Connie Francis (Toronto)

Connie Francis (1991 Toronto)

Production Manager for the Toronto engagement of the Connie Francis concert tour at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts in 1991.

Shattering of prior admiration.

I was hired by then General Manager Marty Onrot specifically to manage her 16 page hospitality / technical rider needs. Marty has been forewarned by other venue presenters previously enduing her tour of the upcoming tsunami. Demands ranging from style/shape of ice cubes, Orrefors crystal glassware, couches, carpet, food, beverages, towels, soap, napkins, lamps, rod and draped tunnels from stage door to her dressing room suite, and again from dressing room to downstage stage left wing, pink and white roses, brand-new toilet seat, dried blueberries, lozenges, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc ad infinitum.

Having locked herself inside her dressing “suite”, sold out audiences waited angrily over 45 minutes for Ms. Francis to appear on stage, while she insisted that more sequins were added to her leg cast (the result of a “very minor accident” at the outset of that tour), and while the fabulous O’Keefe Centre IATSE house crew were dismantling the door frame of her locked dressing room door to help me to get her onstage.  You get the picture.

Who’s Sorry Now?

Despite not being Broadway, Connie Francis fits into my model perfectly of a waning star on her way down.

Peggy Lee Program at Royal York HotelAs a point of reference, by contrast, much bigger star in my regard due to her string of hits of ‘Fever’,  ‘Alright, Okay, You Win’, ‘It’s a Good Day’, and ‘Is that all There Is?”, Peggy Lee’s contract hospitality rider for her concerts at the Imperial Room within the Royal York, contained one single line “please provide a bottle of water”. Of course we went WAY above that at our pleasure. Peggy was on time, did all press calls, and was delightfully lovely to all backstage. This was a real star.

Logo O'Keefe CentreO’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts

O’Keefe Centre for the Performing ArtsThe O’Keefe Centre opened 1 Oct 1960 with Alexander H. Cohen’s production of the pre-Broadway premiere of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet. Camelot was followed by musical productions featuring such artists as Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Angela Lansbury, Alfred Drake, Yul Brynner, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Katharine Hepburn and Rudolf Nureyev.

Located on 2.5 acres on Toronto’s Front Street between Yonge and Scott streets at 1 Front Street East, the centre was built at a cost of $12 million and was owned until 1968 by the O’Keefe Brewing Co. In 1968 ownership was transferred to Metropolitan Toronto; in 1996 the facility was renamed the Hummingbird Centre after its sponsor, Hummingbird Communications. It became the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in 2007 and on September 15, 2019, it was re-branded as Meridian Hall.

A modernist design, when it was built, it was the largest concert hall in North America, the fan-shaped theatre was built to seat 3,155 people on two levels facing an 18 metre wide proscenium. Its cavernous auditorium, approached through a lobby which, with its carpeting, chandeliers and monumental 100’x15’ mural by Toronto artist York Wilson of The Seven Lively Arts was a focal point and monument to Culture in its own right. Though intended as a multi-purpose entertainment centre for opera, ballet, drama, and touring productions, the theatre’s size suited it primarily for large-scale productions.

General Manager’s during my time were Charles (Charlie) S. Cutts [1981-1989], and Martin (Marty) H. Onrot [1990-1995].

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