In the first few moments of Paper Mill Playhouse‘s new musical, My Very Own British Invasion, patience is said to be one of the key qualities that exists inside a Brit. They lost one big war with America, and then had to wait quite a while until the found just the right army to wage a war they could win. I generally don’t like generalizations though, as I’m unsure that this one is actually true, but with this newly constructed jukebox musical, one that I’m sure everyone is hoping will invade Broadway in the not too distant future, it is definitely a quality that one would need to watch this coming of age tale from beginning to end. With a unfocused book by Rick Elice (Broadway’s Jersey Boys, The Cher Show), My Very Own British Invasion revolves around a fictional and musical battle of the lover/singers, with the prize being a bad girl blonde who can’t seem to focus her mixed up mind. She’s the Helen of Troy of this story of war, passionately fueling a conflict between the Bad Boy rocker and the Nice Young Man, with the battleground being the stage of the Bag O’ Nails musical hall, the true blue center and war room of the British Rock ‘n’ Roll Invasion.
With “Concept” being credited to the real life pop star, Peter Noone, portrayed by the wide-eyed eager beaver, Jonny Amies (Netflix’s ‘Sex Education‘), the young cute man achieved fame as Herman, the lead singer of the ’60’s band Herman’s Hermits. Getting his act together at the ripe young age of 15, he and his band actually sold over 60 million records and produced dozens of hit song’s including “I’m Into Something Good“, “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter“, and “There’s a Kind of Hush“. That’s a true fact of British music history, something that gets a bit lost in this messy semi-autobiographical tale. There are some true to life figures here, while others, fabricated for dramatic purposes, but these Herman hits are real and all here, along with more than two dozen chart-topping songs from all the best British bands of the era, including, The Beatles singing “She Loves Me“. It’s a strong start, especially with Jonny Amies’ stellar performances of these hit songs, ushered in by the pseudo-MC of the night, Geno, portrayed by the wildly talented Kyle Taylor Parker (off-Broadway’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe), giving us a Billy Porter type moment of brilliance and showmanship. He’s wildly wonderful, but I was never really sure who he was, or what he was meant to be, other than someone to hand off the mic to when the show needs some juice, and a few pieces of information spread wide over the audience.
Together with Amies’ Peter/Herman, the two lead us through the tale, introducing us to the cast of wild characters that morphed the bar, Bag O’ Nails, designed strongly by David Rockwell (Broadway’s The Nap), with spot on lighting by Kenneth Posner (Broadway’s Pretty Woman), well structured sound by Andrew Keister (Broadway’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and solid historical projection design Andrew Lazarow (Broadway’s Head over Heels), into a firecracker showcase for up and coming superstars. History tells us that the likes of Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, and John Lennon, who is portrayed here by Bryan Fenkart (Signature’s Piece of My Heart) as the man who is responsible for ushering in the underage Peter and buying him his first drink (true fact), were known to hang out here, priming and preparing for the British Invasion of the Americas, a war they will finally win, even though this musical gets a bit lost on the journey.
So far so good, as the music, with supervision, arrangements, orchestrations by Lon Hoyt (Broadway’s Escape to Margaritaville) and Francisco Centeno, Clint De Ganon, and John Putnam also being credited with orchestrations, flies out with a fast and furious 1960’s glamour and speed. It’s intoxicating, the sound, but it is also clear that we are supposed to be enamored by the young Peter, and in general, his fresh sparkly eyed presence is captivating, particularly when he eyes the love of his young life, the blond it-girl, Pamela. As played cheekily by the talented Erika Olson (FX’s ‘Pose‘), she really is the epitome of the magnificent “girl can’t help it” wild one, a troubled piece of vague neediness dressed in period perfect Tiggy star-ness by costuming Gregg Barnes (Broadway’s Mean Girls). She casually plays with the heart of the cute young Peter, knowing all the while she is already attached and inexplicably drawn to the bad boy rock singer, Trip, played with wild abandonment by the sexy long-haired Conor Ryan (off-Broadway’s Desperate Measures) bare chested in a pair of tight pants. The triangle is set, and the war within the British Invasion has begun, even though we all know how the cards have been dealt. The only suspense now is how the cards will be played.
The three, along with every other member of the cast hold their own, singing passionately and strongly within the onslaught of British period classics. There’s energy and excitement in those songs, and 60’s era appropriateness in the dancing and hurried mayhem of moment across that stage is electric, running around the stage like mad hatters on their way to tea. Here’s where patience becomes key, because as directing and choreographing by Jerry Mitchell (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) that battle just keeps playing out endlessly for over two hours, with Pamela bouncing back and forth between the two like a bi-polar sex addict who lost her medication along with her sense of reasoning. We all know that Peter is the kind sweetheart of the tale, most likely to succeed in all ways but love. We also know that Trip is a full-blown narcissist jerk, who speaks of love but knows nothing about its true weight. Why she keeps going there, back and forth between the two as quickly as she falters and falls into drug addiction and chaos on the road in America, is beyond us all, especially once the second act gets cranked up. Once Trip calls into play his overbearing one-note muscle, the meathead Hammer, played by Daniel Stewart Sherman (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) to man handle and bruise up the young Herman singer, the war is over. Or at least I stopped caring who was going to win. That’s the point I gave up on Pamela, and basically became a Social Worker to the young Peter, wanting him to find the self-esteem to stop mooning over the messed up Pamela. He needed to get over that bad girl, and fast. Not exactly the love story we could get behind.
My Very Own British Invasion is filled to the brim with great songs, spell-binding performances, and brilliant 60’s dancing. The atmosphere is on fire, but the focus is unclear, at least in the book and the dramatization. It needed to be either silly and fun, or serious and period perfect, but floating back and forth, like Pamela’s meandering heart, doesn’t do the trick of making us care, at least for her and the choice she has to make. Luckily the music is good enough to win a war against America, but maybe not one on Broadway.
