Fall theatre guide: Exciting world premieres and intriguing twists await this season

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The cast of the Toronto Production of SIX. From the left: Lauren Mariasoosay, Maggie Lacasse, Krystal Hernández (centre), Elysia Cruz, Julia Pulo and Jaz Robinson.Joan Marcus/Handout

It would be hard to top 2022 for ambitious theatre offerings, when many companies, having postponed their big productions during the pandemic, finally got a chance to stage them.

This season, perhaps reacting to the much-discussed drop in attendance at theatres, they’ve largely played it safe with proven, crowd-pleasing fare. But there are still lots of exciting world premieres, intriguing twists on beloved shows and newish musicals that will make you sing and dance (in the aisles).

Here’s a guide to what shows will be providing dramatic dividends this fall.

World premieres

The Master Plan (now playing through Oct. 1 at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre) is five-time Dora Award-winning playwright Michael Healey’s adaptation of Globe writer Josh O’Kane’s book Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy, about the failure to build a smart city in Toronto. Chris Abraham directs a terrific cast playing fictionalized versions of the corporate execs, politicians and tech leaders involved in this messy affair.

Wildwoman (Oct. 5 to 29) finds prolific playwright/director Kat Sandler digging into 16th century European history to look at three women’s struggles to survive in the French court of King Henry II. Based on the true story that inspired the Beauty and the Beast myth, Wildwoman is part of Toronto company Soulpepper’s Her Words Festival of plays and conversations featuring female voices.

Feast at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange (Oct. 10 to 22) is a new dark comedy-drama by Guillermo Verdecchia, whose plays like Fronteras Americanas and The Noam Chomsky Lectures (co-written with the late Daniel Brooks) have taken on big global issues with wit and theatricality.

Someone Like You (Oct. 5 to 29) by Christine Quintana began life during the pandemic as an audio play produced by Vancouver’s Arts Club. Now her millennial take on Cyrano de Bergerac – complete with dating apps, “wingmen” and multiple Vancouver references – gets a live staging, directed by Jivesh Parasram. You’ll be hearing Quintana’s name a lot, since she’s got commissions from Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre and Victoria’s Belfry Theatre in the first half of 2024.

Mizushōbai (The Water Trade) (Oct. 10 to 22) by Julie Tamiko Manning is being mounted at Montreal’s Montreal’s Segal Centre by Tableau D’Hôte, whose “More than a footnote” initiative develops little-known Canadian stories and figures for the stage. Kiyoko Tanaka-Goto was a Japanese “picture-bride” who became a successful businesswoman in 1930s B.C. Yvette Nolan directs the all-female cast in a show that promises to subvert every stereotype about Asian women.

(Everyone I Love Has) A Terrible Fate (Befall Them) (Oct. 10 to 29) is the latest solo show by theatre provocateur Cliff Cardinal, whose William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, A Radical Retelling finished a hugely successful tour. This new show, directed by Karin Randoja for Toronto’s VideoCabaret in association with Crow’s Theatre, looks at humankind on the eve of extinction – which, after the extreme weather year we’ve had, seems more urgent than ever.

A Poem for Rabia (Oct. 17 to Nov. 12) by Nikki Shaffeeullah feels like the most ambitious of the world premieres this season at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre. In a story that travels from 1853 India and 1953 British Guiana to Canada in 2053, Shaffeeullah interweaves the tales of three queer women from the same bloodline. Clare Pruess and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard direct this epic undertaking.

Prize-winners

Suzan-Lori Parks’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog received a riveting production in 2011 at the Shaw Festival, and a Toronto transfer later that year. Now the play about two Black brothers sorting out their pasts and wondering about their futures is back to kick off Canadian Stage’s season in Toronto (Sep. 22 to Oct. 8). Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy and starring Sébastien Heins and Mazin Elsadig, this revival may very well pick up a few new awards in the spring.

Tony Kushner’s two-part Angels in America, winner of several Tony Awards and (for the first part) the Pulitzer Prize, is one of the most audacious and ambitious works in the canon. That Theatre Company’s Craig Pike directs a new production (Nov. 23 to Dec. 17) featuring a gifted cast at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times.

