As September begins, the theatres in Canada’s urban centres wake up from their summer slumbers and kick off their 2019-20 seasons with a flurry of new productions.
Here’s a coast-to-coast look at the major plays, musicals and history-making theatrical events that You Oughta Know about between now and December. (Oh, plus one Alanis Morissette musical south of the border.)
The main events: Ottawa and Quebec City
This month sees a brand-new theatre company moving into a major performing arts centre – and one of the country’s major theatre companies moving into a brand-new performing arts centre.
The National Arts Centre’s Indigenous Theatre launches in Ottawa on Sept. 11 with an arts festival called Mòshkamo – an Algonquin word that means “something that emerges from the water to reveal itself” – that’s full of theatre, dance and music (including concerts by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Jeremy Dutcher).
The theatrical highlight is a mainstage revival of Marie Clements’s The Unnatural and Accidental Woman (Sept. 11-21), a searing 2000 play that tackled the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls long before a national inquiry was launched. Muriel Miguel directs a who’s who of Indigenous actors – including Yolanda Bonnell, Monique Mojica and PJ Prudat.
Meanwhile, in Quebec City, Robert Lepage, the internationally acclaimed and, of late, domestically controversial director, is opening the doors to the new $54-million complex in his hometown that will be a permanent home for his peripatetic company Ex Machina – and host performances as varied as theatre, circus and wrestling matches.
Le Diamant will launch with an updated version of Lepage’s 1990s hit The Seven Streams of the River Ota (Sept. 7 to 15) that will then head out on a world tour that includes a stop at the National Theatre in London, England.
It would be easy to see these two concurrent launches as somehow in opposition to one another.
The Indigenous Theatre’s inaugural artistic director Kevin Loring, after all, wrote an open letter to Lepage just last year criticizing him for Kanata, a new show centred around a story of missing and murdered women that did not have any Indigenous artists in its creative team or cast.
But, in fact, Lepage and Loring’s endeavours are in conversation – and share a show.
Montreal theatre company Menuentakuan will take a French-language production of Loring’s Governor-General’s Award-winning residential-school drama, Where the Blood Mixes (Là où le sang se mêle) to the NAC from Sept. 13 to 18; and then take it to Le Diamant from Oct. 8 to 12.
Five must-see musicals: New York, Edmonton and Toronto
Is it ironic that the biggest Canadian musical theatre event of the fall is taking place in New York? Expect a revived debate over the definition of irony when Jagged Little Pill, inspired by the 1995 Alanis Morissette album, opens on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre (previews from Nov. 3).
Tony-winning director Diane Paulus? Oliver-winning choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui? A script about a family coming apart penned by Diablo Cody? You’ve already won me over, Alanis musical.
Meanwhile, Citadel Theatre artistic director Daryl Cloran continues to turn the Edmonton into Broadway North by hosting a New York-bound production of Six: Divorced. Beheaded. Live in Concert (Nov. 1-24), a original musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss that reimagines Henry VIII’s wives as a Spice Girls-style group on a reunion tour.
Two seasons ago, the Citadel was similarly lent to Hadestown as it worked out its kinks pre-Broadway; the theatre then got name-checked during the 2019 Tony Awards when that myth-inspired show was named Best Musical.
In Toronto, the commercial Mirvish Productions is also presenting a work that may be in the Tony conversation this season: Girl from the North Country, a Depression-set musical based around songs by Bob Dylan and with a book by Conor McPherson. The show audiences at the Royal Alexandra will see (Sept. 28 to Nov. 24) is actually a British production that then heads to London’s West End; a separate American production hits Broadway in 2020.
For the most adventurous musical-theatre fare this fall, however, the place to be is Crow’s Theatre in Toronto’s East End.
First, Canadian Broadway star Chilina Kennedy’s Eclipse Theatre Company and Crow’s collaborate on Ghost Quartet (Oct. 5 to Nov. 3) – a collection of twisted tales from the innovative composer Dave Malloy, best known for Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Up-and-coming director Marie Farsi helms the show’s Canadian premiere, which is set to star Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis, Kira Guloien and Andrew Penner.
This is followed by STARS: Together (Nov. 26 to Dec. 8), a meta-musical in which the Montreal indie band fronted by Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan take the stage for a mock rock doc that will feature many of their hits. Crow’s head honcho Chris Abraham directs.
Seven plays to see, from Labrador City to Vancouver
Between Breaths, on tour: Fans of Come From Away, and especially those who tear up at its subplot involving SPCA worker Bonnie, should make time for the latest from Newfoundland’s acclaimed Artistic Fraud company.
Written by Robert Chafe with tunes by folk band The Once and directed by the brilliant Jillian Keiley, this show tells the true story of Jon Lien, a Memorial University professor who worked to rescue whales from fishing nets. After stops in Labrador (Oct. 8 and 11), it tours to Halifax’s Neptune Theatre (Oct. 22 to Nov. 10) and Toronto’s Factory Theatre (Nov. 20 to Dec. 8) with a one-night stand in Wolfville, N.S. (Nov. 11), in between. (In 2020, it will hit Victoria, Vancouver, London, Ont., and elsewhere.)
A Streetcar Named Desire, Toronto: Weyni Mengesha’s reputation as a director was built on turning new work by young talent (Kim’s Convenience; Da Kink in My Hair) into massive hits.
But as she prepares to reveal her first season of programming as artistic director at Soulpepper, she’s tackling a Tennessee Williams classic (Sept. 21 to Oct. 13). Her cast excites with a pair of nervy actors, Amy Rutherford and Mac Fyfe, in the iconic roles of Blanche and Stanley.
The Election, Toronto; Fight Night, Edmonton: One side effect of fixed election dates is that clever artistic directors can program political theatre to coincide with our theatrical politics.
Back in 2015, the theatre company Common Boots sent a group of artists of different backgrounds to “infiltrate” the Canadian federal election as volunteers for three different political parties. The Election (Oct. 9 to 27) was created from that process. Written by Natasha Greenblatt, Yolanda Bonnell and “the company,” it promises a peek behind the scenes of how our democracy works (and doesn’t). At Theatre Passe Muraille in collaboration with Nightwood Theatre and Theatre Direct.
For a broader consideration of democracy, try Fight Night from Belgium’s theatrical superstars Ontroerend Goed – an experimental and interactive show that examines how we make choices, visiting Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre (Oct. 17-27).
Yaga, Toronto; Bang Bang, Winnipeg: Kat Sandler, once the quintessential “indie" playwright, continues her comedic conquest of the Canadian theatre mainstream by persuading Stratford Festival icon Seana McKenna to star in her latest, Yaga, a mystery about that notorious wicked old witch Baba Yaga. Sandler directs her own world premiere at Tarragon theatre (Sept. 17 – Oct. 20).
Then, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s new artistic director Kelly Thornton will show off her stuff by directing the Winnipeg premiere of Bang Bang (Oct. 2-19) – Sandler’s 2018 button-pushing satire about a Hollywood adaptation of a hit play about a police shooting.
Take d Milk, Nah?, Vancouver: If you want to leave the theatre talking, and talking, and talking, check out Jiv Parasram’s solo show Take d Milk, Nah? at the Cultch (Oct. 16-26). Parasram, recently appointed artistic director at Rumble Theatre, caused a stir in Toronto with this provocative twist on that Canadian theatre stand-by: the identity play. (I can’t tell you why or I’ll ruin the surprise.) Tours to the NAC in Ottawa, Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto and the MAI in Montreal in 2020, too.
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