November 15, 2019

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'Power and desperation'

Cancer diagnosis, deep friendship bring intensity to RWB's Romeo and Juliet

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/2/2019 (275 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/2/2019 (275 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two of Broadway’s most glittering stars and former Royal Winnipeg Ballet School students come home tonight when they take the stage in the RWB’s latest incarnation of Romeo and Juliet.

The triple-threat artists and BFFs, Catherine Wreford Ledlow, 38, and Craig Ramsay, 41, appear as Lord and Lady Capulet in Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers that runs through Sunday at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Craig Ramsay (right) and Catherine Wreford Ledlow, playing Lord and Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet, are lifelong friends. Adding to the intensity between them is Catherine's diagnosis of terminal cancer. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Craig Ramsay (right) and Catherine Wreford Ledlow, playing Lord and Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet, are lifelong friends. Adding to the intensity between them is Catherine's diagnosis of terminal cancer. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The 125-minute story ballet by Dutch choreographer Rudi van Dantzig was last performed by the RWB in February 2014, and features Prokofiev’s live orchestral score performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

The company’s penultimate production of its 2018-19 season marks the first time Wreford Ledlow and Ramsay have performed together — the culmination of a lifelong dream.

"Absolutely, I consider the opportunity to perform with the prestigious Royal Winnipeg Ballet a career highlight because my passion has always been with the ballet," says Ramsay, who trained briefly at the RWB School Professional Division in 1997 before heading off to the Great White Way, where he starred in productions such as 42nd Street, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Fiddler on the Roof. 

Ramsay has since garnered worldwide fame as Bravo TV reality star and fitness trainer for hit shows Thintervention and Newlyweds: The First Year, which chronicled his marriage to husband Brandon Liberati.

"This is where I fell in love with artistry, with both Catherine and I having the late, great Arnold Spohr mentoring us personally, as well as being deeply influenced by Evelyn Hart," he adds of the RWB’s legendary former artistic director and fabled prima ballerina.

"I never could have imagined that we would be both be back dancing with this company over 20 years later."

Dance goes on despite brain cancer

The production is even more personal for Wreford Ledlow. She was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in June 2013, just five weeks after giving birth to her second child with martial arts husband Joel Ledlow.

Catherine Wreford Ledlow and Craig Ramsay share a goofy, fun closeness as they rehearse together at a Royal Winnipeg Ballet studio.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Catherine Wreford Ledlow and Craig Ramsay share a goofy, fun closeness as they rehearse together at a Royal Winnipeg Ballet studio. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The willowy performer, who once enthralled Broadway audiences in Oklahoma! and 42nd Street, is now dancing toward the edges of her original two-to-six-year life expectancy prognosis, following surgery and gruelling rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

She continues to defy all medical odds, choosing to thrive with cancer and pursue her passion for the stage after returning to Winnipeg with her husband and their two young children, Elliot, 8, and Quinn, 5, from Oklahoma City in 2014. She’s dazzled Winnipeg fans with her performances in Rainbow Stage’s Beauty and the Beast, A Chorus Line, Les Misérables, and Mamma Mia.

"Dancing has helped me live longer. It just feeds my soul and it feeds my whole body and nourishes me in a way that nothing else can," says Wreford Ledlow, who trained 12 years at the RWB School Recreational Division. Her feet were not destined for a rigorous ballet career on pointe but she first fell head over heels in love with musical theatre, which became her bond with Ramsay.

“Dancing has helped me live longer. It just feeds my soul and it feeds my whole body and nourishes me in a way that nothing else can." - Catherine Wreford Ledlow

"And it also doesn’t matter whether it’s Broadway, Rainbow Stage, or at my church. I just feel joy," she adds while still keenly aware of the brute realities of her illness, which claimed the life of the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie in 2017.

"I want my kids to say, ‘Omigosh, Mom had brain cancer when she did this show and how cool is that. She didn’t let anything stop her,’" says Wreford Ledlow. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I want my kids to say, ‘Omigosh, Mom had brain cancer when she did this show and how cool is that. She didn’t let anything stop her,’" says Wreford Ledlow. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I want my kids to say, ‘Omigosh, Mom had brain cancer when she did this show and how cool is that. She didn’t let anything stop her,’ " the proud mother says, noting that having an "invisible" disease makes navigating daily life, as well as the quest for a cure, that much more difficult.

Wreford Ledlow is equally a passionate advocate and active fundraiser for brain-cancer research with the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation, as well as a support-group facilitator who took calls during Romeo and Juliet rehearsals from newly diagnosed patients left reeling with their own diagnoses.

She’s also a dance teacher at the Shelley Shearer School of Dance, with her own budding musical theatre stars slated to perform during the school’s upcoming Dance for a Cure fundraiser being held in her honour on March 10 and 11 at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Pair like an 'old married couple'

Ramsay and Wreford Ledlow are simpatico, deeply connected artists who kibitz freely and finish each other’s sentences like a self-described "old married couple."

They have kept in close touch throughout the twists and turns of their respective showbiz careers, including sharing flats in Toronto, New York City and Los Angeles over the years. They even participated in each other’s wedding parties, and on Saturday, they’ll celebrate Ramsay’s birthday together.

Ramsay, who comes back to Winnipeg to visit Wreford Ledlow, says her illness has made her an even more compelling Lady Capulet.

Both well-known Broadway stars, Wreford Ledlow and Ramsay began their careers together as students 20 years ago at the RWB -- but this production of <I>Romeo and Juliet</i> is their first time performing onstage together.

Both well-known Broadway stars, Wreford Ledlow and Ramsay began their careers together as students 20 years ago at the RWB -- but this production of Romeo and Juliet is their first time performing onstage together.

"Her dancing is that much more passionate," he says. "I’ve heard throughout the (RWB) building that this is how Lady Capulet is meant to be. This kind of power and desperation that Catherine has because of what she’s gone through has been transferring over to this role," he says.

"I want to be there for all aspects of Catherine’s life. We don’t know when she’s going to have her final swan song, so that’s why this production is so special. We’ve always expedited our lives, but as soon as her diagnosis happened, I wanted to make sure Cath has all of her checkmarks. And this one is the big one, and the most spectacular one to have.

"It’s coming back to where it all began for her with career, and our friendship."

"This kind of power and desperation that Catherine has because of what she’s gone through has been transferring over to this role." -Craig Ramsay

Both artists can’t wait to finally celebrate their RWB company debut 22 years in the making in each other’s arms as Juliet’s regal parents in literature’s greatest love story while embodying their own.

"Craig has always been my bodyguard, and protected me most of my life from all kinds of bad situations until I met Joel," she says.

"I don’t even know how to describe our relationship but he’s like a brother to me," she adds. "He’s family."

 

holly.harris@shaw.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 7:34 PM CST: Changes minor detail in story.

7:43 PM: Fixes typo.

8:25 PM: Fixes date.

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