Gay-rights icon Marc Hall and folk artist Maud Lewis are the subject of two new and nearly new Canadian musicals being backed by Theatre Calgary and its ambitious artistic director Stafford Arima.
The Alberta theatre company will produce the latest version of a Broadway-aimed musical about Hall in January 2020 and is beginning to develop a brand-new musical based on the movie Maudie with songs by Sarah Slean, Arima announced on Wednesday.
The Louder We Get is the new title for a long-in-development Hall show, which features a book by Edmonton’s Kent Staines and songs by the Calgary-raised team of Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal, and tells the story of Hall’s successful legal battle to bring his boyfriend to his Ontario high-school prom in 2002.
An earlier version of the show called Prom Queen: The Musical began life at Sheridan College’s Canadian Music Theatre Project (the Ontario birthplace of megahit Come from Away), was then produced at the Segal Centre in Montreal and the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., and has attracted the attention of commercial producers in the United States and Britain.
It will now have its biggest production yet, with a new creative team headed by the Broadway director Lonny Price, at Theatre Calgary with the help of a significant injection of “enhancement money” from a team of investors and producers led by Toronto’s Mary Young Leckie.
“I knew of the project when I was living in New York and it was at NAMT [National Alliance for Musical Theatre festival] in 2017,” says Arima, who is getting ready to wrap up his inaugural season in charge of Theatre Calgary. “There was a buzz about the show. … It makes you feel, it pulls at your heartstrings and it’s also an uplifting message about the right to love.”
The title has been changed to The Louder We Get, the title of the stirring anthem that ends the first act, due to there being a musical called The Prom about a fictional teen girl’s battle to bring her girlfriend to prom (co-written by the Canadian librettist Bob Martin) currently running on Broadway.
Indeed, the Hall show still has its eyes on New York’s commercial theatre district as a potential destination, says Staines, who also wrote a 2004 TV movie about Hall.
“We aren’t concerned about any potential conflicts,” he says regarding The Prom, which may have got to Broadway first, in November, but has struggled at the box office and was recently described as being “in dire straits” in Forbes.
The Louder We Get will play at Theatre Calgary from Jan. 28 to Feb. 22, 2020, at the centre point of a season that also contains new productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Ted Dykstra; British playwright Michael Frayn’s farce Noises Off; Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon’s gripping drama Iceland; American playwright Joshua Harmon’s social satire Admissions; the popular Elvis/Johnny Cash musical Million Dollar Quartet; and a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol penned by Calgary playwright Geoffrey Simon Brown (The Circle).
Along with this programming for the 2019-2020 seasons, Arima has announced four new commissions for possible production further down the line.
Maudie, based on the Canadian Screen Award-winning film starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke about the Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis, will be another collaboration with The Louder We Get producer Leckie (who was one of the producers on the film). The musical will feature a book by Staines and songs by Slean, an acclaimed Canadian cabaret-inspired singer-songwriter. “She’s been really interested in exploring this world of musical theatre,” says Arima. “Her song that she demo-ed for us just really took all of our breaths away,”
Arima’s three other commissions are Forgiveness, a stage adaptation of Mark Sakamoto’s Canada Reads-winning memoir of the Second World War by Hiro Kanagawa; Run, “an exploration of why black people run” by the playwright Lisa Codrington; and The F Word, a collective creation about being “fat,” by Keshia Cheesman and Bianca Miranda.
While Arima is proud of his first season at Theatre Calgary, which included three world premieres, he will be slowing down the pace of production of new plays and musicals going forward based on feedback from subscribers – and says the 2019-2020 season represents a better picture of how he will balance new shows with better-known classic and contemporary fare. “My take-away is that three in one season was perhaps a little too much for some of our subscribers,” he says.