A musical-theatre performer known for his fine, mellow voice, comic timing and professionalism, Victor A. Young was a regular on Toronto’s stages as the city’s commercial theatre boomed beginning in the 1980s – while also working behind the scenes to help make sure its financial success filtered down.
The Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning actor and former president of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association played a string of parts for Mirvish Productions – from Hungarian producer Bela Zangler in Crazy for You (1993-1995) to German developer Hertz Klinemann in Rock of Ages (2010-2011).
He was also cast as professor Albus Dumbledore in the forthcoming production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child before the colon cancer that led to his death in Toronto on April 8 forced him to drop out.
“As Victor was always honourable above all else, he advised the casting team of his recent diagnosis at the time and of his plans for treatment,” said producer David Mirvish, who valued Mr. Young’s strong, grounded performances and his leadership in acting companies. “Sadly, in March of this year Victor informed us that he had to withdraw from the production and the role was recast. … He will be missed in this production.” (The show was postponed to 2021 because of COVID-19.)
Victor Alexander Young was born on June 9, 1947, in Two Hills, Alta. He was the youngest of three children in the family of Joanna (née Goshko) and Alexander Young.
Victor’s father was a travelling businessman born Alexander Budnick, who had run away to join the circus in his youth. Referred to as “the young one” by his circus colleagues, he adopted Young as a surname – a change that may have also had to do with prejudice against Ukrainian-Canadians at the time.
The Young family moved to Calgary, and then to Vancouver, where Victor’s first stage experience came through Ukrainian dance. He went on to attend the University of British Columbia in the late 1960s, where he studied psychology, but became heavily involved with the Music Society, known as MUSSOC. His contemporaries included future Tony Award winner Brent Carver.
Mr. Young’s career took off in the 1970s when professional Canadian theatre was still in its infancy, at Vancouver companies such as the Arts Club and Theatre in the Park (now Theatre Under the Stars). He also performed with the Western Canada Youth Theatre, where he met a lifelong friend, producer and director Michael Bianchin; and in a 1972 revue called Nuggets Galore at the Theatre Royal music hall in Barkerville, receiving a rave review for his singing and guitar, banjo and violin playing from the Vancouver Sun.
Though he was best known for musical theatre, Mr. Young appeared for three seasons with the Stratford Festival company, in Ontario. His first season, in 1976, saw him play small roles in Shakespeare and a well-remembered production of Three Sisters that starred Maggie Smith as Masha.
Mentoring younger artists became an important part of his life during stints in residence at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after which Mr. Young moved to Toronto. He would go on to teach across Ontario, at Sheridan College, Randolph College and St. Lawrence College.
For Mr. Young, 1986 was a significant year. First, he won his Dora playing a romantic hero in a crimson mask named the Red Shadow in a forgotten 1926 musical called The Desert Song – a Shaw Festival production recast for a Toronto run. While The Globe and Mail deemed the show “silly and insubstantial,” critic Salem Alaton was “beguiled” by Mr. Young: “His enthusiasm radiates while he works, and he lends his best voice – an affecting, mellow, fine voice – to even the silliest of musical moments.”
Then, later that summer, Mr. Young met the actress Jayne Lewis while the two were playing love interests in a musical in Barrie, Ont., and lodged at a local college residence. Ms. Lewis knocked on Mr. Young’s door one Friday and told him she had a bottle of Scotch in her room – and suggested they order a pizza to accompany it. “It doesn’t really go together, but we did apparently,” Ms. Lewis recalls.
A year later, the performers married – and the two would work together time and time again, most prominently starring opposite one another as the divorced showbiz couple Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi in Kiss Me, Kate at the Stratford Festival in 1989. During that season in Stratford, the newlyweds used their spare time to create their own “suitcase show,” Irving Berlin… Always, a tribute to the American songwriter that they performed with symphonies across Canada.
In the early 1990s, the couple found work in the major “megamusicals” produced by Mirvish and its then-competitor Livent.
Ms. Lewis created the role of ballet mistress Madame Giry in a touring company of The Phantom of the Opera, then assumed the same role with the Toronto production, leaving the show when she became pregnant – at which point Mr. Young had been cast in Crazy for You, which would run from 1993 to 1995 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre; their son, Evan, was born a month after its opening night.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Young was active on the Equity council, hashing out the new commercial theatre agreements created for long-running commercial shows. He would rise through the ranks of the actors’ association to serve as its president from 2000 to 2003, during which time he negotiated a landmark pension reciprocity agreement with Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) in the United States.
“Victor taught me about the importance of service and about taking the highest of roads,” recalls Donna Fletcher, vice-president external during that time.
Mr. Young – who also had a steady television, film and voice-acting career with credits from Street Legal to Murdoch Mysteries – would become a regular on Mirvish stages in the 2000s, moving from the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings (2006) to Dirty Dancing (2007-2008) to Rock of Ages. Over the past decade, however, his most frequent stage appearances were with Drayton Entertainment, a large theatre company with seven venues across southwestern Ontario
Artistic director Alex Mustakas had been a fan of Mr. Young since seeing his Bela Zangler – “one of those performances that really left a mark,” he recalls – and first landed him in 2011 to play company president J.B. Biggley in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The actor’s many subsequent roles with Drayton included Daddy Warbucks in Annie, King Arthur in Spamalot and, in a late-career return to drama, the mystery writer Andrew Wyke in Sleuth, under the direction of former National Arts Centre artistic director Marti Maraden.
“I am very aware of Victor as an actor in comedy and music theatre, but this was a major dramatic role and he was just superb,” recalls Ms. Maraden, who had acted opposite Mr. Young in a production of Somerset Maugham’s The Circle at the Arts Club in 1970. ”Some actors reach a plateau and stay there – and others keep growing and growing in grace.”
Mr. Young, who was 72, leaves his wife and son, and his sisters, Dawn Clark and Myrna Thompson. Mirvish Productions honoured Mr. Young by dimming the marquee lights of the Royal Alexandra Theatre on April 14 at 8 p.m.