Johnny and June, Together Again
My visit with Chelsey Duplak
By Mary Alderson
London is absolutely the best place to bring Johnny Cash and June Carter on stage together again. After all, it was in London, Ontario, Canada in 1968, when Johnny proposed to June on stage, in front of an audience at the London Gardens.
The show, Johnny and June: A Love Story, is a testament to their romance. It comes to the London City Music Theatre (the former Imax Theatre at Western Fair) November 12 and 13.
Chelsey Duplak plays June while Aaron Solomon is Johnny. The show was co-created by Chris McHarge and Colin Stewart, and was first staged this past summer at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre.
Chelsey Duplak is a talented young triple threat, with a strong voice and a stage presence to match. Her enthusiasm for entertaining is ever-present.
“I’m thrilled to play June,” Chelsey says, “I grew up listening to Johnny Cash. My parents played his records.” So how did a Manitoba native bring June back to London?
Chelsey was living in Toronto when a good friend mentioned to her that Lighthouse Theatre was planning this show. “You’d be perfect as June Carter,” the friend said. Chelsey looked into it, exchanged some emails, and landed an audition. (Here she offers special thanks to her friend, my son Thomas. With his aging Mazda, he was able to drive her to Port Dover for the audition). The car and driver came through, and so did Chelsey in the audition, as she landed the coveted role.
“I’ve listened to June to get a more Country feel,” Chelsey says. The show went on to a successful run in Port Dover, and is now being reprised in London. “There’s talk it will continue in other locations,” Chelsey says, hopefully.
In the first act, Johnny is at Folsom Prison, and June narrates some of the story, Chelsey explains. The first act ends with a Cash favourite, the song “Jackson”. In act two, the action flashes back to the start of their separate careers. The show climaxes in London, Ontario where Johnny asks June to marry him on stage.
“There are so many songs in the show – it’s one hit after another,” Chelsey enthuses, “It’s my favourite role I’ve ever done.” Chelsey loves singing country, and enjoys becoming June for the part. “I’ve seen videos of the Grand Ole Opry to watch June in action. She’s very devoted to Johnny, she changed his life, she got his life back in order,” Chelsey adds.
Chelsey has had a very good year – she returned home to Winnipeg to be in Rent at Rainbow Stage, Canada’s longest running outdoor theatre. Rent, directed by Jeremy Kushnier, (Tommy DeVito in Toronto’s Jersey Boys) was an excellent experience. She also appeared in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Rainbow Stage.
She was in The Dream in Toronto, and The Backyardigans, a staged version of the hit TV show by Koba Entertainment. After graduating from Oakville’s Sheridan College in 2008, she spent six months as a performer on board the Enchantment of the Seas for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
“I was very fortunate in my roles at Sheridan,” she adds. She played Macy, the bratty daughter in The Barbecue King, a mother in 110 in the Shade, and appeared in the Jerome Kern Revue, directed by Mark Richard with Christopher Mounteer as musical director. “We sang amazing harmonies in that show”, she says. Heading into her second year of college, she landed a summer job playing Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz at Rainbow Stage.
“I grew up in Dugald, a rural community just outside Winnipeg, and my parents were my chauffeurs. They drove me around to music festivals and other singing competitions.” Her family – mom and dad Linda and Shayne Duplak, and brother Colin (he’s a “computer whiz”) – continue to live in Manitoba. As Johnny Cash fans, her parents were an influence when she sought the role of June.
Telling the romantic story of Johnny and June continues to be a great experience for Chelsey: “Who doesn’t love to play something that makes everybody happy?”
That happy experience is available, right here in London, the city of romance for country music’s famous couple.
Johnny and June: A Love Story on stage November 12 and 13, 2010, at London City Music Theatre at the Western Fairgrounds, London. Tickets are available at the box office at 519-432-0888, or check www.londoncitymusictheatre.com