If you’ve never been able to see the great Canadian actor Tom Rooney strutting his stuff at one of Ontario’s repertory theatres, you’ll have an extra-long opportunity to catch him on stage next season at the Shaw Festival.
The comedically gifted, dramatically dynamic thespian Rooney will be playing the plum role of professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady at the Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., repertory theatre in 2024 - in a run that is scheduled to begin previews May 4 and won’t close until December 22.
Kristi Frank is set to play Eliza Doolittle in this new production of the beloved Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe 1956 musical adaptation of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, while David Alan Anderson has been cast as Colonel Pickering.
The Shaw Festival leadership announced full casting for its 2024 season late last week. I was also pleased to see Peter Fernandes, another actor with an impressive comic knack, landing the lead in One Man, Two Guvnors, British playwright Richard Bean’s 2011 riff on The Servant of Two Masters that famously (or infamously) catapulted late-night talk show host James Corden to fame in the United States when it originally transferred from the West End to Broadway.
His character is called Francis Henshall - the one man of the title - and Fiona Byrne and Martin Happer will play the two employers who he has to both serve and keep apart; Fernandes should be up for the theatrical task as he recently played with aplomb a young man named Josh O’Kane, who was in the double employ of The Globe and The Mail, in The Master Plan at Crow’s Theatre.
What else caught my eye? Sochi Fried, who made a huge impression in a small but central part in The Apple Cart this summer alongside Rooney, has been deservingly rewarded with the title role in Shaw’s romantic comedy Candida next season. Veteran Sanjay Talwar will play her husband, Reverend James Mavor Morell, and the vital young actor Johnathan Sousa will be the poet Eugene Marchbanks, the final corner of the Shavian love triangle at the centre of that 1894 comedy.
The least surprising casting? Damien Atkins and Ric Reid will play Sherlock and Dr Watson in Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Human Heart. It didn’t take a gumshoe to surmise that those two actors would be back to play those parts for the third time at the Shaw Festival.
For those interested in all the other shows, full casting can be found in a release on the Shaw Festival site.
Duelling Vanyas: Tom Rooney - yes, back to him again! - is, I believe, an actor who by this point would have become a huge star if he practiced his craft in Great Britain or the United States.
I have often compared him to Mark Rylance, though that’s not quite right.
On Tuesday, with the announcement that The Office star Steve Carrell will play Vanya in Uncle Vanya on Broadway, however, I thought: Well, maybe Rooney is like a Rylance crossed with Carrell?
Rooney, of course, recently played Vanya in the Crow’s Theatre production of Uncle Vanya that will be reprised at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton (January 10 to 24) and for Mirvish Productions (February 2 to 25) this winter.
Carrell’s Uncle Vanya, meanwhile, is set to begin previews at the Lincoln Center Theater on April 2. Sonya will be played by the wonderful Canadian actor Alison Pill. Director Lila Neugebauer has assembled an all-star cast - including Jayne Houdyshell, Alfred Molina and Anika Noni Rose.
Festival talent in Toronto
It is the time of year in general when the Stratford and Shaw festival actors have finished their long contracts there and start landing on Toronto stages.
Maev Beaty, who was a wonderful Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at Stratford Festival this summer, is acting in the Canadian premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Letters From Max, a ritual.
She will be playing Ruhl in this play based on a book of letters between the playwright and an ailing poet, who will be played by Jesse LaVercombe.
Alan Dilworth directs this Necessary Angel production, which runs at the Theatre Centre from November 10 to December 3.
Ben Carlson, Stratford stalwart, and Graeme Somerville, Shaw mainstay, are meanwhile teaming up with Jordan Pettle on the Canadian premiere of The Lehman Trilogy, the Tony-winning play about the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers firm. Philip Akin directs this Canadian stage production running from November 14 to December 2.
Other shows opening this week in Toronto include: Withrow Park, a brand-new comedy by Morris Panych at Tarragon Theatre (running to December 3); and Prophecy Fog, a reprise at Coal Mine (from November 12 to December 10) of Jani Lauzon’s celebrated solo show that asks: Can a site still be sacred if it has been desecrated?