By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Edmonton largest playhouse turns 52 next season — with a new artistic director, unusual international partnerships, and cultural/ethnic diversity initiatives on the mainstage and its trio of “add-on’s.”
Daryl Cloran, newly arrived at the Citadel Theatre this past fall from six years at Kamloops’ Western Canada Theatre, unveiled his upcoming first season Monday evening in the Club cabaret.
It’s not a surprise to find a hot Tony Award winner (The Humans) and a high-mileage jukebox musical (Mamma Mia!) in a Citadel season. Less expected is the double axis of Loran’s adventurous and full-bodied 2017-2018 lineup: two musicals, a study in contrast both in provenance and theatricality.
One is an innovative Off-Broadway musical hit getting re-designed and scaled up in Edmonton for its journey to Broadway: Hadestown, based on a 2010 concept album by the American singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell. The other is a Canadian musical with an Indigenous auteur and a heartbreaking Canadian story to tell: Children of God, by the Oji-Cree playwright/director/composer/lyricist Corey Payette.
The scenario whereby Cloran has persuaded American producers to open Hadestown here in November, with a Canadian cast (Cloran’s proviso), en route to the Great White Way, is a salute of sorts to Citadel history. It echoes back through decades to energetic attempts by Citadel founder Joe Shoctor to be the out-of-town partner for New York-bound shows (Pieces of Eight and Duddy among them).
“I knew they’d be looking for a partner,” says Cloran, who saw Hadestown last summer in New York Theatre Workshop’s 250-seat venue, staged in the round. “‘Why not bring it to Edmonton?’ I asked the producers. And they laughed and laughed.”
“But I was persistent; I kept sending links to examples of the kind of work we did here, production shots, what our production staff was capable of in set and costumes, my background in new plays…. I sent a lot of stuff about Evangeline,” the epic Ted Dykstra musical that premiered at the Citadel in 2015. After all, “a new musical on a giant scale, to demonstrate that we can give you the support you need, in a safe off-the-radar place.”
“It’s a chance for 11 Canadian actors to work with one of the hottest directors in North America right now,” says Cloran of Rachel Chavkin. Her imaginatively-staged production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which completely reinvents the Imperial Theatre on Broadway, is currently playing to sold-out houses there after a performance history that has included an Off-Broadway spiegel tent. “No guarantee that (the actors) will be going (with the show) to Broadway, of course. But I’ll bet she’ll fall in love with at least one of them!”
“We’ve opened that door,” Cloran says of the possibility of two-way traffic in future cross-border projects.
Hadestown is spun from the myth of Orpheus and his underworld quest to recapture the affections of his lost love Eurydice. Cloran describes the music as having a “foot-stompin’, vintage New Orleans, really sexy, kinda jazzy Tom Waits feel to it.” Think Tremé, he says.
A thousand renewing subscribers get a four-song EP from the Off-Broadway production, “so they can start to get the music in their heads.”
Children of God, an unprecedented example of original Indigenous work on the Citadel mainstage, is getting its world premiere in the current National Arts Centre season. That’s the production by the multi-talented Payette, artistic director of Vancouver’s Urban Ink, that arrives at the Citadel next March to tell the story of a family whose children are sent away to residential school.
“I feel it’s very important for us to have Indigenous programming on the mainstage,” says Cloran, who partnered with Payette in workshop performances of Children of God at Western Canadian Theatre. “Doing the play is the first step in building outreach and conversation.” To further that end, Cloran has just hired Christine Frederick as the company’s first “Indigenous associate artist to help us reach out and build relationships with Indigenous artists, playwrights, audiences….”
“It’s such a gorgeous, heart-rending production,” says Cloran. In high contrast to the jazzy Hadestown score, “the music (there’s a four-piece band) is beautiful, fluid, lyrical…. It’s sounds like musical theatre, but with a cool indigenous quality.” He quotes Payette: “when we can no longer speak we sing.”
“I feel it’s ultimately hopeful; Corey’s point is to find a way to move forward together…. It’s a great way for us to (contribute) to Canada’s 150th anniversary — instead (he laughs) of doing a play about John A. MacDonald.”
The season is bookended by its largest-cast shows, both directed by Cloran. It opens in September with the 2014 Lee Hall stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare In Love, a love letter to theatre that takes us backstage at the Globe with a certain up-and-coming playwright.