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De Filippo’s “Grand Magic” Amazes in a Sharply Constructed Sleight of Hand at Canada’s Stratford Festival
The seagulls squawk and cry out overhead, drawing us down into the sunkissed scene of striped umbrellas and beach chairs. We bathe in its warm glow, happily, as we take in the lux surroundings of the beautiful seaside Hotel Metropole, waiting, alongside all the other well-heeled vacationers for the arrival of tonight’s entertainment. It’s Grand Magic that is about to arrive, but questions about the man at its center swirl around like those seagulls up above. Is it something far greater than some fancy card tricks? Or are we being misled; tricked down a fool’s road to believe or maybe imagine the unimaginable? Surrender to our instincts, we are instructed, but is that really the game or is there some other twist waiting for the applause multiplier to enliven the moment and the man?
Standing firm and unshakable (or so we at first believe), the arrogant and dismissive Calogero, played to perfection by the impressive Gordon S Miller (Crow’s A&R Angels), fights with that idea, at least in the beginning. Accompanied by his unhappy captive wife Marta, beautifully embodied by Beck Lloyd (Stratford’s R+J), Calogero barely can contain his disregard for the main magical attraction; but even more so for all those guests who gather, playing cards and gossiping about all that approaches and surrounds them.
Lucky for us all, we don’t have to wait too long for the main event; the grand magician, Otto Marvuglia, magically portrayed by Geraint Wyn Davies (LCT’s King Lear), to arrive. And with a flourish, he saunters in, dressed to impress, thanks to the talented work of costume designer Francesca Callow (Stratford’s Three Tall Women), flinging his hat and walking stick around like magical acrobats overhead. We can’t help ourselves. We must lean it, wondering what tricks Otto and his spectacularly feisty wife, Zaira, magnificently portrayed by Sarah Orenstein (Stratford’s Wolf Hall), have in store for us. But more so, will we be able to see the trick inside playwright Eduardo De Filippo’s gorgeously rendered Grand Magic at the Stratford Festival‘s intimate Tom Patterson Theatre.
Although unknown to me, playwright De Filippo is considered by many as one of the most important Italian artists and playwrights of the 20th century and the author of many theatrical dramas staged and directed by the man himself. La grande magia(1948), renamed Grand Magic by co-adaptors John Murrell and the play’s dramaturge Donato Santeramo, is the third of De Filippo’s plays that have been staged at the Stratford Festival by the artistic director, Antoni Cimolino (Stratford’s Macbeth) who digs, with grand determination, into the luminous artifice with a magic all his own. It breaks through the walls of our perception, as we watch with glee, playing with philosophical ideals of time and reality under a magician’s cloak of manipulation and deceit. It’s clever in its construction, and captivating in the ultimate unraveling, as we watch a fascinating game played perfectly to the highest level of inventiveness, or possible insanity, questioning faith and reality at every turn. But to what end?
The game begins with an outward deliberate flourish of gifts and refreshments, and an internal deceptive dance led by a few pretend-hotel-guest accomplices, portrayed purposefully by the always good Steve Ross (Stratford’s Chicago) as Gervasio; and a father and daughter team, Arturo and Amelia Tuddei, played a bit too dramatically by David Collins (Stratford’s The Tempest) and Qianna MacGilchrist (Stratford’s Hamlet-911) [in a part usually portrayed by Germaine Konji]. But the core of the ultimate con is dispatched more privately, out of sight, in the financial arrangement between the strapped and desperate magician, Otto, and Marta’s determined secret paramour Mariano, dutifully portrayed by Jordin Hall (Driftwood’s Othello) who’s dying to get the unhappily married and pseudo caged Marta away from her jealous husband. Even for fifteen minutes. Or more.
Calogero, as played most miraculously by Miller, is thrown off balance in a heartbeat by the disappearance, but more so because of his own lack of faith; in his wife and his heart. Somehow in that boxed-up struggle, he is caught in a magnificent trap of construction and deception, thanks to the magnificent phrasing of this illustrious playwright. Questioned and challenged by the desperate magician, who sees his own cage’s ceiling dropping fast if he doesn’t think even faster, Calogero becomes enlisted and entangled in a head-tripping construct that plays with his, and our own heads in the most captivating way. It’s a wordplay of formulations, juggling with ideas of time and reality, after Calogero’s wife, Marta, in a trick of corrupted theatricality, somewhat lazily crafted by set and lighting designer Lorenzo Savoini (Soulpepper’s Mother’s Daughter), disappears into the night.
The sets are exacting, beautifully crafted, and expertly designed, don’t get me wrong, with a strong sound design by Ranil Sonnadera (Theatre Aquarius’ The Extinction Therapist) and musical composition by Wayne Kelso (Stratford’s The Rez Sisters) adding to the appeal of the seaside, but I guess I was hoping for a bit more actual magic here, and throughout the play from magic consultant, David Ben. Not just the emotional fragrance of magic. But real awe-inspiring magic. Marta steps out from inside the locked trick, clear as day, void of any vanishing flash, leaving the sarcophagus, the hotel, and her husband all behind in a hilariously played-out boat ride to Venice with her pleased lover. But what she leaves behind is a complication, worthy of some intellectual magic to make right. Otto hears the boat motoring off into the distance and realizes, quite rightly, that he has to play an instantaneous game of dangerous deception. Or else something more dangerous could happen, so he has to play it well and for the long haul. He has no choice, but maybe, somehow, it will help him rise up out of his financial troubles, at least until he can manipulate his way out the other side of his own personal sarcophagus.
Otto, as played most spectacularly by Wyn Davies, in a mad creation of metaphysical wordplay, convinces Calogero that Marta, after vanishing, has been caught, trapped within an adorned small box waiting for her release, very much like the marital enclosed space she just ran away where she was literally locked up in her room inside a marriage by her husband. Otto tells Calogero that Marta will only be released and returned to him if he opens the box with a strong believing heart and soul in her fidelity and faith. A clutched aspect and angle that takes the jealous husband by surprise and gives him pause. A pause that lasts years and years in tortured psychic constipation.
