The Citadel announces a new Size Large season, led by two new Canadian musicals

Almost A Full Moon, a new musical by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Hawksley Workman, Citadel Theatre. Photo supplied

By Liz Nicholls,

After two contortionist years of stops and starts, indefinite postponements, cancellations cast hopefully as delays, re-bookings, digital work-arounds, the Citadel Theatre has cheering news. And it’s on a grand scale.

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“It’s big and it’s busy … a full season!” — in the time-honoured, pre-pandemic sense of that phrase — as artistic director Daryl Cloran said (with unmistakeable top notes of jubilation) in announcing the  Citadel’s fulsome 2022-2023 lineup of 12 live productions at Edmonton’s largest playhouse Monday night. 

Six mainstage shows, three Highwire Series collaborations with local indie companies in the Rice Theatre, a summer show, the fourth return of David van Belle’s ‘40s adaptation of A Christmas Carol — and “a special event.” Of the dozen shows destined for Citadel stages for the upcoming season, some were previously planned and announced, then postponed, then re-booked, and some are new to the lineup.

Three of the six mainstage productions are musicals, two of them are new and Canadian, and the third an international hit that continues to top the jukebox musical charts. 

Almost A Full Moon, commissioned by the Citadel and built from scratch, teams notable Canadian playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and indie rock star composer/lyricist Hawksley Workman. It weaves three generations, and three time periods, into a holiday musical set to Workman’s title Christmas album of 20 years ago with some additions from the Workman canon.  

“In the tradition of Six and Hadestown (both honed at the Citadel before hitting Broadway), it’s a thrill to be launching a brand new Canadian musical,” says Cloran, who directs (Nov. 5 to 27). “It’s the project we’ve worked on the most through the pandemic” — workshopped first at Sheridan College’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project (where Come From Away was first honed), then in the Citadel’s debut Collider Festival of last year, and most recently, in a concert version that played the theatre for a couple of nights in December.

Prison Dancer, Citadel Theatre. Photo supplied.

Prison Dancer, the mainstage season finale (May 6 to 28, 2023) is the premiere of a new musical by the Filipino-Canadian team of Romeo Candide and Carmen De Jesus. A collaboration between the Citadel and commercial producers, it’s inspired by the 2007 video, which instantly went viral on YouTube, of a large group of Philippines prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The beating heart of a piece full of catchy pop tunes, says Cloran, is “how dance changed the prisoners’ lives….. It’s our chance to get better connected with the large Filipino community here.”

It took persistence (and blue-chip connections) to get the rights for the jukebox musical Jersey Boys, a large-scale 2005 Tony Award magnet. “Finally!” laughs Cloran of the acquisition coup. “I’ve been working on this for a while….” He credits his connection with Jersey Boys original director Des McAnuff (Cloran was his assistant director for a few seasons). 

Jersey Boys gets its dramatic traction from telling a real-life story, a music industry classic, of the rise from obscurity to top-40 stardom of The Four Seasons, four guys from blue-collar New Jersey. And it’s studded with an impressive array of contagious hits (Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man among them).

Director/choreographer of the Citadel production (Feb. 11 to March 12, 2023) is Toronto-based Julie Tomaino (who directs 9 to 5  later this season).

Network, Citadel Theatre. Photo supplied.

The pandemic put Network, originally announced in 2020, on a long pause. Now, the upcoming mainstage season opens (Sept. 17 to Oct. 9) with the award-winning 2017 stage version of the celebrated 1976 film. As Cloran points out, you need have no fear that a high-tech satire “about our relationship with media and truth” is past its best-before date. Things have “only gotten weirder.” 

The Citadel/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre co-production, directed by Cloran as planned, is the first post-Broadway incarnation of Network. And it’s designed to re-imagine big-budget techno-snazziness for smaller-budget regional theatre productions across the continent. The 16-actor cast is led by Shaw Festival star Jim Mezon as TV anchorman Howard Beale (a role originated onstage by Tony-winner Bryan Cranston) whose meltdown in front of millions — “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” — is a modern cultural touchstone.

