Yesterday was Super Monday in Canadian theatre as performing arts communities in three cities celebrated their curtailed 2019-2020 seasons in online ceremonies.
I have a full write-up of Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards in The Globe and Mail, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the notable wins from the Sterling Awards in Edmonton and the Jessie Richardson Awards in Vancouver as well.
Edmonton probably had the most exciting race for outstanding production of a musical you’d find anywhere on the continent this season – especially with the Tony Awards postponed indefinitely.
Six, a pop musical that reimagines Henry VIII’s wives as a girl group and played at the Citadel Theatre in a pre-Broadway engagement, was the perceived front-runner. Also nominated were Citadel artistic director Daryl Cloran’s own popular Bard/Beatles mash-up As You Like It (which had previously played in Vancouver and was set to open in Chicago this spring); the latest original musical from the acclaimed indie company Catalyst Theatre, The Invisible; and a one-woman cabaret called Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs.
But it was the Citadel/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre co-production of the 2005 musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple that ended up named outstanding musical production of the 2019-2020 season. Indeed, it dominated the Sterlings, winning in all five categories it was nominated in.
Kimberley Rampersad, who I wrote about a couple weeks ago in an article on a new wave of Black female leadership in Canadian theatre, won the award for outstanding direction for her production – which is a particularly neat feat because, two months ago, she also won the award for outstanding direction at the Robert Merritt Awards for an entirely different production of The Color Purple at Neptune Theatre in Halifax.
Another happy surprise at the 2020 Sterling Awards: Theatre Network’s The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius, a 2017 bouffon adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus by Colleen Murphy (The Breathing Hole, The December Man), was named outstanding production of a play. It’s great to see a big Canadian play like this get a second production, and apparently a very good one.
At the Jessie Awards in Vancouver, meanwhile, the Arts Club Theatre Company dominated in the large theatre division. Artistic director Ashlie Corcoran’s production of The Sound of Music starring Synthia Yusuf as Maria was named outstanding musical of the year – and Scott Bellis’s production of the farce Noises Off was named outstanding production of a play.
In the small theatre division, The Search Party’s production of The Father by Florian Zeller picked up six awards including outstanding production, outstanding direction for Mindy Parfitt – and lead actor and actress awards for Kevin McNulty and Jillian Fargey, respectively. (While the Doras and the Sterling are gender-neutral in all categories, the Jessies stick with the traditional actor and actress awards.)
The major online theatre event this week is, undoubtedly, the release of Hamilton on the Disney+ streaming service.
This is a film of the original Broadway production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit hip-hop history musical about U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, shot in the Richard Rodgers Theatre back in June of 2016.
How does it land on screen versus on the stage (and in the Trump era versus the Obama era)? Read my review from New York back in 2015 – and compare and contrast with critic Barry Hertz’s review of the film this week.
(A footnote for the Hamilton heads: I didn’t actually see the entire original cast in 2015. Jonathan Groff was out for a month, filming the last season of Looking, so I saw Girls’ Andrew Rannells as King George – a pretty starry understudy who was a perfect riot in the role.)
Canada’s Fringe festival circuit is proving quite adept at adapting to our pandemic times. The Toronto Fringe will launch an online edition on Canada Day – an initiative it’s calling Fringe Collective, comprised of four three-day “acts” that will involve pre-recorded video, audio, written and interactive content theatregoers-from-home can access on demand.
The pricing is very interesting. Audiences can either pay $100 for a Fringe Collective Membership to have access to all four acts (more than 50 of these have been sold so far) – or audiences can Tip-What-They-Can before accessing the content on an act-by-act basis. All money raised will be split 70/30 between the artists and the Fringe this year.
Finally, to celebrate – that’s not quite the right word – Canada Day, the PlayME podcast is releasing an audio version of Sir John A: A Gentrified Ojibway Rebellion by the very funny playwright and occasional The Globe and Mail contributor Drew Hayden Taylor this week. Here’s the plot summary: “When Bobby learns that his grandfather’s medicine bundle lies mouldering in a British museum, another casualty of the residential school system, he enlists his friend to execute an epic heist and secure the ultimate bargaining chip – the bones of Sir John A.” It will be available in all the usual podcast places and on the PlayME website.
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