De Filippo’s Grand Magic doesn’t disappoint, even with its tiny amount of actual magic being performed. It is filled to the brim with clever manipulations and some very entertaining characters and complications unpacking roundabout ideas that captivate and enliven the material. In particular, one sharply performed roll of the dice enhances the momentum with astounding efficiency in the form of a strongly enacted policeman, hilariously portrayed by the amazing Emilio Vieira (RMTC’s The Three Musketeers) who arrives in a fantastically funny flurry, giving clever depth and delivering delight to the magician and all those who might accuse. Otto’s wife, as portrayed by Orenstein, is also a hat trick of the highest order, delivering lusty and withering lines that invigorate the air around her, and give greater depth to a part that could have easily vanished into thin air.
But these are just two fine examples in a cast overflowing with daft and delicious frivolity, giving the utmost entertaining pleasure to all that stay tuned into the way we all can deceive our own selves if it serves us. The play overflows with frameworks and angles to appreciate all that stride across the stage, even when some of those scenarios, especially the sad sick tale of Arturo’s young daughter, and her love of little purple flowers, feel somewhat unneeded and overstuffed. Much like the arrival of Calogero’s intruding greedy family.
Grand Magic is being performed at Stratford Festival’s Tom Patterson Theatreuntil 29 September. The Festival runs until 29 October.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
The Master Plan Unravels Brilliantly and Hilariously at Crow’s Theatre Toronto
“Definitely, a lot to unpack here,” says one soul to another as Crow’s Theatre‘s magnificently tuned-in production of The Master Plan, gets underway, diving deep and hilariously into the corporate politics and City Hall antics with the sharpest of wit and wonder. Based around the Globe and Mail reporter Josh O’Kane’s nonfiction book ‘Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy‘, this captivatingly funny, smart play spins a strongly focused web around a slice of Torontonian history that I had completely missed out on – I guess it didn’t make its way down to NYC. But I sure wish it had.
Adapted most brilliantly into a fiercely funny play by Michael Healey (The Drawer Boy; Generous, Courageous, and Proud), the fantastically fictionalized non-fiction story dives headfirst into some captivating city developmental processing that both signifies all that is right, and most wrong in Canadian politics and public office dynamics. In a way, it sounded sorta educational and possibly stiff, going in, but as unwound here by this most excellent team of theatre makers, it certainly made me lean in and listen, in a way that one of the characters, even though he claims to be “a listener” never actually seems to. Yet, as the structuring and the history begin to unravel before our very eyes, the sordid tall wooden tale certainly is one that pulls you in most happily.
I must admit I didn’t know much about it all; that time when Google, by way of its Sidewalk Labs division, tried with all its mighty might to buy and develop a parcel of land sandwiched way down between the lake and the Gardiner Expressway. It was a slice of Toronto waterfront land that was seen, at least by the Waterfront Toronto organization, as an exciting place to develop and experiment with an idea for a better place to live; a carbon-negative neighbourhood and a “city of the future,” based on a progressive idealized tech-dream filled with affordable housing and state-of-the-art efficiency. But the partnership was a complex one, made clear from the get-go by the way a slick Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, played strong and stompy by Mike Shara (Canadian Stage’s Take Me Out), moves around the space with a dismissive, and untrustworthy loud air. Standing in as the symbolic figurehead of one of the largest conglomerates in the world, Google (which is wonderfully unpacked for us in an avalanche of facts and names by a tree – more on that later) was never going to engage cooperatively with the Canadian system of doing things, as “adorable” and confusingly difficult as it is. Dan, and the company, were always going to try to bulldoze their way through the system, just like Dan proudly explains he did in NYC. So why wouldn’t it work here as well, Dan believes.
The doomed-from-day-one fiasco all began optimistically in 2017 when that small parcel of long-forsaken land on the city’s underdeveloped lakeshore was made available for development and Google co-founder Larry Page and his chairman Eric Schmidt saw an opening. The two began to lean in and pitch a progressive idea through the framework of Sidewalk Labs for the property, and with the pushy and determined Doctoroff as the urban-planning company’s CEO, profit and power were seen written in the future. Sidewalk’s bid dutifully crushed the competition, as seen in the dynamically presented and played-out Master Plan contest. But as soon as that initial bid was won, the team building between Doctoroff and the determined Waterfront Toronto’s team started to evaporate in a cultural power play that left a P.R. gap that was soon filled in with public fear and outspoken suspicion.
The partnership, as you can well imagine, didn’t go as planned. And as the systematic story of corporate greed slammed itself full force into this country’s governmental structuring, The Master Plan finds its fantastic formula in the outrageous details and dynamics that brought this short-lived partnership to its untimely and ultimate deathbed. Thank god, I imagine, as the play, brilliantly directed by Chris Abraham (Crow’s Uncle Vanya, Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing), continues most fantastically forward, the unraveling is filled to the brim with humourous takes on so many aspects and absurdities of Toronto and this country, with sharply focused lines being dutifully delivered by the play’s most excellent cast. There isn’t a bad egg in the group, donning numerous hats of extraordinary personas to document and deliver O’Kane’s detailed account of this disaster. And what a ride it is.
Narrated, to great effect, by a surprisingly talkative tree, portrayed with a clever disposition by Peter Fernandes (Crow’s Fifteen Dogs), the painfully funny and well-crafted battle to reel in the hungry power-seeking of Sidewalk Labs has deep roots in its structuring, setting up the city’s ultimate failure of futuristic urban development carefully and with humorous determination. Formated cleverly by set and props designer Joshua Quinlan (Stratford’s Casey and Diana), with a spectacular assist by costume designer Ming Wong (Bad Hats’ Alice in Wonderland), lighting designer Kimberly Purtell (Crow’s The Chinese Lady), sound designer Thomas Ryde Payne (Crow’s Red Velvet), and video designer Amelia Scott (Porte Parole’s The Assembly), the play’s commission, rooted in real-life political unravelings, finds and delivers the ridiculous and the arrogance with the clearest of clever strokes. The broadcast streamings of executives and bureaucrats, filmed and refocused on screens around the doomed Quayside project, roll out as tearfully brilliant as what the young Sidewalk designer Cam Malagaam, touchingly portrayed by the excellent Christopher Allen (Tarragon’s Redbone Coonhound), has to say in his dynamically delivered utopian speech that ultimately gives the project, and the whole piece, its strongly felt emotional heart and soul.
