fund.
Needless to say, the Theatre re-opened, and the company has grown from strength to strength, still performing there to date, in March as ever. With great production teams as Don McClay, Jerry Hobbs, Denise Robinson, Mike Capri & Steve Bracey, and for 42nd Street, some Tap Routines taught by Richard Calkin who appeared in the London Drury Lane production.