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Hailee Kaleem Wright, Karen Burthwright and Sidney Dupont during a performance of Paradise Square.Alessandra Mello/The Associated Press

The Tony Awards nominations came out yesterday – and gave a new lease on life to the musical that Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky is currently involved with on Broadway.

Paradise Square, a period piece about the intersection of race and immigration in Manhattan’s Five Points neighbourhood during the American Civil War, received ten nominations including one for best musical.

That is just one less than A Strange Loop, a musical about “a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer writing a musical” and the critical darling of the season, and a tie with MJ: The Musical (a biographical musical about Michael Jackson) as the second most-nominated show among Broadway’s comeback crop.

This strong showing was unexpected as Paradise Square received so-so reviews – and its low weekly box-office grosses since opening have suggested a show on the brink. (It was, again, the lowest-grossing musical on Broadway last week, pulling in just US $193,669.)

The New York Times highlighted Paradise Square’s nominations in its roundup of “snubs and surprises” – and the New York Post called the number of nominations “shocking”. They certainly shift the narrative around the show – and Drabinsky’s involvement.

A slew of Tony nominations does not predict wins or always translate into success at the box office, of course. (See, for example: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, a show I loved, which received a leading 12 Tony nominations in 2017, won two for its design, and closed later that summer never coming close to recouping.)

But Drabinsky is working as a creative producer on Paradise Square – and so shares in the glow of the strong support shown to the show by the Tony nominators based on their evaluation of its artistic merit.

As with the musical Sousatzka in Toronto in 2017, Drabinsky has said that he not involved in the financial side of producing any more. As he told the New York Times last month: “I don’t sign checks. I don’t get involved. I never want to live through the horror of what I went through in 1998 again.” (Drabinsky was CEO of the Toronto theatre company Livent in the 1990s – and, after it went bankrupt, was convicted of fraud and spent a stint in jail for systematically misstating Livent’s financial results.)

So, whether Paradise Square goes on to find financial success on Broadway or not, it won’t take away from Drabinsky being able to say he can still put together a show that impresses the tastemakers behind the Tonys twenty years after he last regularly fielded contenders on Broadway. Two days ago, a completely different story was unfolding.

A few other Tony notes:

Six, the energizing pop musical about Henry VIII’s wives, is also one of the six shows up for best musical, so, once again, a show that got ready for Broadway at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre is up for the Tony Awards’ top prize.

Putting all six of its actresses up as lead performers seems to have backfired for Six’s producers, however, as they all got shut out of the running for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical. That includes Winnipeg’s Andrea Macasaet, who gives a killer performance in the show as Anne Boleyn.

The Tony Awards are not a huge concern for Six, mind you – the show’s already a big hit, still pulling in over US $1 million a week at the box office.

Yes, there are six nominees for best musical: Aside from Six, A Strange Loop, Paradise Square and MJ: The Musical, they are Girl From the North Country and Mr. Saturday Night. I said there would be four or five in last week’s newsletter, so – mea culpa. The extra contender has something to do with a tie in the voting, I gather; there’s always something that surprises this Canadian about the Tony rules.

The Minutes, the new Tracy Letts play starring Schitt’s Creek’s Noah Reid, is up for best play. The other nominees are: Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage (my review here), Hangmen by Martin McDonagh, The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini and Ben Power and Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau.

I was actually planning to head down to New York this week on a mini-holiday to catch up on The Minutes and A Strange Loop – and to see the New York Yankees play the Blue Jays. But I can’t enter the United States right now because, well, I have COVID-19.

My son who’s too young for the vaccine caught it last week (he’s doing well now) and then it spread through our house.

I think it’s worth noting that I made it this far into the pandemic without getting COVID-19 despite seeing dozens of shows in theatres full of fellow masked, vaccinated spectators this fall and spring.

Opening this week in Toronto:

  • Is God Is by American playwright Aleshea Harris concerns a pair of twins on a journey of revenge and is described as part Spaghetti Western/part Afropunk. It’s getting its Canadian premiere at Canadian Stage in co-production with Necessary Angel and Obsidian. It opens to critics on Wednesday and runs to May 22 at the Berkeley Street Theatre.
  • The Herd, by Cree playwright Kenneth T Williams, also concerns twins – a pair of white bison born to a First Nation ranch: “Is this a prophecy coming true or laboratory gene doctoring?” Siminovitch Prize winner Tara Beagan directs this show at the Tarragon Theatre (May 10 to June 12) which had a run at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton last month, and is likely headed for Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon and the National Arts Centre’s Indigenous Theatre.
  • Crippled, Newfoundlander Paul David Power’s play that was recently nominated for a Governor General’s award, is being presented at Theatre Passe Muraille from May 12 to 21. The three-hander is inspired by his own experiences with loss and growing up with a disability.

I’m not yet sure when I’ll get back to reviewing, but hope to do so soon.

Last chance: David Yee’s Among Men is a play I’ve found myself talking about for weeks, while Annie Baker’s The Antipodes is one I’ve been talking about for years. They close in their Factory Theatre and Coal Mine productions in Toronto, respectively, this weekend.

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