And when the resigning texts start coming in, alarmingly one after the other, detailing the conflictual unraveling of the project, it is the team at Waterfront Toronto; Philippa Domville (Tarragon’s If We Were Birds) as Meg Davis, Tara Nicodemo (Planet 88’s Cringeworthy) as Kristina Verner, Ben Carlson (Stratford’s Richard III) as Will Fleissig, and Yanna McIntosh (Obsidian’s Ruined) as Helen Burstyn, Waterfront Toronto’s board chair, that elevate the frenetic moment that is at the core. Domville and Nicodemo are particularly blazingly good, holding their own most powerfully against that “drunk baby with a pistol“; i.e. the corporate clowns of Sidewalk Labs. They fight and smash their literal faces into cake in the hope of staying true to their, possibly too grandiose idea of formulating and building something unheard of, brilliant, clever, and new, much like, pretty much, everything about this production of The Master Plan, which is high praise, indeed.
With director Abraham’s smashingly good cast unleashing their excellence all over those finely crafted and hilarious lines, the show revels in its comedy underpinning, rolling out sharply defined quips, like John Tory’s bad French, that, to be honest, flew over my head in their referential tone. Sometimes the formulation is a bit too busy, loading and unloading wooden models over and over again, for seemingly no solid referential purpose, but the quips and the jabs made me laugh even if I wasn’t tuned in to the factual landscape they were built upon. The play engulfs, creates, enlivens, and excites, mainly because of the clever delivery of the equally clever play. But at its core, it’s the tightness of its structural formulations that sold me on The Master Planat Crow’s Theatre, Toronto.
The Master Plan runs at Crow’s Theatre until October 8. For information and tickets, click here.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Opening Night Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
The John W. Engeman Theater’s production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical opened and T2C Genevieve Rafter Keddy was there to capture the moment.
From the chart-topping hits she wrote for the biggest acts in music to her own life-changing success with Tapestry, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical takes you back to where it all began–and takes you on the ride of a lifetime. Featuring such unforgettable classics as “You’ve Got a Friend”, “One Fine Day”, “So Far Away”, and many more. This Tony and Grammy Award-winning show is filled with the songs you remember and a story you’ll never forget.
The cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical features Stephanie Lynne Mason as Carole King (Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof; Off-Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish; National Tours: Million Dollar Quartet; Regional: George Street Playhouse, Wallis Center, Virginia Musical Theater)
Noah Berry as Barry Mann (National Tour: Spamalot, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story; Regional: Highlands Playhouse, Laguna Playhouse, Maples Repertory Theatre, Cincinnati Memorial Hall)
Jack Cahill-Lemmeas Gerry Goffin (Broadway: Moulin Rouge! The Musical; National Tour: Moulin Rouge! The Musical; Regional: North Shore Music Theatre, The Marriott Theatre, Timberlake Playhouse; The Rev; Film/ TV: “FLOATS”)
Sarah Ellis as Cynthia Weil (Engeman: Million Dollar Quartet; National Tour: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder; Regional: The Gateway Playhouse, Stages St. Louis, Gena Theatre, Ogunquit Playhouse)
Devon Goffman as Don Kirshner (National Tour: Jersey Boys, On Your Feet, Motown, Titanic, Grease, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story; Regional: Virginia Repertory Theatre, Dodger Theatricals, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre; Film/TV: “Law & Order Organized Crime”).
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is directed and choreographed by Paul Stancato (Engeman Theater: The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Bronx Tale, Aida, In the Heights, Grease, Jekyll & Hyde, Sound of Music, Hairspray; National Tours: The Wedding Singer, Disney’s The Lion King, Flashdance The Musical, Jekyll and Hyde; Off-Broadway: Friends! The Musical Parody, ROCKSHOW, Happy 50-ish; Regional: Drury Lane Chicago, The Public Theater Joe’s Pub, Timber Lake Playhouse, Grand Ole Opry, Palm Beach Dramaworks & The Mint Theater).
Stratford Festival’s 2024 Season
With great fanfare and a whole lot of theatre junkie excitement firing up inside me, Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino delighted us all with his announcement of the Stratford Festival’s 2024 season. It is a strong collection of 12 productions, packaged together with more than 150 events at the Meighen Forum, reflecting on the idea of “A World Elsewhere.”
“What unites the plays for next season is a journey away from the known,” says Cimolino, “a journey away from the comfortable towards something that – while it’s an immense challenge – often brings us to a much better place.”
The season will feature three Shakespeare plays, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and Cymbeline, along with the early Victorian comedy London Assurance by Dion Boucicault, the Ibsen masterpiece Hedda Gabler; the North American première of Wendy and Peter Pan, an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s book, by Ella Hickson; and Edward Albee’s 21st-century classic The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? – a play that frontmezzjunkies is totally thrilled to have the opportunity to see, as I’ve never seen that particular Albee play before.
Two musicals will be presented. The Festival Theatre will be home to the hilarious musical comedy Something Rotten!, with a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. At the Avon Theatre, it’s the Tony Award-winning La Cage aux Folles, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman.
The season will also feature three world premières: Salesman in China by Leanna Brodie and Jovanni Sy; a new adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s classic The Diviners by Vern Thiessen with Yvette Nolan; and Get That Hope by Andrea Scott.
“As I put together this new season, I looked for works that speak to departing from the past, stories about people who strike out in new directions,” says Cimolino. “I feel we are at a moment in society when we are genuinely ready to leave behind much of what was. In order to make that journey successfully, we need inspiration, joy, and delight along the way. I hope these plays will lift our hearts, make us laugh, and maybe show us that some risks are worth taking. And at the Stratford Festival perhaps the world elsewhere will be Peter Pan’s Neverland, Illyria of Twelfth Night, or the nightclub of La Cage aux Folles.”
