Come From Away will make a comeback in Canada after all, with financial help from the federal government.
The hit Newfoundland-set musical, which producer David Mirvish announced had permanently closed in Toronto because of COVID-19 back in December, is set to return to the stage with an all-Canadian cast in the summer of 2024.
A rebooted production will first run at the not-for-profit National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa for July and August. It will then transfer to Toronto, where the commercial company Mirvish Productions will take control for what is hoped to be an open-ended run at the Royal Alexandra Theatre starting that September.
The multimillion-dollar costs of rehearsing and remounting the musical in its original big-budget Broadway incarnation will be covered entirely by some of the $12.1-million over two years in additional funding for the NAC that was announced in last month’s federal budget. That money was earmarked “to support the creation, co-production, promotion and touring of productions with Canadian commercial and not-for-profit performing arts companies.”
Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez spoke to The Globe and Mail about the return of Come From Away on Monday ahead of his announcement of the news at a national culture summit at the NAC, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also scheduled to be in attendance.
Rodriguez said the closure of the Toronto production in December – just a week after Mirvish and co-producers had spent millions to reopen the show after a 21-month pandemic hiatus – made the government aware of the unique challenges facing the commercial theatre sector and the need to find a way to support it. “We didn’t have those connections, those channels of communications,” Rodriguez said.
Come From Away, which is set in Gander, N.L., in the week after Sept. 11, 2001, broke all records for a Canadian musical in Canada during its extended and profitable run in Toronto from Feb. 13, 2018, until the pandemic shut it down March 13, 2020.
Just days after the musical finally reopened in December, 2021, to a sold-out audience, the Omicron variant led the Ontario government to reduce audience capacity – and then an outbreak backstage led the production to cancel four performances. It then shut down completely owing to mounting uncertainty.
At the time, David Mirvish noted that Come From Away was continuing to run in the U.S. on Broadway and on tour, as well as in the U.K. and Australia, in part thanks to financial safety nets that had been created during the pandemic for the commercial theatre sector in other countries.
In the United States, for instance, the federal government gave out grants of up to US$10-million to individual commercial productions through the US$16-billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.
Come From Away is one of the shows that benefitted from those grants, with its New York-based producers Junkyard Dog receiving money to restart both the Broadway production and North American tour last fall. (That tour is set to play a short run in the NAC’s 2,000-seat Southam Hall this season as part of the Broadway Across Canada season.)
The unusual idea of supporting commercial productions through the arm’s-length NAC is a result of what Rodriguez called “creative thinking” that came out of conversations with commercial Canadian producers such as Michael Rubinoff, who gave Come From Away’s writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein the original idea for their musical.
Christopher Deacon, chief executive officer of the NAC, said that Come From Away will cost the NAC somewhere between $3-million and $5-million to relaunch in 2024 – an amount it could not afford normally. He hopes ticket sales during peak tourist season in the National Capital Region will cover the show’s running costs in the 897-seat Babs Asper Theatre.
The NAC will ship the Come From Away set – currently in storage – back to Toronto at the end of the summer, at which point the weekly costs of running the show, which are estimated to be around half a million dollars, and all possible profits will be assumed by Mirvish and its co-producers.
The rest of the $12.1-million money that the NAC will be receiving will go to other co-productions or tours above and beyond what the company normally produces; these are yet to be announced.
The NAC, a federal Crown corporation, already receives approximately $38-million a year in a parliamentary appropriation – but that amount has been essentially frozen since 2004. The arts centre’s stagnant funding became a political issue when a new Indigenous Theatre department was launched in 2019 with no boost.
Rodriguez described the additional money allocated to the NAC over the next two fiscal years as “a beginning” of a new stream – and separate from what he calls the ongoing conversation over the size of its regular funding.
Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.