In my newsletter about the recent spate of Canlit being turned into plays, I didn’t mention any Canadian children’s books getting page-to stage adaptations this season – perhaps because that practice has always been quite common in theatre for young audiences.
The Darkest Dark, a new play based on the kid’s book of the same name by the popular astronaut Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion opening at Young People’s Theatre in Toronto this week (to April 2), promises to stand out from all those usual bunches of Munsch, however.
Hadfield’s autobiographical bestseller, which depicts a young version of himself conquering his fear of the dark in the summer of the Apollo 11 moon landing, has been adapted by Ian MacIntyre and, notably, Jim Millan, who is also directing (with David Ben on board as magic consultant).
If you’re a Toronto theatregoer who hasn’t heard much about Millan since his period as artistic director of Crow’s Theatre – which he founded and where he was known for hit “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” plays such as Lee MacDougall’s High Life – this might seem an incongruous project for him.
But, since handing the keys to Crow’s over to Chris Abraham in 2006, Millan has had a fascinating freelance career working on kids’ shows – and I’m not just talking about his work on the sketch-comedy tours of his friends The Kids in the Hall.
He’s directed stage extravaganzas based on such popular youngster-oriented intellectual property such as Scooby Doo and Thomas the Tank Engine. He’s also worked with some of North America’s top magicians (the Illusionists, Penn and Teller) and on popular-science spectacles such as Mythbusters Live. (I wrote a profile of Millan focusing on these parts of his CV back in 2014.)
So, The Darkest Dark – which is recommended for ages 6 to 12, but which I will be sneaking my almost four-year-old into because he loves the book – is actually right in Millan’s wheelhouse.
His production certainly has the resources to pull off something special, thanks to a budget-boosting $125,000 grant from the National Creation Fund, the National Arts Centre-spearheaded source of extra money for extra creativity that was also the subject of a recent newsletter.
Since I wrote that, Peter Herrndorf, the former NAC chief executive officer under which the National Creation Fund was itself created, has passed away at age 82.
My condolences to Herrndorf’s family – and the many artists, journalists and other Canadian culture workers who considered him a friend or mentor. He was, indeed, a gentleman who knew how to make things happen in a country that dreams big in the arts but is not always so good in terms of financial follow-up.
International tour alert: If you were wondering when Talk is Free Theatre’s Dora-dominating immersive production of Sweeney Todd might get a remount, the answer is: ahora.
Director Mitchell Cushman’s production of the Stephen Sondheim musical is currently running in Buenos Aires (until Friday), alongside an original companion piece called The Curious Voyage.
These two shows actually date all the way back to 2018, when the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street was only the surprise at the end of a multiple-day transatlantic experience that took audiences from Barrie, Ont., to London, England.
Theatregoers looking forward to Cushman’s next Sondheim stage project in this country will be disappointed that his Merrily We Roll Along that was set for April at Crow’s Theatre has been cancelled, according to a tweet by the theatre over the weekend, “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
That was to be a transfer of a production of the high-concept backward-chronology musical that originated at YES Theatre in Sudbury. (Crow’s directed me to that company for further comment, which I wasn’t able to get by deadline.) I wonder whether the recently announced Broadway transfer of Maria Friedman’s West End/off-Broadway production of this famous onetime flop has somehow complicated the Toronto rights.
A Canadian who will headed back to Broadway for the eighth time to join the cast of that Merrily (alongside Daniel Radcliffe and Jonathan Groff) is Paul Alexander Nolan, pride of Rouleau, Sask.
Other Canadians back on Broadway soon: Tatiana Maslany (second time), who’s going to be in a thriller called Grey House with Laurie Metcalfe this spring; and Eric McCormack (fourth time) in a new comedy called The Cottage that opens in July.
Two musical-theatre performers Ontario audiences have got used to seeing at the Stratford and Shaw Festivals are also headed to Broadway for the first time this year – though the exact date of their debuts will depend on fate.
Alexis Gordon, who won a Dora Award for her performance as Ma in Room in Toronto, will be understudying that same role in the New York production starting April 3. Vanessa Sears, who won a Dora for her work in the Toronto production of Caroline, or Change in 2020, is the standby for a main role in a new Kander and Ebb show called New York, New York that starts previews on April 26.
Opening and closing this week across the country
Fall On Your Knees, the two-part stage adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s novel of the same name, is now on stage in Halifax at Neptune Theatre until March 5. Here’s my review from the epic six-hour production’s Toronto premiere.
Homes: A Refugee Story, adapted from the book by Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung, is an entirely different scale of page-to-stage endeavour. Yeung and Haysam Kadri’s adaptation, at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., until March 5, features just one actor telling this story, which ranges from Iraq to Syria to Canada: the up-and-coming Nabil Traboulsi.
Prodigal, a new play written and directed by Paolo Santalucia, involves a son returning home – as you might guess from the title. In this case it’s “the gay, alcoholic, eldest son of a prominent Toronto family, after he is cut off from the family trust.” A Howland Company production in association with Crow’s Theatre, it runs in Toronto to March 12.
What the Globe and Mail is reviewing this week
Later this week, look for our reviews of The Darkest Dark and the smash-hit hip-hop history play Hamilton, which is back in Toronto (though June 11) after a touring production was shut down here at the start of the pandemic.