The 2024 season will go on sale in December, with a special advance pre-sale for Members of the Stratford Festival in November. The events of the Meighen Forum will be announced in the coming months. The season will run from mid-April through October.
“I’m immensely proud of the directors and creative teams that have come together to bring these plays to vibrant life,” says Cimolino. “With their talent and inspired work there will be a world elsewhere right here in Stratford – and it will be beautiful.”
Proud Season Partner: RBC
Support for the 2024 season of the Festival Theatre is generously provided
by Daniel Bernstein & Claire Foerster.
Production support is generously provided by Priscilla Costello, by Dr. Desta Leavine in memory of Pauline Leavine, by Peggy Ptasznik, and by Laurie J. Scott.
A shipwreck steals Viola’s twin brother from her and lands her in a foreign country. Seeking safety and income, she disguises herself as a young man, Cesario, and gains employment with the lovesick Count Orsino, who is pining for his beloved Olivia, deep in mourning for her own brother. Desperate to win Olivia’s love, Orsino sends Cesario to court her in his stead. But love is found in unexpected places in this rollicking romance of mistaken identity.
Making her Stratford directorial debut with this production is Seana McKenna, who has played both Viola and Olivia, along with the rest of Shakespeare’s leading ladies in a storied career. At Stratford alone, she has played almost 60 leading roles, including the leading role of Rose Ouimet in this season’s Les Belles-Soeurs. She has taught extensively across Canada and the U.S., including at the National Theatre School, the Birmingham Conservatory, and American Conservatory Theatre. She has directed for The New Globe, The Shakespeare Company/Hit and Myth Productions, and Here for Now Theatre, and has received acting and directing awards for her work in theatre and film.
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Conceived by Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom are playwrights toiling away in the shadow of the great William Shakespeare. Desperate for a hit, Nick visits a soothsayer who predicts that the next great thing in theatre will be something called “a musical.” Wary but trusting, the brothers set off to create a new theatrical genre – only to find Shakespeare wants in on the act. Featuring songs like “God, I Hate Shakespeare”, “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard”, the Tony Award-winning musical Something Rotten! (The Broadway production’s frontmezzjunkies review can be found here) is perfect for the Stratford stage and for all audiences, whether they know and love Shakespeare or are just jumping on the bandwagon now.
Filled with glorious dance numbers, this production will be helmed by Director-Choreographer Donna Feore, returning to the Festival for her 28th season with a string of hits under her belt, including 2022’s Chicago, 2019’s Billy Elliot the Musical and Little Shop of Horrors, and 2018’s The Music Man and The Rocky Horror Show. She has recently been working in the U.S., developing the new musicals Mythic and The Griswolds’ Broadway Vacation, as well as Summer Stock, for which she opened the world première this summer.
The production is co-sponsored by RBC.
Production support is generously provided by John & Therese Gardner,
by Robert & Mary Ann Gorlin, by The William and Nona Heaslip Foundation
and by Riki Turofsky & Charles Petersen.
ROMEO AND JULIET
By William Shakespeare
An age-old feud precludes the passionate love Romeo and Juliet feel for each other, but its fervour cannot be quelled. Blinded by hatred, Juliet’s father makes a fateful decision that prompts the lovers to rebel in a manner that will lead to the destruction of both families.
The production will be directed by Sam White, who made her Stratford directorial debut in 2023 with another story of forbidden love, Wedding Band, by Alice Childress. White is the founding Artistic and Executive Director of Shakespeare in Detroit, where her productions include The Tempest and Othello. She directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for The Old Globe and also served as the assistant director for the Festival’s 2018 production of The Tempest with Martha Henry in the leading role.
By Dion Boucicault
This delightful comedy follows the aging Sir Harcourt as he travels to the country estate of Oak Hall, where he intends to marry Grace, the 18-year-old niece of his old chum Max. He leaves his studious son, Charles, at home, not realizing Charles is in fact a riotous man-about-town. Charles meantime assumes a disguise in order to follow his father to Oak Hall and pursue Grace himself. Laughter ensues as Sir Harcourt finds titillation in the married Lady Gay Spanker, who is clearing the way for Charles to woo Grace.
The production will be directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, who has helmed a number of hilarious period comedies, including 2022’s The Miser, The School for Scandal (2017), The Hypochondriac, (2016), The Alchemist (2015) and The Beaux’ Strategem (2014).
Production support is generously provided by Dr. Dennis & Dorothea Hacker, by Jane Fryman Laird,
by Dr. M.L. Myers, by Catherine Elliot Shaw and by Dr. Robert J. & Roberta Sokol.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Based on the play by Jean Poiret
Jean-Michel and Anne are deeply in love and about to get married. The only problem is their parents. Anne’s father is a politician and head of the Tradition, Family, and Morality Party. Jean-Michel was raised by his two fathers, Georges, a nightclub owner, and Albin, a drag performer. Before the wedding occurs the two couples must be introduced. The orchestration of that meeting makes for hilarious theatre with a touching and emotional conclusion. Winner of 11 Tony Awards and two Oliviers, La Cage aux Folles was also adapted into a hugely successful movie, “The Bird Cage“, starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.
The production will be directed by Thom Allison, who brought us this year’s hit production of Rent and the 2021 cabaret You Can’t Stop the Beat. Next season will be Allison’s eighth with the Festival. His directing credits also include YPT’s Seussical and the record-breaking production of Mary Poppins, as well as Million Dollar Quartet at Theatre Calgary.
The choreographer will be Cameron Carver, who choreographed this season’s Richard II and recently won a Dora Award for Outstanding Original Choreography for Sweeney Todd (2022) at Talk is Free Theatre and the Bad Hats Theatre production of Alice in Wonderland (2023) at Soulpepper.
