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An image from Ross Petty Productions' The Wizard of Oz.Racheal McCaig

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the performing arts industry these days. But there’s some good news out there, too. Here are a couple pieces of it.

1. Toronto’s getting a big holiday pantomime again next season courtesy of Canadian Stage.

Panto producer and chief villain Ross Petty called it a day two holiday seasons ago, putting an end to his long-standing presentations of fractured fairy tales punctuated by pop songs at the Elgin Theatre.

When Christmas 2023 came and went without a successor trying to fill his shoes – despite rampant rumours someone would – it seemed as if the tradition had really died. Boo, hiss.

But, lo and behold and look out behind you, Canadian Stage, one of the city’s largest not-for-profit theatres, has put out a casting call for The Wizard of Oz: A Holiday Family Musical, The Globe and Mail has learned. (That subtitle is Canadian code for panto.)

Set to run in an unspecified A-house in Toronto from roughly the end of November 2024 to early January 2025, the show is written by playwright Matt Murray, who penned a Wizard of Oz panto for Petty in 2018. It’s unclear at this point whether what Canadian Stage is mounting will be a revival of that show, an updated version of it or a Toto-ly new take on Dorothy and her yellow brick road followers.

Ted Dykstra, a Soulpepper co-founder who now runs the Coal Mine Theatre with Diana Bentley, is set to direct, according to the audition notice. Mark Camilleri is the musical director and Jennifer Mote will choreograph.

Details beyond that are not public as Canadian Stage is readying a full-season announcement for sometime later this month. But with a Petty-esque panto back, plus Canadian productions of The Lion King and Come From Away and a commercial transfer of Crow’s Theatre and Musical Stage Company’s production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 all slated for large Toronto venues in 2024-2025, it seems there will be plenty of well-paying work for Canadian musical theatre performers in the country’s biggest city next season.

Footnote: Chris, Mrs, a Hallmark Channel-inspired holiday musical that played in Toronto last December, won’t be coming back next season as its married creators, Matthew Stodolak and Katie Kerr, are working on another production that will make its debut this year: a baby! But the soon-to-be parents are drumming up support for a remount of their show in New York this summer by presenting songs from Chris, Mrs in July at Manhattan’s 54 Below with Danielle Wade and Liam Tobin performing.

2. Theatre Calgary, the largest not-for-profit theatre in that city, announced a big 2024-2025 season on Tuesday – one that sees the company, run by artistic director Stafford Arima, rebounding from the $1.6-million deficit it ran in 2022-2023.

The Play That Goes Wrong, directed by former artistic director Dennis Garnhum, will open the season in the fall, before director Sarah Garton Stanley, who recently relocated to Calgary to work for Arts Commons, gives audiences her take on the ubiquitous Tony-winning play The Lehman Trilogy.

After a holiday return of A Christmas Carol, helmed by Arima, Theatre Calgary will stage a 20th-century classic and an old chestnut: Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. (Hopefully the latter scares up more patrons in Calgary than it did last season at the Shaw Festival, where it underperformed.)

Following that, Awowakii, a world premiere comedy by local playwright Sable Sweetgrass, will be directed by Alanis King as an immersive production at the Big Secret Theatre. The season will end in May 2025 with Legally Blonde: The Musical, directed and choreographed by Stephanie Graham.

While last season landed in the red, Theatre Calgary executive director Maya Choldin says the current season is on track to end in the black, and that the company’s new Theatre for All $39 ticket initiative, backed by a fundraising campaign, has helped attendance rise by approximately 75 percent year over year. She’s expecting 2023-2024 – which wraps ups with a commercially enhanced Broadway-aimed production of Beaches: the Musical in May – will end with attendance in the 80,000 to 90,000 range. The ultimate goal is to get between 90,000 and 100,000 bums in seats again each year.

Footnote: Arima just closed a show at Birmingham Rep in Great Britain called Bhangra Nation - and the reviews were intriguing. Here’s hoping that new musical makes it to Canada one of these days.

What’s opening and closing and taking off its clothes this month

Burlesque is one of those live art forms I always think is on its last (tastefully revealed) legs.

But Crow’s Theatre in Toronto is currently presenting a remount of a Next Stage Theatre Festival hit called Tease to March 24. In it, creator Lindsay Mullan uses burlesque comedy to explore “sex, politics, and what it means to be a woman.”

Meanwhile, The Empire Strips Back: A Burlesque Parody, a touring show that originated in Australia, played Vancouver in the fall, just wrapped a multiple-month run at the Royal Cinema in Toronto and is now headed to Montreal’s Le National, where it will run from March 27 to April 28.

Then, the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival is coming up quick – set to run April 2 to 7, with performers from across North America – with names such as Red Tongued Raven, Flora Fancy and Seedy Edie set to do their thing.

Three shows opening this week

Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto is collaborating with Pencil Kit Productions on a new show called White Muscle Daddy this week (running to March 31). Raf Antonio’s play is described as “a chilling yarn about the politics of queer desire.”

The Lehman Trilogy hits the stage at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg this week (to April 13). It’s the first Canadian production of this Tony-winning play I’ve seen that features an all-Jewish cast playing the men who built Lehman Brothers (and their descendants). Richard Greenblatt (2 Pianos, 4 Hands) directs Ari Cohen, Jordan Pettle and Alex Poch Goldin in it.

Red Velvet, Lolita Chakrabarti’s historical drama about Ira Aldridge, the first Black actor to play Othello, is at the Arts Club in Vancouver in a new production directed by Omari Newton. It’s on to April 21 with Quincy Armorer playing Aldridge.

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