Best Shows I Saw This Season

Canadian Musical Theatre

In 2009, Stratford produced “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and then a year later, it was moved to Toronto to appear on a Mirvish stage. Calendar Girls moved to Toronto after it was a hit at Winnipeg’s Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Dancap presented Anne of Green Gables before it opened in Charlottetown one season. But Anne needs to come back to Toronto, now that the show was “reimagined” in 2011, with new sets and choreography – and with Tess Benger, who has been described as the best Anne ever.

There have been many good shows in smaller centres across Canada that could move to the Toronto stage.

Let’s face it, Toronto is the centre of English-speaking theatre in Canada. It has the most professional stages, both large and small. In fact, there are so many large stages that David Mirvish is planning to tear down the Princess of Wales theatre, the one that he built to house Miss Saigon just 20 years ago.

There are many shows I’ve seen this year that are as good as, if not superior to, the shows on the Toronto stage. Our first class Canadian shows can be better than the Broadway tours that are quite frankly, second class American productions. (Yes, I know they are billed as “first” Broadway tours — but they are not quite exactly the same as what is (or was) presented on Broadway.)

Here are some musicals I’ve seen in the past few months that are worthy of a bigger stage and a bigger audience:

La Cage aux Folles, Neptune Theatre, Halifax – As I said in my review of the Broadway tour currently running at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, this production in Halifax was superior, from the cast right through to costumes and wigs.

42nd Street, Stratford Shakespeare Festival – Yes, the dancing in this show is amazing and would certainly attract the Toronto audience, thanks to Cynthia Dale and Jennifer Rider-Shaw. I know they have a big stage with a big, discerning audience in Stratford, but it would be nice to see this remounted.

Wanderlust, Stratford Shakespeare Festival – This is charming new Canadian musical, presented this summer at the Tom Patterson Theatre. It’s new and different, and brings some Canadiana to life.

Ragtime, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake – A clever plot, weaving three stories together and expertly presented by the Shaw cast, with Thom Allison (now of Over The Rainbow fame) in the lead role.

9 to 5, Drayton Entertainment, Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend – A hilarious cast including Artistic Director Alex Mustakas and the hysterical Lisa Horner.

Annie, Drayton Entertainment, Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend, and soon to be on stage at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse – A wonderful production of the touching orphan story. Victor Young and Jane Lewis make it a class act.

Godspell, Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia — This surprise little musical was the hit of the season! Of course, Toronto is known as the home of the original Godspell which launched the careers of several famous Canadians. Time to take this production into the big city and see if some more careers can be kick-started.  The good news is that this show will be remounted.  VPP has sold the show to Drayton Entertainment, and Godspell will appear next October in St. Jacobs.

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