Production support is generously provided by Laurie J. Scott and by Peter & Carol Walters.
SCHULICH CHILDREN’S PLAYS
WENDY AND PETER PAN
Adapted by Ella Hickson
From the book by J.M. Barrie
North American Première
This imaginative re-telling of J.M. Barrie’s classic family tale looks at the story of the lost boys through the eyes of Wendy, making sense of Neverland in a way you’ve never seen before. Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it opened to rave reviews and now the Stratford Festival has secured the rights to the North American première.
The production will be directed by Thomas Morgan Jones, who directed this year’s Schulich Children’s Play, A Wrinkle in Time. Jones is the Artistic Director of Prairie Theatre Exchange. His other recent credits include Darla Contois’s The War Being Waged and Hannah Moscovitch’s Post-Democracy.
The choreographer will be Jera Wolfe, a performer and choreographer of Métis heritage whose recent work includes Bare for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Arise for the National Ballet, and Trace by Red Sky Performance, for which he won the Dora Award for Outstanding Original Choreography in 2019.
Production support is generously provided by The Schulich Foundation.
SALESMAN IN CHINA
By Leanna Brodie and Jovanni Sy
Suggested by the memoirs of Arthur Miller and Ying Ruocheng
Chinese translations by Fang Zhang
A Stratford Festival/Banff Centre Co-Commission
In 1983, Arthur Miller traveled to China to collaborate with another giant of the theatre, actor and translator Ying Ruocheng. Their vision is to mount a Mandarin version of Death of a Salesman with Ying in the iconic role of Willy Loman and Miller directing (despite not speaking a word of Chinese). They soon confront the challenges of staging a play about the American Dream in the heart of Communist China. Against enormous obstacles and with the world watching, Ying and Miller must discover whether art can indeed build bridges between two seemingly irreconcilable cultures.
This new play is by Leanna Brodie and Jovanni Sy. Sy will also direct the production. Brodie is an award-winning playwright, translator, and actor whose work has been performed from Vancouver to Halifax, London to Auckland. Her translation of Rébecca Déraspe’s I Am William was part of the 2021 season. Sy is an actor, director, playwright, and the former Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre and Gateway Theatre. He has directed for Arts Club Theatre, Vertigo Theatre, Native Earth Performing Arts in Canada, and Theatre du Pif in Hong Kong. His plays include A Taste of Empire, Nine Dragons, The Tao of the World, and Kowloon Bay.
Production support is generously provided by Marilyn Gropp,
by Martie & Bob Sachs and by Esther Sarick.
TOM PATTERSON THEATRE
By William Shakespeare
Imogen, daughter of the monarch Cymbeline, has married against her parent’s wishes, but this is only the beginning of her woes. When her husband is tricked by the villainous Iachimo into believing her unfaithful, Imogen embarks on a daring adventure to clear her name. In the process, she finds herself and a new family, which helps pull back a world on the brink of war.
The production will be directed by Esther Jun, head of the Festival’s Langham Directors’ Workshop, who directed this season’s production of Les Belles-Soeurs, as well as 2022’s Little Women and 2021’s I Am William. She has directed across the country and served as Assistant Artistic Director at Tarragon Theatre from 2016 to 2018.
Production support is generously provided by The Westaway Charitable Foundation.
By Henrik Ibsen
A new version by Patrick Marber
From a literal translation by Karin and Ann Bamborough
In Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen created one of the most fascinating heroines of the stage. Newly married to a man she finds uninteresting, Hedda becomes reacquainted with an old friend, a historian like her husband, with a fatal flaw that Hedda exploits out of jealousy. Ibsen, thought to be the father of modern drama, brings all of his skill to the character of Hedda, building an intricate psychological portrait of a woman out of step with her surroundings.
The production will be directed by Molly Atkinson, who has been directing at the Shaw Festival for several years, with productions including this season’s Prince Caspian, as well as A Christmas Carol, The Tortoise and the Hare, Middletown and Saint Joan. She was a member of the Stratford Festival acting company in 2000 as well as a member of the Birmingham Conservatory.
Production support is generously provided by three generations of the Schubert Family.
Based on the novel by Margaret Laurence
Text by Vern Thiessen with Yvette Nolan
Considered a masterpiece of Canadian literature, Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners is the story of Morag Gunn, a woman who perseveres through every challenge life throws at her to become the person she was meant to be. Adapted by a team of some of Canada’s best theatre creators, The Diviners points us towards a path where we might reconcile with the injustices of our colonial past and achieve a collective peace.
The play is written by Vern Thiessen with Yvette Nolan. Thiessen, whose work has been celebrated and produced across Canada and internationally, is one of this country’s most-produced playwrights. His production of Shakespeare’s Will was performed here in 2007 and 2011. Nolan, director of this season’s hugely popular Women of the Fur Trade, has been key to the creation and performance of Indigenous work as a director, playwright, dramaturg, and educator.
The production will be directed by Krista Jackson with Geneviève Pelletier. Jackson is the Artistic and Executive Director of Imago Theatre. Her recent credits include the world premières of Iago Speaks at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and of Awaken, which was a co-production between Shakespeare in the Ruins and zone41; A Doll’s House: Part 2, co-produced by Mirvish Productions and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre; and Dancing at Lughnasa at the Shaw Festival. She was the associate director of 2016’s All My Sons, here at the Festival.
Pelletier is a Red River Métis actor and theatre director from Winnipeg and has led the Théâtre Cercle Molière, as its artistic and general director, since 2012. She is inspired by the meeting of cultures, the possibilities that stem from these encounters, and how to nurture safe and fertile creative spaces to spark conversations of change.
Production support is generously provided by Karon C. Bales & Charles E. Beall,
by Cathy & Paul Cotton, by the Harkins & Manning families in memory of Jim & Susan Harkins,
by The Fabio Mascarin Foundation and by The Tremain Family.
THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?
