December 9, 2023
DAHLIA KATZ/Canadian Stage

Toronto theatre has been on fire at the box office this fall, with extensions of shows announced left, right and centre.

This morning, I received an e-mail about the latest: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, a recent Broadway musical favourite of mine now having its Canadian premiere in a co-production between Crow’s Theatre and Musical Stage Company. The theatre company e-blast announced a two-week extension, due to popular demand, through to Jan. 21.

The Great Comet is not the first show in Crow’s 2023-2024 season to extend. The Master Plan was the first – and it received so many extensions, in fact, that there are rumours it may return this winter to a different venue. Crow’s likewise extended its co-productions of Heroes of the Fourth Turning with the Howland Company; its off-site co-production with VideoCabaret of Cliff Cardinal’s (Everyone I Love Has) A Terrible Fate (Befall Them); and even the Ukrainian war drama Bad Roads.

Canadian Stage, one of the biggest not-for-profit theatres in Toronto, also announced extensions for both its plays this fall, extending Topdog/Underdog in October and then The Lehman Trilogy to December 2.

Withrow Park at Tarragon Theatre was similarly extended (and is still onstage to Dec. 10), while Mirvish Productions, unable to extend its presentation of the Broadway tour of To Kill a Mockingbird, is bringing it back in the spring. I’m sure I’m missing others.

The impression left by all this is that theatregoers are flocking to see plays in Canada’s largest city at a time when we hear a lot of post-pandemic doom and gloom about audiences in other theatre scenes – especially in the United States, and especially regarding drama.

Before we all jump up and down to celebrate bucking the theatrical trend, however, it’s worth being a tiny bit skeptical.

While I have no doubt that Toronto theatre is on a strong run artistically – a few of the shows listed above will be on The Globe and Mail’s annual top 10 list when it comes out later this month – some of this is about rejigged sales and marketing strategies coming out of the pandemic.

It’s long been the case that theatres find it easiest to fill their seats in a show’s final week. And it has been generally observed across the industry that audiences are buying tickets even more last minute since COVID-19 came a-calling.

Given that trend, it just makes good business sense to announce a three-week run of a show and then add a fourth once the first weeks fill up. You get the buzz boost that comes from extending, rather than putting a whole month of seats on sale at once.

Only long-time Toronto theatregoers will notice that some of the shows having extended runs are actually having shorter runs overall than similar unextended productions used to have at the same theatre companies a decade ago.

That doesn’t mean any of these extensions are false; it’s entirely likely many of these shows would have shut down as originally announced if ticket demand hadn’t materialized. Though I can say with confidence that one of the shows listed above had always planned to run longer than what was first put on sale.

Hey, that’s theatre: illusion and reality, mixed together. Personally, I’m entirely on board with a theatre scene finding every way possible to generate buzz these days. It’s just my job to occasionally pull back the curtain.

Polytechnique play

This week in December brings back terrible memories of the 1989 École Polytechnique anti-feminist massacre for many Quebeckers and Canadians – and it is an opportunity to renew our collective commitment to combatting gender-based violence across the country.

At Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, the Porte Parole documentary theatre company has been presenting a major new show called Projet Polytechnique – on until Dec. 13 before going on tour next year – that will also have a live audio broadcast (in French) on Dec. 6, the anniversary of the mass killing.

What’s opening and closing this week
  • Mirvish Productions is bringing back the biographical musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations for a short run this month, from Dec. 7 to 17. I talked to director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, who were both raised in Toronto, when this show first appeared here on its way to a Broadway run. I enjoyed it quite a bit then – though I repost my 2018 review with the standard disclaimer that the cast (and maybe even the content) will have changed since then.
  • The Mom’s the Word collective (Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard and Deborah Williams) is back at the Arts Club in Vancouver with Mom’s the Word: Talkin’ Turkey (to Dec 31). This group of performers have been making merry with stories of motherhood for more than 30 years now. Incredible!
  • Rapid Fire Theatre, Edmonton’s venerable improvised comedy theatre, moved into the Rapid Fire Exchange –its new “forever home” – this season. Its holiday tradition, a show called The Blank Who Stole Christmas! with a different villain every time, has followed them there, with “nice,” “naughty” and “nasty” performances scheduled through Dec. 23.
  • Making Spirits Brighter, a holiday show at the Globe Theatre in Regina, has something for everyone, combining stories by W.O. Mitchell and Thomas King with The Night Before Christmas and the Ukrainian folk tale The Mitten. Jennifer Brewin’s production is on through Dec. 23.
  • Sweeter, a show for young audiences written by Alicia Richardson, is at Toronto’s Aki Studio in a Cahoots Theatre production (in association with Roseneath Theatre) until Dec. 17. Set 20 years after the American Civil War, it’s about a talking mango tree. The director is Tanisha Taitt, who has evinced excellent taste in new plays since taking over Cahoots.
  • Last week’s newsletter went over many of the original musicals premiering in Canada over the holidays, including a few that are opening this week. I won’t rehash them here, but will note that I’m off to see the independently produced Chris, Mrs (to Dec. 31) at the Winter Garden in Toronto on Thursday. Look for my review online before the weekend.


Dahlia Katz/The Canadian Press
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Denise Grant/The Globe and Mail
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