A Rossland writer’s venture into the performing arts has earned rave reviews from the Toronto and Hamilton Fringe Festivals and most recently the Edmonton Fringe, where it played from Aug. 17 to Aug. 27.
Richard Kemick’s “Amor De Cosmos: A Delusional Musical” is his first attempt at writing a play. It took more than three years to complete, but quickly turned into a fringe hit this summer.
My Entertainment World wrote: “Amor De Cosmos is a history buff and language lover’s dream. It’s no exaggeration to say that Kemick has done for De Cosmos what Lin-Manuel Miranda has done for Alexander Hamilton.”
The one-person play follows the rise and precipitous fall of De Cosmos, a 19th century photographer and journalist, turned politician.
“Part of his legend is not just that he was such a wild character, and was the second Premier of B.C., he is almost more known now for not being known at all,” said Kemick.
Born William Alexander Smith in Windsor, Nova Scotia on Aug. 20, 1825; with a penchant for adventure, he journeyed west, changing his name to Amor De Cosmos (lover of the universe) while chasing the California Gold Rush in 1854.
He then makes his way to British North America, settles in Victoria, where he started what is now the Times-Colonist newspaper, and ultimately ventures into the perilous realm of politics.
He earned a reputation as an iconoclast with a wild temper, and died alone, a bankrupt alcoholic. He was declared insane in 1895 just prior to his death at the age of 71.
“The most interesting part of the story is that despite how influential and erratic his personality was, he has kind of just been relegated to Canada’s most notorious footnote in a way.”
Kemick’s daring choice of an obscure but colourful character from B.C.’s past is only surpassed by his bold decision to write the 90-minute play in iambic pentameter, and then turn it into a musical.
“I was under the foolish assumption that it would be fun,” said Kemick.
The playwright decided the only literary measure fitting for a man of De Cosmos’ massive ego would be the iambic foot, five in each line; the same meter Shakespeare used to represent tragic heroes like Hamlet, Othello and Lear.
“If he were to ever write a play about himself, it would undoubtedly be in iambic pentameter. The only thing he loved more than the universe was himself. If he were ever to structure his life, it would definitely be in a Shakespearean arc and Shakespearean style, so I thought I could give it a shot.”
Kemick then contacted friend and musician-singer Lindsey Walker to turn the play into a musical.
“I just thought the play was written in iambic pentameter, about this guy nobody knows about, so if we can make it a musical, it will just be a better show.”
Kemick said he is thrilled with the original score and lyrics composed by Walker, and that the music adds a tremendous artistic outlet for the actor to explore, and also provides another point of access for the audience into the story.
The play was directed by Cody Porter while in Toronto and Hamilton, but he took over as lead at the Edmonton Fringe, where his performance was also loudly lauded by the Edmonton Journal.
“Cody Porter does a wondrous job as the eponymous Amor de Cosmos (yes, that was actually his name), singing and dancing through the life of the one-man dynamo. There’s intrigue, bribery, scandal and a fascinating man swirling in the middle of the maelstrom.”
The Times asked Kemick what it was like to experience his first written play performed on stage?
“It’s empowering in a way to see this group of people take your work and make it their own, transform it and present it in front of other people, who become part of the play themselves,” said Kemick. “How they respond, what they like, and what they laugh at — it’s just a really intoxicating environment to be a part of.”
The Critics Pick from the Toronto Fringe Festival said that the play was: “Slightly delusional indeed, but Richard Kemick’s musical - billed as ‘Canadian historical fan fiction’ - is startlingly original and really good … A Fringe gem that is well worth a look.”
Kemick is understandably happy with the reviews, but gives credit to the production team that made it possible.
“As a sucker for any type of compliment, it is affirming and helps provide a path forward to other festivals and venues,” said Kemick.
As one who lives and plays in the Golden City, Kemick looks forward to bringing the play to Rossland to share it with residents and surrounding communities.
“We booked the Rossland Miners’ Hall before any of the Toronto, Hamilton or Edmonton stuff came up. It was always my primary objective to have it come to Rossland and everything else has just been gravy.”
Amor De Cosmos: A Delusional Musical — the unabridged version — will be performed Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 at Miners’ Hall in Rossland at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, and $15 for 18-and-under, or 3-shows-for-$60 bundle, and can be purchased at the Cellar in Rossland or at rosslandartscouncil.com.