Three musicals and two plays: a new season announced at the Mayfield

Mayfield Dinner Theatre

By Liz Nicholls,

In the course of next season on the Mayfield Dinner Theatre stage, announced this week by artistic director Van Wilmott, audiences will find themselves watching one of the great contemporary farces, as well as a hit musical.

Neither constitutes typical “dinner theatre” fare. But then, under Wilmott, the commercial theatre company ensconced in the 450-seat house (with banquettes), has consistently expanded the theatrical horizons of that term.

The frantic 1986 door-slammer, by the master farceur Ken Ludwig (Moon Over Buffalo, the book for Crazy For You ), is Lend Me A Tenor. Set in Cleveland 1934, it involves the chaos unleashed,  incrementally, by the arrival of the world-famous tenor Il Stipendo to sing the lead role in Verdi’s Otello. And the role of Max, the nerdy opera company gofer who has to actually get the star onto the stage, against escalating odds, is one of the juiciest in the repertoire.

Dave Horak of Edmonton Actors Theatre (Burning Bluebeard), an artist seasoned in the byways of zany vintage comedy, directs. The casting awaits.

The musical is Sister Act, a 2011 Broadway hit fashioned (by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater) from the Whoopi Goldberg movie. At the centre of a piece that Wilmott describes, very accurately, as “misbehavin’ nuns,” is an aspiring disco diva with a mobster boyfriend in ‘70s Philadelphia. Jim Guedo, whose student production of Sister Act opened MacEwan University’s new Triffo Theatre in the fall, will direct the musical on the Mayfield stage.

That central character, who hides out in a convent when she inadvertently witnesses her boyfriend off a guy, is a tricky star role to cast, Wilmott acknowledges. “Deloris is a tough sing, but she has to be funny…. “ He and Guedo will audition widely. “But, at the Mayfield we always try to cast as much as we can here,” says Wilmott.

Recent seasons have validated that goal many times over, witness Van Wilmott’s practice of hiring local actors from our elite supply. Three of the four actors in Norm Foster’s The Ladies Foursome, currently running (through April 1), are from Edmonton, for example.

Mayfield Dinner Theatre

In a departure from his usual summer programming, Wilmott will run a play instead of a musical in the summer in 2019. “I’ve been wanting to do it for many years,” says Wilmott of Sleuth. The devious, elaborately plotted 1970 Anthony Shaffer comedy thriller/ satire is a veritable hall of mirrors, a puzzle for lovers of games. A rich old-school mystery writer invites his wife’s lover to his remote countryside stronghold, and presents him with a proposition.

Actor/ director Marti Maraden, whose long list of credits includes many seasons at the Stratford Festival (including time as co-artistic director) and the National Arts Centre, directs. Casting hasn’t been finalized; “the actors have to be really on their game!” says Wilmott. 

His 2018-2019 season opens with another revue bio-pic “icon” show by the mysterious Will Marks. As per this current season’s opener Soul Sistas, Two Good Knights features the oeuvre of two legendary, very different artists: Sir Tom Jones and Sir Elton John.

“I’ve played my share of Tom Jones (music) over the years,” laughs Wilmott. “But there were many things I didn’t know about his story…. This is all about how to get the music and that info out there without a narrator’s announcements!”

“In the ‘70s, Elton John sold a gazillion records; he tied with McCartney…. I remember his tunes from high school!” And Elton John has been hugely influential in every cause he’s embraced.

In the popular holiday season slot — traditionally the most popular at the Mayfield box office — is another Will Marks musical compendium, Canada 151. “We’ve been saving the Canadian content for this!” says Wilmott of the musical archive which the new show mines. Horak will direct one of the two Will Marks productions.

Meanwhile the current season continues. Up next (April 10 to June 10) is All Shook Up, a jukebox musical crammed with Elvis tunes in a framework by New York veteran Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change). You don’t really need to know that it’s (very) loosely spun from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

And the grand finale (June 15 to July 29) is Forever Plaid. The 1989 international Off-Broadway hit is a jukebox musical fashioned from ’50s guy group “close harmony” tunes, and framed by a story of The Plaids, hopefuls who return from beyond the grave to give the concert they never got to sing when they fatally collided with a busload of Catholic school girls en route to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

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