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(L-R) Paul Alexander Nolan, Joe De Paul, Wade McCollum, Isabelle McCalla, Grant Gustin, Gregg Edelman, Sara Gettelfinger, and Stan Brown attend "Water for Elephants" Broadway opening night at Imperial Theatre on March 21, 2024 in New York City.Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

There aren’t any Canadian shows on Broadway this spring, per se. But there are an awful lot of Canadians playing key roles in productions opening in New York’s commercial theatre district before the April 25 cut-off date for eligibility at this year’s Tony Awards.

Water for Elephants, a new musical with a book by Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (Peter and the Starcatcher) and songs by the PigPen Theatre Co. that opened on Broadway last week (and was awarded a Critic’s Pick by The New York Times), is the most Canadian in conception and cast.

Based on the novel by Sara Gruen (made into a movie in 2011), the show is a Depression-era love story that takes places in a circus setting. So, naturally, the creative team turned to Quebec-based Shana Carroll – co-founder of boutique circus company Les 7 doigts – to direct the tricks that help tell the tale. (Gypsy Snider, another of that troupe’s co-founders, did a similar job for an awesome circus-inflected revival of Pippin a decade ago that saw Andrea Martin doing a trapeze act.)

Paul Alexander Nolan, whose time as a young star of the Stratford Festival now seems long ago, plays ringmaster August (the native Saskatchewanian’s ninth Broadway role) in Water for Elephants, while former Cirque du Soleil clown Joe De Paul plays a character called Walter and circus artist Alexandra Gaelle Royer is in the ensemble. There’s a clown car’s worth of graduates of Montreal’s École Nationale de Cirque in the cast, too, hailing from all over the world: Antoine Boissereau, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Nicolas Jelmoni and Harley McLeish.

Opening next on Broadway, on Thursday, is former Stratford Festival artistic director Des McAnuff’s latest production of The Who’s Tommy, the 1992 rock opera that he also wrote the book for with Pete Townshend.

McAnuff directed Tommy’s original Broadway production back in 1993, and in 2013 he directed a 20th-anniversary production at Stratford that didn’t reinvent the show enough for a new generation. (It starred Robert Markus and, hey, Paul Nolan as he was known before he added that Alexander in the U.S.)

McAnuff’s new Broadway production features choreography by Lorin Latarro and got great notices in Chicago last summer, including a rave from The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones, who had also seen the 2013 Stratford production and deemed this one far superior.

On April 2, a new adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya starring Canadian film actor Alison Pill (All My Puny Sorrows; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as the lovelorn Sonya opens in previews at the Lincoln Centre; a past Tony Award nominee, Pill will be playing opposite none other than Steve Carell of The Office as Vanya. Lila Neugebauer directs.

Also opening in previews on April 2 is Mary Jane, with film star, Oscar nominee and Gemini winner Rachel McAdams making her Broadway debut. She plays the central character – a mother caring for a son with cerebral palsy – in this 2017 drama by American playwright Amy Herzog. Anne Kaufman directs.

Last but not least, Illinoise, a dance musical built around the songs of Sufjan Stevens, is sneaking onto Broadway at the very last moment on April 24. What connects it to Canada? Well, the Toronto city agency TO Live co-commissioned the show – though it has yet to play in one of its venues.

Opening or closing this week across Canada

Canadian Stage, the Toronto theatre company that announced its 2024-2025 season this week, is opening its production of Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance, a two-part Tony-winning play that’s been called Angels in America crossed with Howard’s End. It opens on Wednesday and Thursday and runs to April 13.

A new production of the Four Seasons musical Jersey Boys, directed by Danny Austin, kicks off the new season at Drayton Entertainment. It starts life at the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge (March 27 to April 21), then hits the Southern Ontario summer circuit, playing the Huron Country Playhouse (July 10 to August 3) and then the King’s Wharf Theatre (August 8 to September 1).

Neptune Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is still going strong in Toronto at the CAA Theatre (to April 6); meanwhile, back in Halifax, the regional theatre company is opening The Full Monty musical this week (running to May 12), directed by Julie Tomaino.

It’s last call for Guilt (A Love Story) at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal; the solo show by Diane Flacks, which I reviewed in Toronto, closes this weekend. There’s some pay-what-you-decide tickets available for the weekday performances if you’re feel guilty about splurging.

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