By Edward Albee
Martin is turning 50 and is at the top of his game. He has just become the youngest architect to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize. He has a perfect marriage and a loving son. But he can’t remember a damned thing! Probed by his best friend about his distraction, Martin makes a startling confession, one that will tear his life apart. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, this drama was written by Edward Albee in 2000 and won the Tony Award for best play in 2002.
The production will be directed by Dean Gabourie, returning for his 11th season. He has directed five productions for the Festival, including The Best Brothers (2012), The Merry Wives of Windsor (2011), and the 2010 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which contains the song “Who is Silvia?” which served as inspiration to the playwright.
Production support is generously provided by Sylvia Soyka.
GET THAT HOPE
By Andrea Scott
Daddy wants to win the lottery, Mommy’s still bitter about, well…everything, Simeon has war-related PTSD, and Rachel just wants to get out of her parents’ apartment and have a home of her own. It’s Jamaica’s Independence Day, sweltering, and everyone is on edge so, of course, there’s a city-wide power outage. This new play by award-winning playwright and producer Andrea Scott, loosely inspired by Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, looks at a dysfunctional Jamaican-Canadian family that has no idea how to communicate without wounding. But never forget, “sometimes you need a little bit of suffering to get that hope.”
Scott, an award-winning playwright and producer, served as a producing intern at the Festival in 2018. Her play Controlled Damage was performed at Neptune Theatre in 2020. Every Day She Rose, co-written with Nick Green, ran at Buddies in Bad Times in 2019.
Making his Stratford directorial debut with this production is André Sills, a member of the acting company for nine seasons, this year playing Edgar in King Lear and Don Pedro in the miraculous Much Ado About Nothing. Other key roles include the title role in Robert Lepage’s 2018 production of Coriolanus (2018) here at Stratford and the lead role of BJJ in An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at the Shaw Festival. In 2022 Sills directed another Jacobs-Jenkins play, Gloria, at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre, earning a Dora Award nomination for Outstanding Direction.
Production support is generously provided by Bryan Blenkin & Alan Rowe and by Sylvia D. Chrominska.
The Stratford Festival’s 2023 season continues until October 28, with a newly announced extension of Monty Python’s Spamalot, which will now run until November 12. For tickets and information visit www.stratfordfestival.ca or call 1.800.567.1600.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Theatre News: Mother Play, Harmony, Hadestown, On the Flip Side, Baked and Swept Away
Paula Vogel by Ken Fallin
Paula Vogel’s new play Mother Play, will star Jessica Lange, Jim Parsons and Celia Keenan-Bolger. The show, begins outside Washington in 1962, and is about a strong-willed mother raising two children as the family relocates.
Lange, 74, is a two-time Oscar winner (for “Tootsie” and “Blue Sky”) and won a Tony Award in 2016 for playing Mary Tyrone in a revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Keenan-Bolger, 45, is a four-time Tony nominee who won in 2019 for To Kill a Mockingbird.
Rehearsals have begun for Harmony – the new, original musical by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman with direction and choreography by Warren Carlyle. Harmony previews begin Wednesday, October 18, ahead of a Monday, November 13 official opening night.
Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, along with Warren Carlyle, welcomed the cast and creatives and acknowledged the many members of the company who are making their Broadway debuts with Harmony, including 5 of the 6 actors playing the Harmonists. The Harmonists, along with Chip Zien finished out the morning with a performance of the song “Stars in the Night.”
Ghostlight Records released the full digital cast recording of the upcoming Broadway production on Thursday, August 31. The album is produced by Barry Manilow, with Lawrence Manchester serving as co-producer.
Principal cast members include Chip Zien; Sierra Boggess; Julie Benko; the Comedian Harmonists Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman, and Steven Telsey; Allison Semmes and Andrew O’Shanick. The complete cast includes Zak Edwards, Dan Hoy, Bruce Landry, RhonniRose Mantilla, Daniel Z. Miller, Benjamin H. Moore, Matthew Mucha, Constantine Pappas, Kayleen Seidl, Kyla Stone, Bronwyn Tarboton, Kate Wesler, Stuart Zagnit, and Lee Zarrett.
The creative team for Harmony includes Beowulf Boritt (scenic design), Linda Cho & Ricky Lurie (costume design), Jules Fisher + Peggy Eisenhauer (lighting design), Dan Moses Schreier (sound design), batwin + robin productions (media design), Tom Watson (wig & hair design), Jamibeth Margolis, CSA (casting), Sara Edwards (associate director/choreographer), John O’Neill (music director), Michael Aarons (music coordinator), Doug Walter (orchestrations) and Scott Taylor Rollison (production stage manager).
Harmony features an original new score by legendary Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award® winner Barry Manilow with lyrics and book by Drama Desk Award Winner, Bruce Sussman. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle (The Music Man, Hello Dolly!), this timely and captivating rags-to-riches story lost to history comes to dazzling life with a sensational cast of Broadway favorites.
Based on an unbelievable true story, Harmony tells the tale of the most successful entertainers you’ve never heard of. . . until now. In the 1920s and 30s, The Comedian Harmonists sold millions of records, made dozens of films, and sold-out the biggest theaters around the world. Their heavenly harmonies and musical comedy antics catapulted these six talented young men from singing in the subway tunnels of Berlin to international superstardom.
International pop music sensation Betty Who and Tony® and Grammy Award® nominee Phillip Boykin took their first bow in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Hadestown as ‘Persephone’ and ‘Hades,’ respectively. Best known for her chart-topping singles such as “I Love You Always Forever” and “Somebody Loves You,” Hadestown marks Betty Who’s stage debut.
Hadestown currently stars Solea Pfeiffer as Eurydice, Grammy Award winner Reeve Carney as Orpheus and Tony Award winner Lillias White as Hermes. They are joined by Amelia Cormack, Lindsey Hailes, and Brit West as the Fates. The chorus of Workers is played by Emily Afton, Malcolm Armwood, Alex Lugo, Sayo Oni, and Alex Puette. The cast includes swings Brandon Cameron, Yael “YaYa” Reich, Eddie Noel Rodríguez, and Allysa Shorte.
