Come From Away is finally reopening at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto on Wednesday.
This is a long-awaited cause for celebration: Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Newfoundland-set musical about the power of kindness in difficult times, the most successful Canadian-penned show in history, is making its Canadian return after a mind-boggling 21-month pandemic hiatus.
Nearly the entire cast that was on stage when the show shuttered on March 13, 2020, is back: Saccha Dennis, Steffi DiDomenicantonio, Barbara Fulton, Lisa Horner, James Kall, Jeff Madden, George Masswohl, Ali Momen, Cory O’Brien, Kristen Peace, Eliza-Jane Scott, Clint Butler, Kate Etienne, Amir Haidar, Lori Nancy Kalamanski, David Silvestri and Cailin Stadnyk.
The one new cast member is Kyle Brown, who, when things shut down, had already been in rehearsal to take over from Kevin Vidal as the Brooklynite named Bob who gets stranded in Gander on Sept. 11, 2001.
It’s a real shame that Come From Away’s new beginning risks being upstaged by the Omicron variant, which has renewed uncertainty in Ontario.
The truth is that Toronto has been slower than most parts of the English-speaking world in getting theatre back up and running – partly because of the way the provincial government handled (and mishandled) the imposition of and lifting of restrictions on the performing arts, and partly owing to an inherent cautiousness in the character here.
By contrast, Come From Away was the first major musical to reopen in Australia all the way back in January, 2021; it is currently playing in Sydney there.
The Canadian musical likewise reopened on London’s West End in July, on Broadway in New York in September, and the North American tour restarted in Memphis, Tenn., in October and is currently in Fort Myers, Fla.
Audiences in the United States, Britain and Australia have had many months to a year to adjust to being back in theatres, but mainstream audiences in Canada outside of Quebec are still readjusting to the idea at all.
“A theatre is one of the safest public places you can be,” says Randy Adams of Junkyard Dog Productions, the New York-based producers behind Come From Away. “Everyone must be fully vaccinated to attend and everyone must be masked through the entire visit.” (Adams is in Toronto for the reopening.)
John Karastamatis from Mirvish Productions likewise says, “We don’t know what the future holds, but our medical advisers tell us that the key to keeping people healthy and safe is making sure everyone is masked.”
Bars and concessions are not open at the Royal Alex, so there is no need to remove your mask, Karastamatis notes – and the show is just 100 minutes without intermission.
I’ll be there on Wednesday night for the very first performance – which is not for review. I personally feel safe enough in my K95 mask even in the face of Omicron, especially after seeing how well Mirvish audiences adhered to the mask mandate at the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar.
But, at the same time, it’s hard not to notice that the West End is having more trouble containing COVID-19 outbreaks in cast and crew than it has since shows reopened there last summer.
The Guardian reported today on 10 shows shuttered for that reason in London, from The Lion King to Life of Pi (yes, there’s a new hit British show based on Yann Martel’s book) to a brand-new musical called Hex at the National Theatre.
This afternoon, Come From Away also cancelled a performance for Tuesday night on the West End “due to sickness within the company.”
Broadway isn’t having that level of trouble with the new variant – but there has been a noticeable uptick in shows having to shut down for brief periods lately. Mrs. Doubtfire and Freestyle Love Supreme, for instance, both have cancelled performances on Tuesday because of breakthrough COVID-19 cases, according to Deadline.
Regarding the safety of cast and crew of Come From Away, Karastamatis says backstage protocols are very strict: There is frequent testing and the only place where it is permissible not to be masked is on stage during the performance. He notes the protocols in place are the same ones that have allowed television and film to continue to work through the pandemic.
My holiday wish is that the theatre industry can stay open – and Come From Away resumes its record-breaking run.
Toronto’s Ross Petty Productions has not returned to in-person performances of its annual holiday pantomime yet – which is not a big surprise as children are still in the process of getting their first vaccines.
The company is producing a virtual holiday musical for children and families however. Alice in Winterland is streaming this weekend for two days only, Dec.18 and 19.
There’s a choose-your-own-adventure element to this online presentation that stars Stratford Festival/Broadway actor Kimberly Ann-Truong as Alice, Thom Allison as the ChesPfizer Cat and features Dan Chameroy once again as fairy godmother-to-all Plumbum.
This newsletter’s going to take a hiatus for the holidays – at which point we’ll have a better handle on exactly what kind of fresh hell Omicron is and how it will affect all the theatre companies hoping to reboot in January.
See you in 2022.
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