Also ambitious is Stefano Massini’s The Lehman Trilogy (multiple Tonys), a three-hour epic following the lives of three immigrant brothers who arrive in America, establish an investment firm then watch it collapse in 2008. With the current financial volatility, Canadian Stage’s production (Nov. 14 to 26), directed by Philip Akin, feels especially timely.

Benevolence by Fanny Britt won the Governor General’s Award for Drama in French in 2013, and now Leanna Brodie’s translation, which premiered last year at Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, can be seen Dec. 5 to 17 at Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company in a production directed by Eric Coates. The dark comedy is about a big-time lawyer who returns to his hometown for a case involving the child of an old friend.

The Olivier Award-winning farce The Play that Goes Wrong, by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, has made people laugh all over the world, and now it’s set to do the same at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre (Sep. 26 to Oct. 22), featuring Jonathan Torrens (Jonovision, Trailer Park Boys) in the lead role.

Musical offerings

Top picks: Toronto’s Mirvish Productions should have two hits on their hands this autumn. First comes Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s SIX The Musical, a pop concert-style show about Henry VIII’s six wives, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (Sep. 23 to Dec. 17). Then comes In Dreams, a jukebox musical featuring the music of Roy Orbison, created by & Juliet’s book writer David West Read and director Luke Sheppard. The possibly Broadway-bound show plays the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre (Sep. 26 to Nov. 12).

After wowing Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre last May, Romeo Candido and Carmen De Jesus’s Prison Dancer, inspired by a 2007 viral video of 1,500 inmates in a Philippines prison dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, moves to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre (Nov. 24 to Dec. 2).

Boy Falls from the Sky, Jake Epstein’s musical memoir of his life in showbiz – including a hazardous turn in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark – was a big hit last year in Toronto. Now, Talk is Free Theatre is producing a touring version, with stops at the company’s Ontario home base in Barrie (Oct. 12 to 20), then Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius (Oct. 25 to Nov. 4) and Montreal’s Segal Centre (Nov. 19 to Dec. 10).

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is Dave Malloy’s rousing, radical adaptation of a section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Nominated for a dozen Tonys when it played Broadway, it’s getting its Canadian premiere at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre in a co-production with the Musical Stage Company (Dec. 5 to Jan. 7). Chris Abraham directs a starry cast in a show that – if the New York stagings were any indication – should be intimate and interactive.

Pollyanna The Musical (Dec. 6 to 23), with music by Linda Barnett and book and lyrics by Steven Gallagher, is based on Eleanor Porter’s 1913 children’s classic. It’s clearly looking to be the next family-friendly show, like that one about P.E.I.’s famous red-headed orphan. We’ll find out when it premieres at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius.

Well-known plays with a twist

Kim’s Convenience premiered on stage in 2011 with writer Ins Choi as Jung, the young son eventually played by future Marvel star Simu Liu in the CBC/Netflix spinoff series. Now in this revival at London’s Grand Theatre (Oct. 17 to Nov. 4), Choi is taking on the play’s archetypal Korean-Canadian dad, Appa, while Esther Jun, the play’s original daughter Janet, directs.

Rebecca Northan’s improvised Blind Date – in which the actor chooses a date from the audience, which becomes the show – has been done more than 1,500 times, in straight and queer versions. But until this run at Regina’s Globe Theatre (Oct. 18 to Nov. 5) featuring home-grown Saskatchewan talent Tess Degenstein, no actor has ever been open to dates of any gender. Here’s to swiping right on inclusivity.

The solo shows Monster and Here Lies Henry are inextricably linked to writer/performer Daniel MacIvor and director Daniel Brooks, who passed away in May. Now Toronto’s Factory Theatre is letting other artists interpret the slyly suggestive works. Soheil Parsa directs Karl Ang in the darkly suspenseful Monster (Nov. 16 to Dec. 10), while Tawiah M’Carthy directs Damien Atkins in the intellectual high-wire act that is Here Lies Henry (Nov. 23 to Dec. 17).

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