A 50 Year Partnership with Durham Musical Theatre Company
In 1967, Durham Amateur Operatic Society was looking for a new director for its next production. They approached a young 24 year old teacher who had recently staged two shows at Ferryhill Grammar School, one Fred Wharton. When asked about what he would be interested in directing, he intimated that it should be something more modern than the previous operetta-style productions the company had been attempting. The Society eventually invited Fred to stage “The Desert Song” at The Assembly Rooms Theatre in 1968, and so began a 50 year partnership that has resulted in a staggering 64 productions of musicals, pantomimes and concerts. This needs to be seen in context: our current staging of “Some Enchanted Evenings” is the Company’s 133rd production since being formed in 1908, i.e. Fred has directed virtually half of them all!! He has seen the Company move from the tiny Assembly Rooms Theatre to the George Garland Theatre at New College and now to the magnificent GALA Theatre. Fred has directed all 19 of productions at GALA, with next year’s thrilling “A Tale of Two Cities” being the 20th.
Fred has now been directing for 50 years, resulting in a total of over 140 productions with various groups to his credit. He first became interested in the amateur stage when as a teenager he worked backstage for several local societies. At Birmingham University he studied theatre directing with a BBC producer before embarking on his teaching career. Fred has staged his productions at many of the leading theatres in the North East, namely: the Theatre Royal, Newcastle (18 productions), Sunderland’s Empire Theatre (12 productions), South Shields’ Customs House, the New Tyne Theatre in Newcastle, Whitley Bay Playhouse as well as the GALA Theatre in Durham City.
The works of Stephen Sondheim feature highly in his production schedule and he has directed “Follies”; “Company”; “Sweeney Todd”; “Into the Woods”; “A Little Night Music” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. Fred has directed all the major musicals but has especially enjoyed working on “West Side Story”; “Camelot”, “The Secret Garden”, “My Fair Lady”, “King’s Rhapsody”, “The Vagabond King”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “42nd Street”, “Titanic”, and “Scrooge”.
Fred has devised and written a series of tribute concerts for DMTC, together with musical directors George Hetherington and Steven Hood. These were: “An Evening with Oscar and Steve” (2000), based on the lives of Oscar Hammerstein II and Stephen Sondheim, “What a Swell Party!” (2002), telling the story of Cole Porter, “Noel and Ivor” (2008), comparing and contrasting the works of Noel Coward and Ivor Novello and now today’s “Some Enchanted Evenings”.
Fred has a huge commitment and love for DMTC, the Company which gave him his early chances. He has devoted his enormous talent and energies over 50 years to make DMTC into what it is today. We cannot thank him enough for all he has given us and we are delighted that all his efforts were rewarded in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2013. He was awarded the British Empire Medal for ‘services to drama in the northeast’- a richly deserved recognition! This was presented to Fred in Durham Town Hall on 3rd October by the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen.