By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more.”
It’s from a TV anchor’s famous exhortation to his viewers in Network — rise up, lean out your windows, and yell — that Edmonton’s largest theatre gets a rallying cry as it turns 55 next season.
Artistic director Daryl Cloran unveiled the upcoming Citadel Theatre “Season of the Rebel” Monday afternoon in a tour route through the secret backstage spaces of the brick and glass playhouse. There are three mainstage musicals, one of them new (with hopes of Broadway), one a musical theatre classic, one a playful 12-year-old musical comedy based on a 1980 film. There’s a revival of a hit cross-border production and the world premiere of a new Canadian play by an award-winning writer, commissioned by the Citadel.
Weaving their way through the 11-show lineup, Cloran’s fourth at the helm of the company, are subversives or characters of the actively insurrectionist, stripe. It’s a brigade led by TV newscaster Howard Beale, who gets mad as hell in the 2020-21 mainstage season opener Network, the award-winning 2017 stage version of the celebrated 1976 film. In the role that garnered star Bryan Cranston a Tony Award for Beale’s epic meltdown in front of millions is Shaw Festival star Jim Mezon. Further casting awaits.
Cloran directs this first post-Broadway production of the high-tech-blitzed show about our toxified media culture — with the challenge of moulding it for smaller forces. Getting the rights was, he says, a coup materially assisted by the Citadel’s international connections and the profile enhanced by hosting the pre-Broadway development of Hadestown in 2018 and this season’s Six. “They helped open the door for us,” says Cloran. “It’s an exciting opportunity for us to play with live camera and recorded video.”
And, as he points out, the ‘70s movie remains “almost horrifyingly topical…. It’s such a compelling, dramatic story” about the ways media shapes and corrupts us. Network (Sept. 12 to Oct. 4), adapted by playwright Lee Hall (of Shakespeare In Love fame), is a big, technically intricate show, with 15 or 16 actors and two co-producers, the Royal Manitoba Theatre and the Vancouver Arts Club.
Pump Up The Volume, a new rock musical (by the team of Jeremy Desmon and Jeff Thomson) spun from the 1990 Christian Slater film, is a galvanizing rebel story too. As with Hadestown (with which Pump Up The Volume shares one of its producers), the Citadel is presenting the premiere of an American commercial production in progress (“with its sights set on Broadway,” as Cloran puts it). There were workshops this past fall as part of Ontario’s Sheridan College Canada Music Theatre Project.
“It’s a really great story” of resistance. A loner high school kid moves to a small town and sets up a pirate shock-jock radio station in his parents’ basement. And when cornered, he doesn’t buckle; he defies civic authorities and the corrupt school principal. “It’s a movie I know exactly from my own teenage years,” says Cloran. “Some elements of it read ‘90s, but they’re SO transferable (to the internet age).”
Dave Solomon, associate director of Broadway’s Tootsie, directs the 17-actor production (Nov. 7 to 29). As in the case of Hadestown, as Cloran explains, Edmonton audiences stand to benefit from “the financial enhancement” this kind of cross-border collaboration affords. “We can bring our audience production values we couldn’t have done by ourselves.”
One of literary history’s most compelling heroines takes to the stage in Jane Eyre, spun from the Charlotte Bronte novel by the star Canadian playwright Erin Shields (a Governor General Award-winner for When We Were Birds). “She’s particularly skilled at adaptations,” says Cloran of Shields, whose acclaimed version of Paradise Lost ran at the Stratford Festival this past season. “She has a great imagination, and the (special) ability to capture the period, but with a contemporary feminist voice.” A cast of 10 plays many characters in this “low-tech theatre magic show,” says Cloran, who directs this world premiere production (March 6 to 28, 2021). “It’s the opposite of the high-tech world of Network.”
The season includes a revival of A Thousand Splendid Suns, adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma from the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner). As Cloran describes, it tells the story, “harrowing but beautiful and uplifting” of two women in war-ravaged 1992 Kabul who bond to triumph over abuse and adversity. Haysam Kadri, who starred in the original production, the joint work of San Francisco’s ACT and (in an unusual collaboration) Theatre Calgary, directs this new Citadel/Canadian Stage co-production (Jan. 9 to 31, 2021).
In the upcoming season the Citadel returns to the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, their final musical together, The Sound of Music (last produced at the Citadel about a decade ago). Kelly Thornton, the new artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, directs the production which runs Feb. 13 to March 14, 2021.
