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Local duo turns to unlikely subject for their cheeky musical

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From left, Carly Berthon, Devon Gillingham, Connor Wielgosz and Arthur Holroyd.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

From left, Carly Berthon, Devon Gillingham, Connor Wielgosz and Arthur Holroyd. Photo Store

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival is a theatrical celebration of the different, the offbeat, the new. But thumb through the program, you'll notice that many of the perennial acts are an embodiment of the Casablanca line: "Round up the usual suspects."

All those returning fringe vets beg the question: Whence are the fringe creators of tomorrow going to come?

This year, you could make a case for the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, where Taxidermy: The Musical plays nightly (except for Monday, July 22) at Venue 29, Richardson Hall.

The show's creators and stars are Connor Weilgosz, 17, and Devon Gillingham, who celebrated his 18th birthday on July 18, the second night of the show.

Both are vets of the MTYP musical theatre program on shows including The Arcadians, Into the Woods and The Pirates of Penzance. Weilgosz got one fringe production under his belt as an actor last year with Bare, a musical about high school seniors at a Catholic school.

But it was a fringe production from two years ago, Cannibal: The Musical, that jump-started the pair's aspirations as musical theatre creators.

The show, written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, hit the guys where they live, especially admitted South Park fan Weilgosz. Parker and Stone "were huge inspirations in this process," Weilgosz says, citing their Tony Award-winning collaboration The Book of Mormon as an example of "a refined sense of humour."

"You can make something a joke, but still keep it a serious story," Weilgosz says.

"We thanked them in our program," Gillingham says.

Intent on collaborating on a musical of their own, Gillingham, a graduate of Transcona Collegiate, and Grant Park High's Weilgosz looked around for a subject that hadn't been done before. It was actually Connor's father, Paul Weilgosz, who suggested the theme of taxidermy.

"I didn't even know what that was at the time," Connor says. "I asked: 'What's taxidermy?' And he said, 'It's where those people stuff animals and put deer heads on the wall and stuff like that.' I thought: That's weird."

But weird was good.

"I pitched that to Devon and we started working on it," Connor says.

Gillingham is the musical expert of the two. Recently the winner of the first Essentially Ellington Gerhard W. Vosshall Student Composition/Arranging contest, Gillingham heads to New York this fall, where he earned a full scholarship to the New School of Contemporary Music and Jazz. He'll be singing along to the piano, bass, guitar and assorted keyboards he played and recorded with a drummer friend for the canned "bed tracks" of the musical.

Gillingham plays enthusiastic taxidermist Herbie Shore opposite Weilgosz's Rusty Mounter, a third-generation taxidermist tired of stuffing dead animals. Rusty really wants to be a musical theatre performer, much to the chagrin of his homophobic father.

The ensuing conflicts accommodate an onslaught of unlikely musical numbers, including a musical ode to formaldehyde and potentially rude songs such as I Want to Mount You and A Mounter's Meant to Mount.

"There's definitely enough vulgarity that we put 'mature content,' 'language,' and 'gratuitous mounting' as the warnings for the show, to make sure people don't bring their kids," Weilgosz says, adding: "Yes, it is kind of ironic, since Devon and I aren't even 18 yet."

Attribute the bawdy humour to the event that inspired the pair in the first place.

"The fringe definitely allowed us to un-tame ourselves and un-tame the writing," Weilgosz says. "It let it happen organically instead of: We can't do that."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2013 D5

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