In early 1964, The Pirates of Penzance was presented by the brand new Dunstable Amateur Operatic Society at the newly opened Queensway Hall and the story of DAOS began! In those early years at the Queensway Hall we largely performed operettas; typically two shows a year, a Gilbert & Sullivan and another operetta – perhaps by Strauss or Lehar, but by the end of the 1970’s DAOS was turning away from the world of operetta to the world of the musical.
In 1978 we presented My Fair Lady at the Queensway Hall and that show marked a ‘Sea Change’ in the life of DAOS. My Fair Lady was different – it required multiple scenes and multiple sets per act. Lighting needed to show both the inside and outside scenes as well as changes of mood, the cast had to cope with multiple costume changes in one show. The membership of the society began to change too – no longer was it good enough to have a beautiful singing voice – you had to be able to act, dance and sing!
Once DAOS had caught the musical theatre bug there was no stopping us and throughout the 1980’s we proceeded to work our way through the range of crowd-pleasing musicals. Our biggest success came when we first performed Oklahoma. Over 3200 people came to see that show. In fact that was a capacity audience for the Queensway Hall – a full house of over 800 people every night. As well as the classics of Rogers and Hammerstein, there was a mix of other musicals in there – Show Boat, Kismet, Hello Dolly, Guys & Dolls, Half a Sixpence and Oliver to name but a few.
As many of you will know, in 1997 the Queensway Hall closed and was eventually pulled down. For the next 10 years DAOS up-sticks and moved to Queensbury School. We did our best to turn it in to a theatre but it never quite lost that ‘school hall’ feel. However, against all the odds, we did pull off some remarkable shows there; The Sound of Music, Sweet Charity, Annie, Barnum and Return to the Forbidden Planet . We also performed various other shows, concerts, Old Time Music Halls and pantomimes.
Well many thought it would never happen but it did. Eventually the new theatre that was promised was built in Dunstable and opened its doors in 2007. Our first show at The Grove Theatre in the October of that year was 42nd Street, and it will be remembered by many because of the delayed start! Yes – on opening night – DAOS blew the electrics of the place! It eventually came to pass that during the commissioning of the theatre they had never tested the electric supply to its full – It took a DAOS show by Alistair Brown to test it to the full and blow a fuse!
So we now had a state of the art theatre to play in complete with fly tower and orchestra pit. It allowed us to step in to a new phase with new and exciting productions such as Grease, the first local amateur version of Beauty and the Beast, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Sister Act.
Putting on a show at The Grove of course costs a lot of money and so to help subsidise our major shows we typically perform one big show a year at The Grove and then we put on a smaller cast show at The Little Theatre, such as Forbidden Broadway and Avenue Q.
At the end of 2017, we took one more step on our journey. The term ‘amateur’ and ‘operatic’ no longer described what we did and so decided to ‘rebrand’ ourselves and look to the future as Dunstable Musical Theatre Company. Here’s to the next 50 years!