'Billy Elliot' and 'Addams Family' come to T.O.
TORONTO - The problem-plagued "Spider-Man" Broadway musical will likely grab more headlines in the new year, but some big names are poised to make waves north of the border too.
"Billy Elliot," "Barrymore" and "The Addams Family" are but a few of the big shows set to burst onto the stage here in 2011, as producers here feature many musicals with feel-good stories.
"(There's) a strong storyline in all of these musicals -- a story of some adversity but ultimately hope -- if you want to characterize what it is people are responding to," producer David Mirvish says of his subscription lineup for the first nine months of 2011 (the 2011/2012 subscription season kicks off in September and will be unveiled in February).
"There's some light at the end of the tunnel."
That theme is prominent in one of Mirvish's most anticipated shows for 2011, "Billy Elliot The Musical," which runs at the Canon Theatre beginning Feb. 1.
The 10-time Tony Award winner follows a British coal miner's son as he ditches boxing to pursue his dream of dancing. Four young boys, three of whom hail from Canada's National Ballet School, will share the lead role.
Mirvish says he expects pop music icon Elton John, who penned the tunes for the show, will be at the opening.
Other big shows in the Mirvish lineup next year include "The Secret Garden" (Feb 8), "Calendar Girls" (April 15), "Disney's The Lion King" (April 19) and "Carrie Fisher Wishful Drinking" (July 12).
The musical genre, says Mirvish, is usually the most popular with audiences, followed by comedy.
"Dramas are the most difficult" to lure in audiences with, he adds, noting Mirvish Productions lost money when it staged the acclaimed "August: Osage County," starring Estelle Parsons, in 2010.
"But that doesn't stop us from doing all three of (those genres)," says Mirvish. "Because occasionally something is extraordinary."
The 2011 schedule at Dancap Productions in Toronto is also filled with musicals, including the return of the critically acclaimed "South Pacific" (Feb. 15); as well as "9 to 5;" featuring music and lyrics by Dolly Parton (June 29); "Next to Normal" (July 19); "Memphis" (Dec. 6); and "The Addams Family" (Nov. 16).
President Aubrey Dan says he programmed musicals because they're accessible, fun, engaging and offer a diverse range of stories.
"And typically, they all have a love story," he says. "Because we have to look at it: who loves theatre the most? Women, and we love women and we love that they love musicals and you've got to pull the heartstrings."
Another big show slated for the new year in Toronto is the revival of "Barrymore," about legendary Shakespearean actor and screen star John Barrymore. It runs from Jan. 27 to March 9 at the Elgin Theatre.
Illustrious Canadian actor Christopher Plummer returns to the leading role for which he won the 1997 best-actor Tony Award.
"I really want to see 'Barrymore' that's coming to Toronto because I saw Christopher Plummer in 'The Tempest' and he's so shockingly good," says famed funnyman Sean Cullen, who's currently starring in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in the city.
Meanwhile, some Canadians will also be seen on Broadway next year.
Among them is Kiefer Sutherland, who will co-star in a revival of the play "That Championship Season," which begins previews in New York on Feb. 9.
Toronto actor C. David Johnson will also hit Broadway when "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, the Musical" -- in which he plays Bob the mechanic -- finishes its run in Toronto and travels south.
"I've been to see shows on Broadway but I've never acted on Broadway, so it's going to be really exciting," he says.
Ramin Karimloo, the Canuck star of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Never Dies" in London, may also go to Broadway with his show next year. Producers say they're waiting to see how changes to the show shape up in London before they review plans to bring it to Toronto and New York in 2011.
American actors coming here for work next year include Brian Dennehy, who's set to return to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in southwestern Ontario.
Dennehy will star in "The Homecoming" as well as "Twelfth Night," which will possibly be shot for the big screen.
The Stratford festival's 2011 program also includes "Camelot," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Richard III"
"I think there's always a strong following for musicals," says Des McAnuff, the festival's artistic director.
"I'm really pleased that Stratford was able to do the classical comedies, as well as starting to do the more modern musicals. I hope we'll continue to do that."
At Canadian Stage in Toronto, the 2011 mandate is programming large-scale, "pluridisciplinary" work, which reflects the multicultural nature of the city and country.
Shows on the docket include "St. Carmen of the Main," a National Arts Centre co-production, and the Scottish play "The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union."
"We really are positioning ourselves as the great Canadian contemporary theatre and I'd say even cutting-edge theatre," says Matthew Jocelyn, artistic and general director of Canadian Stage.
"As much as the work of playwrights or the work of actors, I'm very much interested in the strong, affirmative, absolutely artistically clear voices of directors who are interpreting plays, not just putting them on, or people who are using their own artistic vocabulary to inform the work that they're doing."
One of the directors who's fit that bill at Canadian Stage in the past is Quebec's Robert Lepage, who will bring Cirque du Soleil's most expensive show, "Totem," to Montreal and Toronto next year.
Cirque will also kick off "Michael Jackson, the Immortal World Tour" in Montreal in October 2011. Written and directed by renowned concert choreographer Jamie King, the production will combine Jackson's music and moves with Cirque acrobatics.
Vancouver-based theatre director Kim Collier, who won this year's Siminovitch Prize and co-founded the Electric Company Theatre, predicts onstage "deconstruction" will also be popular next year.
"As we become more and more armed with technology we're creating spectacular huge pieces, which is beautiful, but also I think there's a call toward simplicity and stripping productions to their bare bones and exposing the human truth at the centre of them," says Collier, who will bring the company's acclaimed re-invention of Jean Paul Sartre's 1944 existential classic "No Exit" to San Francisco in April.
"I think there are many artists that are compelled to do that kind of work now too, to kind of counterbalance our very mediated and busy world."