The York Theatre Company (James Morgan, Producing Artistic Producer, Marie Grace LaFerrara, Managing Director) “Where Musicals Come to Life” will present two (2) exclusive industry readings of On the Flip Side by comedy writer Gary Apple on Monday, September 11 and Tuesday, September 12 at 7:30 p.m. Rather than focus on the songs of just one recording artist or group, this innovative jukebox musical cleverly integrates 14 famous one-hit wonders from 1960 to 2010, complemented with two original songs by Paul Libman and Gary Apple. The one-hit-wonders include Spirit In The Sky, Venus, Afternoon Delight, Macarena, The Windmills Of Your Mind, and many more favorites from 1960-2010.
On The Flip Side tells the story of Elijah, a self-centered singer who finds himself cursed with only one hit song. He’s compelled to sing it for thirty years at oldies festivals and shopping malls until a chance encounter with a quirky fortune teller sets him out on a quest of redemption to undo the curse.
The show reunites performers Christopher Sutton, Lyn Philistine, and Zak Risinger, who last starred together in the 2022 Las Vegas run of Gary Apple’s irreverent holiday musical Christmas in Hell—which premiered at The York in 2018. The line-up also features Lance Roberts (The Music Man, Sunset Boulevard), Honey Davenport (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Joel Blum (2x Tony Award nominee for Steel Pier, Show Boat), Iris Beaumier (The Little Prince), Kara Arena (Man of La Mancha), Jack Herholdt (The 39 Steps) and Shadia Fairuz (On Your Feet).
Christopher Scott is the director, who earlier this year directed Hip Hop Cinderella at The New Victory Theater. Musical Direction is by Logan Medland. Michael Vezo of “Mostly Musicals” is the producer.
For more information or any questions regarding attending these private industry presentations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The IGNITE Series Concert, will present in a renewed partnership with Prospect Theatre and National Asian Artists Project (NAAP). On Monday night, October 2, at 7:30pm Baked! The Musical – In Concert.
Baked! The Musical is a new musical about family, failure, and weed. Book, music and lyrics are by Jord Liu and Deepak Kumar. Featuring an all Asian American cast and a contemporary pop-rock score, this hilarious and heartwarming show reflects on self-worth and the question of what we owe the people we love. Here’s the gist:
Overachiever Jane Huang doesn’t get the scholarship that would send her to her dream college – but that doesn’t stop her! With the help of her best friend, Jane joins forces with the class degenerate to build the greatest cannabis edible empire ever run by high-schoolers. Kept in the dark are Jane’s parents, who struggle to maintain a profit at their Chinese bakery while coping with their only daughter leaving home.
The evening will star Claire Kwon (Almost Famous) as ‘Jane Huang’, with Lianah Sta. Ana (Miss Saigon) and Jason Ma (Pacific Overtures at Signature Theatre, author of Gold Mountain), and feature Prospect alumni artists, performer and writer Timothy Huang (American Morning) and MinJi Kim (Rule of Three), and Sushma Saha (1776), with additional cast members to be announced. The concert will be directed by Miranda Cornell, with music direction by Alexander Tom.
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater announced today the full cast and creative team for Swept Away. Featuring a book by Tony Award® winner John Logan (Red), with music and lyrics by “America’s Biggest Roots Band” (Rolling Stone) The Avett Brothers, this soul-stirring new musical will run November 25 – December 30, 2023, in Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater. Press Night will be held on Wednesday, December 6 at 8 p.m.For information and tickets, please visit arenastage.org/sweptaway.
The Arena Stage production will reunite much of the team from the show’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre world premiere, which enjoyed a thrice-extended run in early 2022. It will be directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening)and star Tony Award winner John Gallagher, Jr. (Spring Awakening), Tony Award nominee Stark Sands (Kinky Boots), Adrian Blake Enscoe (Apple TV+’s Dickinson), and Wayne Duvall (1984).
“The true genius of Swept Away lies in how The Avett Brothers peel back the layers of uncertainty, vulnerability, hope, and self-discovery to reveal our fundamental humanity in this exquisite musical,” said Arena Stage Artistic Director Hana S. Sharif.
Set in 1888, Swept Away follows four survivors—a young man in search of adventure (Enscoe), his big brother who has sworn to protect him (Sands), a captain at the end of a long career at sea (Duvall), and a worldly first mate who has fallen from grace (Gallagher)—after a violent storm sinks their whaling ship off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts. How far will they go to stay alive? And can they live with the consequences? Described as “reverberating all the way into your core” (San Francisco Chronicle), this electrifying, soul-stirring musical explores how facing tragedy can open the door to forgiveness, if only we’ll let it.
Joining Duvall, Enscoe, Gallagher, and Sands onstage is a talented ensemble comprised of Hunter Brown (The Sound of Music National Tour), Matt DeAngelis (Broadway’s Waitress), Taurean Everett (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical), Cameron Johnson (Broadway’s Into the Woods), Brandon Kalm (Broadway’s Waitress), Michael Mainwaring (Arena’s Smokey Joe’s Café), Orville Mendoza (Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher), Tyrone L. Robinson (Broadway’s Frozen), John Sygar (Kennedy Center’s Look Both Ways), and Jamari Johnson Williams (Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud).
In addition to Mayer, the Swept Away creative team includes Tony Award-nominated Choreographer David Neumann, Music Arranger & Orchestrator Chris Miller, Music Arranger & Orchestrator / Music Supervisor Brian Usifer, Music Director Will Van Dyke, Tony Award-winning Set Designer Rachel Hauck, Tony Award-winning Costume Designer Susan Hilferty, four-time Tony Award-winning Lighting Designer Kevin Adams, Tony Award-winning Sound Designer John Shivers, New York Casting Director Jim Carnahan, Jillian Cimini, and Alexandre Bleau, CSA, DC Casting Director Joseph Pinzon, Stage Manager Matthew Leiner, and Assistant Stage Managers Alice M. Pollitt, Marne Anderson, and Jalon Payton.
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