From Broadway to … your front yard?
The Musical Stage Company is set to launch a second round of Porchside Songs this summer, allowing Torontonians to once again “order in” a pair of musical-theatre actors to perform a safely distanced 40-minute cabaret for their bubbles or their blocks. This series was a sold-out hit and major spirit-lifter for artists and audiences last year.
This time around the pandemic programming is even starrier, with major names such as Jewelle Blackman, Sara Farb and Jake Epstein among those available to appear in your driveway or on your lawn.
Blackman was in the Tony-winning hit Hadestown on Broadway when it shut down in March, 2020. She has teamed up with Evangelia Kambites, who appeared in the pre-Broadway run of the show with her at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. A Crack in the Wall, their concert, will feature an eclectic collection of tunes by the likes of Nat King Cole and Gnarls Barkley.
Farb, recently seen in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in New York and soon to be back at the Stratford Festival, is teaming up with composer Britta Johnson (Life After, Dr Silver: A Celebration of Life) on a concert called Sad Lady Songs. It will feature pop and folk numbers as well as a sneak peek at tunes from their coming musical Kelly v. Kelly, which had its world premiere postponed because of the pandemic.
Epstein – the former Degrassi star whose Broadway credits range from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – is paired with his sister Gabi Epstein, no musical-theatre slouch herself having recently played Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors at the Stratford Festival. Fittingly, their sibling act is called Fam Jam.
Last but not least, Saccha Dennis – seen most recently in the Mirvish productions of Come From Away – is working with David Atkinson, the Dora award-winning pianist, composer and music director who worked on the Toronto production of Dear Evan Hansen. Just My Re-Imagining will offer up new bluesy takes on songs from hitmakers such as Jon Bon Jovi and Gloria Gaynor.
This 2021 edition of Porchside Songs is set to kick off in June – Musical Stage Company artistic and managing director Mitchell Marcus is just waiting for a better read on when the city might emerge from its current lockdown to announce exact dates and put tickets on sale. But this will happen eventually. “We are able to do this in even in the most extreme of the coloured zones [of Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework],” he says. (As with last year, the performances will adhere strictly to Toronto Public Health guidelines.)
Musical Stage Company has more in the works for the summer, including an initiative it calls Musical Moments that aims to hand out $25,000 in grants. Artists with out-of-the-box ideas of how they can put their talents to use and connect local communities with song and dance this summer – for example, by running a free dance class in the park or organizing a neighbourhood jam session – can now apply for funding.
For theatregoers missing full-scale musical productions, Marcus tantalizes with this: There will be another announcement soon of an outdoor show (and series of family events) that could go into rehearsals in Toronto as soon as the end of June. But a local partner will announce that when it is possible. “I’m not supposed to jump someone else’s announcement,” he says, when I try to get more details out of him.
Online this week: Busy, busy Mark Crawford, the popular comedic playwright behinds hits such as Bed and Breakfast and The New Canadian Curling Club, has not one, but two readings of new works about fish out of water scheduled this week and next.
On Thursday, April 29, Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company is hosting a reading of his new solo show Chase the Ace, in which a “big city radio host is forced to take a job managing a small-town station.” Tickets run from $5 to $40.
Then, on Friday, May 9, Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects is presenting a workshop of a new Crawford show called The Gig about drag queens hired to perform at a private function – which turns out to be campaign fundraiser for a Conservative politician. Tickets are $10 for that online event – and the cast includes some major names including Thom Allison and Karen Hines.
Both those theatres, coincidentally, are searching for new leaders. I’ve yet to have an opportunity to mention that long-time GCTC artistic director Eric Coates is moving on at the end of May. He announced earlier this month that he was stepping down – and you can read his well-written farewell.
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