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Sebastien Heins, right, who made his professional acting debut playing young Simba in the original Toronto cast of The Lion King in 2000, speaks with producer David Mirvish and Mayor Olivia Chow during a press conference announcing a second run of The Lion King at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, Tuesday, November 21, 2023.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

So, The Lion King is coming back to Toronto in 2024, in a new Canadian production set to take up residence at the Princess of Wales for an open-ended run next November.

This is major news for the local theatre industry from an employment point of view.

The Tony-winning, Julie Taymor-directed spectacle is a big spectacle that still packs them in – and employs many more actors and artisans than some of the small musicals that we’ve seen here of late courtesy of Mirvish Productions. (For example Six, which may be modest in cast size but is still mightily entertaining.)

It’s worth remembering that Come From Away – through an idiosyncratic scheme the federal government concocted with the National Arts Centre to help the commercial theatre industry recover from COVID-19 shutdown – is also returning to Toronto next fall.

That means, for as long as demand lasts, there will be a couple so-called sit-down shows side by side on King St again – like Mamma Mia! and The Lion King were when I first moved to Toronto in 2003.

This is great for Toronto theatregoers who haven’t seen these shows (my four-year-old is already excited about The Lion King) or who want to see them again (I never tire of Come From Away) and for theatrical tourism and all its economic spinoffs.

But what about those who want to see Canadian productions of newer musicals in Toronto – ones that premiered on Broadway, say, after 2017? Are we in for a dry spell where we only get to see them in tours?

Probably, for the most part. But I think Simba’s back, in part, because there aren’t many newer blockbusters that would make financial sense for Mirvish to invest in a sit-down production.

Kimberly Akimbo and A Strange Loop, the last two Broadway winners of the Tony Award for best musical, are artful but niche shows probably better suited for a not-for-profit production from an outfit such as The Musical Stage Company. Maybe Mirvish could partner on them and slot them into the off-Mirvish season at the CAA Theatre, the way they did with Fun Home in 2018.

As for the shows making serious money on Broadway right now, it’s hard to imagine MJ: The Musical, Moulin Rouge! or Back to the Future getting its own production in Toronto.

On the other hand, I believe that & Juliet, which was seen here in a pre-Broadway run that was, at one point, supposed to be a Canadian production, would be welcomed back by audiences, and it would be nice to see this musical penned by a local book writer take up residence for a while.

When I talked with him last week, producer David Mirvish told me he thought that the Max Martin jukebox musical with a book by Canadian David West Read could very well return, but we’ll have to wait until his 2024/2025 season announcement to see what that means.

I’m not sure where a long-running production of & Juliet would go with Mirvish’s King St. theatres full and him needing the CAA Theatre for his off-Mirvish season and the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre for his mainstage subscription series (which he says has close to 40,000 subscribers this year).

Of course, Mirvish will always rent other theatres when necessary, as when he moved Come From Away to the Elgin for a while to make way for the short-lived Toronto production of Dear Evan Hansen.

And there are other routes to see Canadian talent in musicals in and around Toronto other than Mirvish, of course.

For instance, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, a War and Peace-inspired show I loved on Broadway but that didn’t recoup in a great season that saw it up against Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen at the 2017 Tony Awards, is finally getting its Toronto premiere courtesy of The Musical Stage Company and Crow’s Theatre. (Previews begin Dec. 5.)

But what really makes a theatre city exciting is when new musicals premiere there and find an audience. Speaking of which, Bad Hats adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is back at Soulpepper again this holiday season from Dec. 12 to 31.

‘Tis the season – already?

- Is the Citadel Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol the first of the year? It opens Saturday in Edmonton and is running to Dec. 23.

- Also after that family/holiday audience are a couple of musicals based on Roald Dahl books that hit the stage this week in Ontario: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. (to Dec. 24); and Matilda at the Sudbury Theatre Centre (Nov. 24 to Dec. 17).

- Young People’s Theatre’s holiday show in Toronto this year is not a musical but It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Artistic director Herbie Barnes’s production is on until Dec. 20 and aimed at ages 10 and up. (Anyone else remember when Donna Feore directed this at Canadian Stage, then known as CanStage, in 2008?)

Not for the whole family (well, up to you, I suppose)

- Everyone’s favourite RuPaul-blessed drag queens Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme are back on tour with their holiday show. It hits Meridian Hall in Toronto on Nov. 21, then Montreal on Nov. 23 and 24, then Hamilton on Nov. 25. The queens of Christmas will circle back to Edmonton and Vancouver on Dec. 29 and 30, respectively. (I had a blast with them last year.)

- Prison Dancer: The Musical hits the National Arts Centre in Ottawa this week, after its world premiere at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton that won five Sterling Awards including best musical. The show – by Filipino-Canadian creators Romeo Candido and Carmen De Jesus – is inspired by the 2007 viral video of 1,500 inmates in a Filipino prison dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Nina Lee Aquino’s production runs from Nov. 23 to Dec. 2.

- Run du lait, Justin Laramée’s documentary play about the dairy industry in Quebec, is back in Montreal for a big-deal run at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe from Nov. 22 to 26. The fascinating (really!) French-language show has a tour lined up around Quebec stretching into April.

Opening this week in Toronto

- Two of Daniel MacIvor’s classic solo shows that were originally directed by the late Daniel Brooks are being resurrected by other artists at the Factory Theatre. First up on the boards this week is Monster (to Dec. 10), with Karl Ang playing all 16 characters, directed by Soheil Parsa. Shaw Festival star Damien Atkins then takes on Here Lies Henry (Nov. 23 to Dec. 17), in a production directed by Tawiah M’Carthy.

- To Kill a Mockingbird, in the form of Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel, is on tour at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre until Nov. 27. It will return there again from May 28 to June 2. I’ll be there tonight to review.

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