Canadian stage star Chilina Kennedy is best known as a musical-theatre performer who won over Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival audiences before breaking onto Broadway. But she is also an emerging composer and lyricist.
Kennedy’s score for Wild About You, a show she has been developing with a book by Eric Holmes for several years now, is currently being recorded as an album for Broadway Records, the label and producer Brian Spector announced last week. The likes of musical-theatre legend Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon), fellow Canuck Eric McCormack (Will and Grace) and freshly minted Tony Award winner Alex Newell (Shucked) are all taking part.
Wild About You concerns a woman named Olivia who ends up in the hospital with limited memory and who, according to the press release, “must dig through her messy past to figure out which of the loves of her life is her emergency contact.” I caught up with Kennedy, who played Carole King in the musical Beautiful 1,200 times and is currently starring as tennis icon Billie Jean King in a new play called Love All at the La Jolla Playhouse in California until July 2, to talk about the impending album over e-mail.
This musical has changed titles three times while in development now, from Call it Love to With(out) Her to now Wild About You. What’s the story behind the new title – and how does it connect to the show?
The current version has a joyous energy to it, despite its complex subject matter. It celebrates life and love because of the ups and downs, not in spite of them. And thus the title Wild About You captures that. It’s also the title of one of the songs in the show and everyone on the team loves the imagery it conjures. It conveys the message of the show in a sexy and captivating way.
You’ve lined up so many incredible performers for this recording. I’d like to ask about a few of them. How did you get Salonga involved? And what role is she mostly legendary for in your mind? For me, it’s always Disney’s Jasmine first and foremost.
I adore Lea Salonga. She will always be Miss Saigon to me. I grew up listening to her. Daniel Edmonds, our music director and arranger, has performed and collaborated with her and she kindly agreed to record the final song of the show.
Then, there’s Alex Newell, who just won a Tony Award for their performance in Shucked. You must have had this lined up before their momentous win?
Alex and I have known each other for a number of years and after we had them in for a work session, it was clear that one of the songs in particular had to be sung by this incredible singer.
A number of your castmates from Paradise Square are on the album: Tony winner Joaquina Kalukango, Aisha Jackson, Jay McKenzie. That Garth Drabinsky-produced Broadway production ended in lawsuits – but I guess something positive came out of it in terms of relationships you formed?
Absolutely. We have always been and will remain a very positive and supportive cast. We continue to lift each other up.
Speaking of, will we ever hear you singing with these performers on a Paradise Square cast recording?
I have a tremendous amount of respect for composer Jason Howland and the whole writing team. I hope that the world gets to hear their gorgeous and powerful music.
You were last back at Stratford Festival for one night to perform in pioneering Canadian composer Leslie Arden’s The House of Martin Guerre in concert. As a female musical-theatre composer, who are your inspirations entering into this part of the field?
I loved singing the score from The House of Martin Guerre and I admire Leslie Arden tremendously. There are so many gifted composers out there. Britta Johnson is one of Canada’s new gems. Pasek and Paul come to mind, as well as Jeanine Tesori.
This interview has been edited and condensed. The Wild About You album is scheduled for a September release.
I wrote about attendance worries at certain Fringe festivals across Canada in this newsletter a couple weeks ago, so wanted to report some cheering news on that front.
Amy Blackmore, artistic director of the Montreal Fringe, e-mailed me on Monday to say that her festival, which ended over the weekend, hit $160,000 in sales. That’s a record for the Montreal Fringe – and bodes well for the rest of the circuit. The problem of the rising costs of running these uncurated festivals, however, remains a separate issue.
Mirvish Productions will be dimming the marquee lights at the Royal Alexandra Theatre at 8 p.m. tonight in honour of the great British actor and politician Glenda Jackson.
Among her many roles, Jackson starred in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hedda Gabler that toured to Toronto and played at the Royal Alex from May 5 to 24, 1975. Directed by Trevor Nunn (and co-staring Patrick Stewart), that Hedda was adapted into a film that earned Jackson an Oscar nomination.
As much as Jackson is worthy of honouring, Mirvish’s announcement last week did make me wonder what the bar was for their light-dimming ritual.
Why, for instance, was the Siminovitch Prize-winning director Daniel Brooks not honoured in this way when he died in May? Brooks, after all, directed the version of The Drowsy Chaperone that Mirvish Productions put on in 2001 – starting that musical’s groundbreaking commercial life that led to Broadway success and Tony Awards for all its Canadian creators.
I reached out to ask Mirvish Productions. A representative replied that the company did not dim the lights for Brooks because “The Drowsy Chaperone played at the Winter Garden Theatre and we have no control over the marquee.”
I suppose that’s a reasonable reason. Though I would note that Mirvish did dim the marquee lights at all the Mirvish theatres when Stratford Festival legend Martha Henry died, even though her sole credit with the commercial theatre company was a production of Copenhagen that played the Winter Garden in 2004. In any case, it’d be nice to see more Canadian artists highlighted – or is that lowlighted? – this way, especially when they do have a Mirvish connection.
What’s opening this week
The Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ont., kicked off its indoor season earlier this month with a new comedy by Sophia Fabiilli called Liars at a Funeral (about a woman who fakes her own death to get her family together).
Now, this week, the rural theatre begins the first performances of its major theatrical project of the season. Over the course of the summer, Blyth will be opening productions of all three plays in the 1970s trilogy The Donnellys, by late Ontario playwright James Reaney: Sticks and Stones; The St. Nicholas Hotel; and Handcuffs.
Artistic director Gil Garratt has adapted and will be directing them all with the same cast of 10. By August, the three will be available to watch in repertory on the outdoor Harvest Stage it built during the pandemic.
Back in 2005, the Stratford Festival revived Sticks and Stones with the intention of eventually performing the whole trilogy this way; that plan fell apart after one season to disappointment. (Well, my disappointment anyway.) It’ll no doubt be worth that extra hour drive past Stratford (from my direction) to check out what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these classics about one of the country’s most notorious families produced all in one go.
What the Globe and Mail is reviewing this week
The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., has invited critics to review four productions running through October this Friday and Saturday: The Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge, Mother, Daughter by Selma Dimitrijevic and a pair of plays by Bernard Shaw himself, Village Wooing and The Apple Cart.
Look for my reviews appearing online over the course of next week.