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Mirvish Productions planning grand 50th anniversary season

Cameron Mackintosh presents a new production of Les Miserables with staging and scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo

The Mirvish family will celebrate 50 years of producing and presenting theatre in Toronto in September – and will mark that half-century with their biggest season yet.

Fourteen shows is certainly a strong riposte to fears that David Mirvish was putting the family business on the back burner – a concern that emerged after the impresario announced he planned on demolishing his Princess of Wales Theatre to build a three-tower condominium project with starchitect Frank Gehry.

"Fifty years is a long time and a lot of memories," Mirvish told The Globe and Mail in advance of Wednesday's season announcement.

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After being announced a year ago and then delayed, Les Misérables will indeed return in a new production stacked with Canadians, notably West End star Ramin Karimloo in the lead of Jean Valjean.

The 2013-2014 season's other two flagpole productions will be Disney's Aladdin in its pre-Broadway tryout, and the Canadian premiere of the Tony-winner Once, a creative adaptation of the Irish indie movie of the same name that features a cast of actor-musicians.

Then there are four other shows in the main Mirvish subscription season; three in the new Off-Mirvish subscription; and an additional four "bonus" shows that includes a new, all-Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats.

Les Miz, however, is a perfect show to demonstrate how much Mirvish Productions has evolved over the past quarter-century, since David Mirvish became active in the business his (now late) father Ed Mirvish began in 1963.

When Mirvish Productions put on the musical's Canadian premiere in 1989, they had to cancel the rest of their programming for a year in order to do it; they only had one theatre.

Since then, Mirvish has acquired three more theatres and fought off two serious challengers to its status as Toronto's premiere commercial theatre company – first, Garth Drabinsky's Livent, then Aubrey Dan's Dancap.

While there's an assumption that competition leads to more options for theatregoers, the retreat of Dancap has, in fact, meant that Mirvish is returning to programming an eclectic subscription series drawn from around the world – rather than relying exclusively on big-name musicals stamped with the Broadway brand. "It's given us a little bit more room to be a little more creative and a little wider reaching," Mirvish says. For its 2013-2014 mainstage subscription, that means:

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  • The Last Confession, a thriller by Roger Crane about the sudden death of Pope John Paul I in 1978. David Suchet, a British stage actor known mostly as Poirot on this side of the ocean, is set to star.
  • Metamorphosis, a celebrated Norwegian adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novella, with music by Australian rocker Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
  • The world premiere of Arrabal, a “tango rock opera” created by Tony-nominated, Canadian choreographer Sergio Trujillo and set to the music of Oscar-winner Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel) and his band Bajofondo.
  • Heartbeat of Home, a new dance spectacular from the creators of Riverdance.

The Off-Mirvish series is being launched Wednesday at the same time as the main one this year in hopes of boosting subscription numbers from the current 2,000 to a more sustainable 5,000.

The Canadian premiere of George F. Walker's Dead Metaphor is the big surprise here – a play that was pulled from the Factory Theatre season after artistic director Ken Gass was given the boot by his board. This will appear as a co-production with Gass's new Canadian Rep company.

David Suchet talks about The Last Confession

"What timing this is!" says David Suchet, over the phone from London. "It's extraordinary – the Vatican keep hitting the headlines like this."

On the morning of Benedict XVI's surprise resignation, Suchet is calling to talk about the last stunning departure of a pope: John Paul I's death in 1978, just 33 days after his election by the College of Cardinals.

In the West End hit The Last Confession, Suchet plays Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, who looks into the suspicious circumstances surrounding that liberal pontiff's sudden death – which has been the subject of dark conspiracy theories ever since. "What this play does is what other people did at the time, which is raise huge questions," explains Suchet.

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Suchet is best known for playing a more conventional detective – Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot – on British television since 1989. The upcoming conclusion of that series after almost 25 years means that he can tour The Last Confession. After the Toronto presentation as part of the Mirvish season in April, 2014, the show will travel to Los Angeles and then to Australia. "I'm very lucky that there's a huge Poirot audience," Suchet says. "It was never intended to go more than a year.… It's just proved very popular."

Editor's note: Heartbeat of Home is a new dance spectacular from the creators of Riverdance. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.

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