And the season finale (April 10 to May 9) is Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: the musical, a feel-good feminist revenge cartoon with an irresistibly catchy title tune, in which a slime ball boss gets his in the end thanks to the machinations of three spirited heroines. Rachel Peake directs, heading an all-female team that includes the designers and the band.
If Cloran has a particular fondness for 9 to 5, incidentally it’s because he actually has a Dolly Parton credit all his own. “I directed Dolly Parton once,” he says, still amused by the recollection. “Very briefly.” He directed a new musical, Drums, at Dollywood one summer. The cheerful Tennessee-born country diva’s practice was to sing the encore along with the opening night show. “So I said ‘Miss Parton, you’ll stand over here’,” recalls Cloran. “She said ‘Ain’t you sweet!’ And then she did exactly what she wanted.”
Cloran laughs. “Directing Dolly Parton! It was the one real moment of respect I got from my dad.…”
His line-up for 2020-2021 includes a return (Nov. 28 to Dec. 23) to the lavish new David van Belle adaptation of A Christmas Carol which premiered this past holiday season after 19 seasons of the Tom Wood version.
The new Christmas Carol is set, narratively and musically, in the late 1940s, with a Scrooge who has made the Christmas spirit toxic by ruthless enforcement of the profit motive — as the boss of a department store. “It couldn’t have gone better…. The response was so positive; it was exciting to see how people embraced it,” says Cloran, much relieved by the outcome. “I’ve never been so stressed in my life…. It became clear to me how important Christmas Carol is to Edmonton audiences.”
Highwire, the alternative series the Citadel introduced this season to provide a showcase for riskier fare by smaller companies and “amplify their reach,” is back with a trio of productions for the company’s Rice stage. It opens (Oct. 24 to Nov. 15) with The Maggie Tree production (directed by Vanessa Sabourin) of The Wolves by the young American playwright Sarah DeLappe, and amazingly, her first play. This 2016 Off-Broadway hit that takes the pulse of nine young teenage girls on a soccer team. “The playwriting is really strong,” says Cloran. “And the story is female-centric,” which fits the Citadel mandate.
Matthew MacKenzie’s Bears, a rare — no, let’s call it unique — example of a “dark multi-media comedy about the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” is next up. The award-winning Indigenous playwright (whose After The Fire is part of this current season’s Highwire in April) directs the Punctuate! Theatre/Dreamspeakers Festival production that returns to Edmonton (Jan. 30 to Feb 21, 2021) after Canada-wide engagements. As MacKenzie has pointed out, some 15,000 people have seen Bears across the country; only 1500 of them in his home town of Edmonton. And the lyrical, funny, witty piece, which fuses dance, music, and theatre in ingenious ways, has particular impact here.
The playwright himself directs a cast led by Sheldon Elter as Floyd, a man on the lam from oil company enforcers who’s gradually merging with nature. “The performance style is so unique,” says Cloran of MacKenzie’s expertise with “monologue-based work that incorporates dance in really compelling ways.”
The Highwire finale is A Brimful of Asha, by Ravi Jain and his mother Asha Jain, who have — until this new production directed by Mieko Ouchi (March 20 to April 11, 2021) — played the characters themselves in this heartwarming and funny story about a mother’s ill-fated attempts to arrange a marriage for her son. “In our season of rebelling, this is resistance to cultural expectation,” says Cloran. “A simple story and a very immersive production…. They serve the audience samosas when they enter.”
“And that’s another of our goals, to challenge traditional audience relationships.”
The other initiative of this current season to which the Citadel returns in the next is a summer musical, after the box office success of Ring of Fire in 2019. In July, in collaboration with the Vancouver Arts Club, ELVIS: The Musical hits the stage, featuring 40 hits by the King and assembled by an American team that includes the orchestrator who contributed to Ring of Fire. Ashlie Corcoran of the Arts Club directs the production that runs July 18 to Aug. 9.
Subscriptions and tickets: 780-425-1820, citadeltheatre.com
The 2020-2021 season at a glance
ELVIS: The Musical, July 18 to Aug. 9
Network, Sept. 12 to Oct. 4
Pump Up The Volume, Nov. 7 to 29
A Christmas Carol, Nov. 28 to Dec. 23
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Jan. 9 to 31, 2021
The Sound of Music, Feb. 13 to March 14, 2021
Jane Eyre, March 6 to 28, 2021
9 to 5: the musical, April 10 to May 9, 2021
The Wolves, Oct. 24 to Nov. 15
Bears, Jan. 30 to Feb. 21, 2021
A Brimful of Asha, March 20 to April 11, 2021