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Paradise Square will be a 'strictly limited engagement' in Chicago, starting on November 2 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre.Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Broadway is returning to New York this season – and producer Garth Drabinsky has declared his intention to return along with it.

Paradise Square, a long-gestating project of the Canadian impresario with a checkered history, has announced a “strictly limited engagement” in Chicago starting on November 2 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre.

The month-long run of the musical is being billed as a “pre-Broadway premiere” with dates and a theatre in New York said to be announced shortly.

You always have to take pre-Broadway announcements, from any producer, with a grain of salt.

Sousatzka, the first major musical the former Livent chief executive officer produced after serving a prison sentence for fraud and forgery, was also billed as a “limited pre-Broadway engagement” in Toronto back in 2017. It has not been seen since.

But it’s clear that Drabinsky’s long-term goal is to produce a show on Broadway again – and he continues to attract investors and work with well-known talent. He did, of course, produce Tony-winning shows such as Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime as well as all that other stuff.

Paradise Square is a historical musical set during the American Civil War in New York’s Five Points district, where, according to the press release, “Irish immigrants escaping the devastation of the Great Famine settled alongside free-born Black Americans and those who escaped slavery.”

It was workshopped under its former title Hard Times in Toronto and premiered as Paradise Square in early 2019 at the Berkeley Rep theater in California to what The New York Times called “mixed reviews.”

The show’s creative team is big. Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project) is directing, Bill T. Jones (Fela!) is choreographing and frequent Drabinsky collaborator Graciela Daniele is in charge of “musical staging.” The book is the product of four writers: Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas, Larry Kirwan.

The score is not only composed by Jason Howland (Little Women – the musical) and Nathan Tysen (Amélie), with “additional material by Masi Asare (Monsoon Wedding), but also dips into the songbook of Stephen Foster, who wrote popular parlor and minstrel songs in the 19th century and lived in Five Points.

Paradise Square sounds like a spare-no-expense Drabinsky production of old – and, indeed, the Times described it in 2019 as the “costliest musical that the nonprofit Berkeley Repertory Theater has ever mounted.”

From the very big to the very small. Wee, in fact.

WeeFestival, Toronto’s only theatre and live arts festival for the early childhood set, has gone online this year.

It’s running until May 24 featuring digital shows by companies from Canada as well as Belgium, Chile and Indonesia.

Each of WeeFestival’s shows have age recommendations listed that are based on live attendance. Tweet Tweet!, for instance, a circus show for kids directed by the talented Monica Dottor, is recommended for three and up.

However, WeeFestival artistic director Lynda Hill noted in an email to me that the shows (which run 20 to 45 minutes) may be accessible to even younger kids online as they can be paused and cut up into more bite-sized chunks.

“Children under three years tend to have a more fearful response to puppets and masks and yet, when they watch them on a screen, they’re fascinated,” she wrote me, suggesting that I try Old Man and the River (which she created with Thomas Morgan Jones) with my two-year-old toddler.

I was hoping to take my son to WeeFestival in person at some point to introduce him to my favourite art form – but I’m going to try a show or two with him on the screen this week. It may not be exactly how I had envisaged he’d see his first play, but I’m looking forward to sharing a theatrical experience with him from home.

What else to watch this week: Speaking of director Thomas Morgan Jones, who is also artistic director of Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg, his digital production of Hannah Moscovitch’s play Post-Democracy is now available on Stratfest@home, the Stratford Festival’s streaming platform. I named it a critic’s pick when I reviewed it last month.

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