“It plays to the strength of the Citadel,” says Cloran of his mainstage Citadel directing debut with its cast of 20 and period costuming. “A fun, enjoyable, romantic way to start the season…. So full of great Shakespeare text, but with a contemporary comic sensibility,” says Cloran. “And there’s a dog!”
The mainstage finale, starring the participants in the Citadel/Banff Professional Theatre Program, is an original reboot of the Robin Hood legend, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood by Edmonton playwright/director/filmmaker Mieko Ouchi. This time out swashbuckler who steals from the rich to give to the poor is female. And, in collaboration with Annie Dugan of Firefly Circus, there will be aerial acrobatics. Cloran, who’s keen to provide more “family adventure programming,” describes “a steam-punk feel to the show, as opposed to merry olde England and people in tights.”
Between these bookends is Stephen Karam’s scary/ funny/ sad The Humans. The distinguished 2016 Tony Award-winner (and Pulitzer finalist) is of the family dinner drama stripe: “surprisingly funny, heartfelt, but with a thriller aspect to it,” as Cloran puts it. “So many plays set around the family dinner table don’t work; this one is so compelling….”
The Citadel/Canadian Stage co-production is directed by the Shaw Festival’s ex-artistic director Jackie Maxwell; that has a special resonance for Cloran. “Years ago, in her first season at Shaw, she took a chance on a young upstart director,” grins Cloran of his younger self who directed Brian Friel’s Afterplay in the festival’s lunchtime lineup. “I’m very honoured in my first season to be able to, in a way, return the favour….”
It is humanly impossible to think Mamma Mia! without triggering the sound track in your brain. The box office-busting ABBA musical, which seems permanently embedded in the public cortex and never stops touring, will be directed, on the Citadel’s thrust stage the Maclab, by Ashlie Corcoran, artistic director of the Thousand Islands Playhouse. Her burgeoning career has recently added opera to her resumé; she’s directing the Shaw Festival’s big musical, Me And My Girl, this summer.
“Hadestown and Children of God are such unique musical experiences; I wanted to ensure we had a straight-up musical,” says Cloran, whose production of Mamma Mia! broke attendance records at Western Canada Theatre this season.
The “season add-ons” tap into Edmonton’s cultural diversity with which the new artistic director is keen to connect. Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project), in a co-production with Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange, brings to Edmonton for the first time one of Cloran’s own signature works. It’s a much-travelled 2009 inter-continental collaboration with South African artists he launched in his time at Toronto’s Theatrefront.
At the centre of a story that unfolds in a highly physicalized way, a young South African man comes to Canada to find his father, who’d mysteriously disappeared 20 years before. The South Africans in the cast of five are back. Canadian casting awaits.
The add-on programming also includes Empire of the Son, a solo memoir of a father-son relationship by and starring the former CBC broadcaster Tetsuro Shigematsu, whose background is Japanese.
And the virtuoso improviser Rebecca Northan of Blind Date fame, is back with a cast of six to play detective with the audience. In Undercover, her latest experiment, an audience volunteer is a rookie assistant detective, working a case.
Next season also includes includes the 18th return of the Citadel’s deluxe production of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Tom Wood and directed by former Citadel artistic director Bob Baker.
“My goal is creating theatre that’s reflective of diverse communities in Edmonton, actors from different backgrounds, different voices on the stage,” says Cloran, whose banner for the season is “creating theatre that’s inclusive, innovative and international.”
Details about about new-play development (Cloran hopes to double the budget) and the Beyond The Stage series in the Club await. Meanwhile, “nobody has said ‘that’s not the way we do things around here’,” grins Cloran.
“I feel like this a company with Yes! in its heart.”
The 2017-2018 Citadel lineup at a glance:
Shakespeare in Love (with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre): Sept. 16 to Oct. 8
Hadestown (with American producers Dale Franzen and Mara Isaacs): Nov. 11 to Dec. 3
The Humans (with Canadian Stage Company): Jan. 6 to 28, 2018
Mamma Mia!, Feb. 17 to March 18, 2018
Children of God (Urban Ink, produced in association with Western Canada Theatre): March 3 to 24, 2018
The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (with participants of Citadel/Banff Professional Theatre Program): April 21 to May 13, 2018
Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project), with Prairie Theatre Exchange: Oct. 11 to 22
Empire of the Son (a Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production): Jan. 31 to Feb. 18, 2018
Undercover (a Spontaneous Theatre creation): April 4 to 29
Special seasonal presentation
A Christmas Carol, adapted by Tom Wood, Dec. 1 to 23