Canada’s theatre companies are premiering new productions of epic proportions in 2023 to lure back spectators as live performance continues its sector-wide recovery.
The pandemic-emergent philosophy: Go big, or the audiences might stay home and stream. Here are five big stories, big stars and big musicals to catapult theatregoers off their comfy couches – and perhaps create new audiences, too.
Forgiveness: Vancouver and Calgary
Mark Sakamoto’s moving memoir, which won Canada Reads in 2018, chronicles the experiences of two of his grandparents in the Second World War: one a Canadian soldier of European descent who was in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, the other a Japanese-Canadian sent to an internment camp by the Canadian government.
Governor-General’s Award-winning playwright Hiro Kanagawa has adapted the story for the stage; its world premiere will be directed by Stafford Arima, the Theatre Calgary artistic director whose own father was interned in Slocan, B.C. (and who previously directed the Broadway musical Allegiance about internment camps in the United States).
Arts Club in Vancouver, Jan. 12 to Feb. 12; Theatre Calgary in Calgary, March 7 to April 1.
Fall on Your Knees: Toronto, Halifax, Ottawa and London, Ont.
Ann-Marie MacDonald’s engrossing 1996 novel about four generations of the Piper Family was such a phenomenon (especially after being selected for Oprah’s Book Club) that it is astonishing it has eluded adaptation until now.
Though the author is an award-winning writer for the stage herself, Hannah Moscovitch – Canada’s most prominent contemporary playwright – holds the pen for this double-whammy of a production (part one: Family Tree; part two: The Diary) with music by composer Sean Mayes.
Co-creator Alisa Palmer directs a cast of 14 that mixes and matches Stratford and Shaw Festival favourites such as Deborah Hay and Amaka Umeh. Might it be Canada’s answer to the famous two-part touring production of Nicholas Nickleby?
Canadian Stage in Toronto, Jan. 20 to Feb. 5; Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Feb. 10 to March 5; National Arts Centre in Ottawa, March 8 to 25; and the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., March 29 to April 2.
Mahabharata, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
Can storytelling stop the cycle of revenge?
Why Not Theatre’s Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes’s modern adaptation of this millennia-old Sanskrit epic poem of war and chance, philosophy and spirituality, is at last set to have a world premiere at the Shaw Festival this winter ahead of a world tour. This show, too, takes place over a pair of performances, titled Karma and Dharma; it features a large cast of performers all from the South Asian diaspora, live music (including a 15-minute opera adaptation of the Bhagavad Gita section) and an option to see both parts in the same day with a vegetarian meal in between.
Directed by Jain, a top talent who is a perennial Siminovitch Prize runner-up, it should garner a lot of interest internationally, especially in light of the recent death of Peter Brook, whose 1985 stage adaptation of the same material with Jean-Claude Carrière is legendary but of a decidedly different era.
Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Feb. 28 to March 26; other locations and dates TBA.
Maggie: A New Musical, Hamilton, Charlottetown
Prince Edward Island is regaining its reputation for popping out new Canadian musicals like potatoes again – and this year’s buzzy Charlottetown Festival premiere centres on songs from the Scottish-Canadian country singer Johnny Reid (written with Matt Murray and Bob Foster).
It’s not, as I first imagined, about Canada’s most famous Maggie. The plot instead concerns a single mother of three living in the mining town of Lanarkshire, Scotland, and ranges from the 1950s to the 1970s. Mary Francis Moore directs and plays host to the pre-Charlottetown premiere at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, where she is artistic director, and, behind the scenes, producer Michael Rubinoff (Come From Away) has been raising money to boost the budget with an eye on a future commercial life.
Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, April 19 to May 6; Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, June 21 to Sept. 2.
King Lear, Stratford, Ont.
Paul Gross hasn’t been able to fit in a season at Stratford Festival into his schedule since his Hamlet 2000 – unless it was his starring role in the Stratford-spoofing series Slings & Arrows that accounts for his long absence since?
In any case, Gross – one of the country’s most charismatically caustic live performers – is stepping back out on the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage to take on another one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles under the direction of Kimberley Rampersad. His daughters Regan, Goneril and Cordelia will be played by Déjah Dixon-Green (who blew audiences away in Death and the King’s Horseman last season), Shannon Taylor and Tara Sky, respectively, while Michael Blake and André Sills will face off as brothers Edmund and Edgar.
Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ont., April 24 to Oct. 29