Cedric Smith: Jack of all trades, master of them all
Joins Loreena in concert to perform A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Multi-award-winning actor Cedric Smith has a list of movie, theatre and television credits as long as your arm. Perhaps best remembered for his role as the good-hearted father figure Alec King on the popular Canadian television series Road to Avonlea, he and Loreena have shared a long history of watching each other’s careers take shape.
They first met in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 1970s. “She was very young, but she was already making a name for herself,” he recalls. They met again in Stratford, Ontario in the early 1980s when both were involved with The Stratford Festival, he as an actor, Loreena as a composer. “I remember she was just becoming interested in Irish music and we both liked folk music, so we did a few gigs here and there.” Cedric was also the founder and member of the Stratford-based folk group Perth County Conspiracy (1969-1977).
Perhaps no surprise then that he played guitar and vocals on Loreena’s debut album, Elemental, released in 1985.
When her mother, Irene, died in 2011, Loreena invited Cedric to read from Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales at the service, since it was always a favourite of her mother’s.
While Cedric and Loreena go way back, he has an even longer history with A Child’s Christmas in Wales. In 1965, he made “a little recording of it,” – a 45 RPM vinyl record. “I would read the first part of the piece with guitar accompaniment and loved doing that.” He was also born and raised less than 100 miles from Swansea, the seaside town in Wales that is the setting for the story, told through the eyes of a child.
So, it was fitting that in December 2021, Cedric read – or rather performed – the Welsh Christmas story again, this time in its entirety as part of Loreena’s first-ever seasonal concerts, held in the historic sanctuary of Stratford’s Knox Church. A magical miscellany of music and spoken word, these intimate concerts were professionally recorded and released on Nov. 18th as her 16th album, entitled Under A Winter’s Moon. Dec. 1st marks the beginning of her eight-city Ontario tour of the same name, with many of the performances in imaginatively-repurposed church sanctuaries.
“It’s extraordinary to be able to work with an actor of Cedric’s experience and ability in bringing this lovely story forward,” say Loreena. “His performance of A Child’s Chrismas in Wales is completely captivating and entertaining and has us in stitches, even after hearing it for the umpteenth time. We are so grateful to have this opportunity to work with him.”
During the first of the three Stratford shows last December, the power went out and Cedric was forced to perform the Dylan Thomas story with no microphone. Being a consummate professional, he had no trouble rising to the challenge. In fact, he enjoyed it. “The power went down just as I was reading it. You quickly realize how incredibly quiet a church can be, which allows sound and spiritual things to take shape.
“The whole idea of performing in a church fascinates me,” he confides. “It’s an extremely challenging piece to perform, but the spirituality I get from the music and the spoken words – there’s something about the power of that kind of space.”
A Child’s Christmas in Wales was written 70 years ago, yet it remains a cherished seasonal favorite. Cedric believes it’s endurance lies in its comforting simplicity. “It’s nostalgic and romantic. How safe the world was with your extended family all downstairs at Christmas. And there’s no preaching in the whole piece.” He also believes it offers comfort and hope. “It’s the kind of story we use for inspiration, to help get us through the winter solstice and the darkness into the spring.”
Cedric’s long and accomplished career in film, television and theatre has offered him dozens of roles, but there’s one he remembers with a particular fondness. He played Billy Bishop in 350 performances of John Gray’s and Eric Peterson’s musical Billy Bishop Goes to War, one of the most widely-performed plays in Canadian theatre. The two-man production dramatizes the life of Canadian First World War fighter pilot Billy Bishop.
For some people living in the more rural areas, it was the first Canadian play they’d ever seen. In fact, he had women coming up to him saying the play had changed this understanding they had with their husbands where they agreed to accompany them to no more than six theatre performances a year. Seems the husbands “could finally relate to a character like Billy Bishop – ‘I once knew a guy like that’ kind of thing.”
Cedric also remembers being a guest at an event filled with young people who were “incredibly bored” while he was introduced and his achievements listed – that is until they heard he was the original voice of Professor X on the X-Men cartoon. “Oh, they loved that,” he laughs.
The immensely popular Road to Avonlea, a series based on the experiences of Lucy Maud Montgomery growing up on Prince Edward Island in Canada, was a wave of success he happily navigated. His portrayal of Alec King earned him a Gemini Award, a prestigious honour similar to the Emmy Award in the U.S. and the BAFTA TV Award in the U.K. Road to Avonlea was shown in 140 countries and was especially popular in Japan.
“Girls would write to me after their Nanas died and tell me it was the only time they were allowed to eat in front of the television – when the show came on at night.”
Cedric is now “tremendously” looking forward to the upcoming Under A Winter’s Moon Tour.
“Like here, all over Europe there are churches being repurposed,” he says. “These spaces are special. Loreena’s group and the whole Celtic sound she’s got going, combined with the spoken words, makes this concert very different and accessible to all faiths.
“To hear language and Loreena’s kind of music spilling into a church space becomes a rare experience,” says Cedric. “You don’t find that down at the corner store.”
Written by Diane Sewell, a career journalist for more than 30 years. In addition to working with Loreena for 20 years, she has also written for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and assorted consumer magazines. She is also the author of several commissioned books.