“If I’ve learned one thing since I’ve been here, it’s that our audience really love classic romances,” says Cloran of the new stage version of Jane Austen’s spirited and spiky Regency novel Pride and Prejudice in the upcoming season. The adaptation by American playwright Kate Hamill (her adaptation of Little Women is part of Theatre Calgary’s 2022-2023 season). 

Cloran describes it as “very much in the (theatrical) mode of Jane Eyre (the Erin Shields adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel currently onstage at the Citadel). A cast of nine plays some 50 characters. “Funny, boisterous  … it tells the story everyone wants, in a fun way.” Mieko Ouchi directs the Citadel production (March 11 to April 2, 2023).

Trouble in Mind, Citadel Theatre. Photo supplied,

Trouble in Mind, by the Black playwright Alice Childress, revisits a powerfully timely play about racism in the theatre; it has lingered in obscurity for nearly 70 years — ever since its premiere production in 1955 Greenwich Village — until its recent Broadway and Shaw Festival revivals. 

As Cloran explains, “this great play” takes us backstage where rehearsals for a melodrama about lynching set in the Jim Crow South — white writer, white director, black star — are underway. Childress’s play was en route to a Broadway opening in the ‘50s, and would have been the first by a Black woman to arrive there. That never happened; the playwright refused to make the changes demanded by white producers. “Really smart, insightful, and also surprisingly funny,” says Cloran.

Audrey Dwyer, the accomplished Black writer/ actor/ playwright who’s the associate artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, directs the Edmonton-Winnipeg co-production (March 27 to April 16, 2023).  

Originally slated for a Citadel run last January and postponed two weeks before the start of rehearsals, The Royale by the American playwright Marco Ramirez is presented as “a special event” (outside the mainstage subscription season because of ticketing complications). The 2016 play chronicles the struggles of a Black boxer in a segregated world in the early years of the 20th century, and his quest to be the heavyweight champion of the world. 

“The story is powerful,” says Cloran, “and it’s told in such a highly theatrical, smart way. .. a very dynamic, heart-pounding kind of show.” And, remarkably, there’s no actual boxing in it: “it’s all told through choreographed movement, dance, clapping — and language,” as he’s said. Philip Akin, the former artistic director of Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre, will direct (Feb 4 to 19, 2023). “And we’re hoping most of our (original) cast will be available,” Cloran says.

The Citadel’s Highwire Series in the Citadel’s smallest house, the Rice, was introduced two seasons ago to provide riskier alternative fare and amplify the audiences and profile of smaller local companies. It opens Oct. 8 to 30 with The Wolves (originally planned for 2020), a collaboration with the indie company The Maggie Tree. The Pulitzer-nominated play by the young American writer Sarah DeLappe takes us into the world of teenage girls on a soccer team. 

Vanessa Sabourin directs the 10-actor production (nine young women, one soccer mom) that puts us on the sidelines of a soccer field. Says Cloran, “we’re only able to do something on that scale in the Rice because of the partnership.” 

Chris Dodd in Deafy, Follow The Signs Theatre. Photo supplied

Deafy, a richly entertaining Fringe hit of last summer (one of my favourite Fringe shows), brings to Rice the work of the charismatic Deaf playwright/actor Chris Dodd. The multi-lingual production (spoken English, ASL sign language and captioning) starring Dodd is our invitation into the complicated world of the Deaf, from the inside out.

“They have touring plans,” says Cloran of Ashley Wright’s production (Jan. 21 to Feb. 5, 2023). “So it’s a chance for us to help with that, get them get in front of a bigger audience!”

With the Highwire finale, First Métis Man of Odessa (April 22 to May 14, 2023), Punctuate! Theatre, an Edmonton company with an escalating national connections, returns to the Citadel (after last season’s production of Matt MacKenzie’s Bears). The play, first aired as part of Factory Theatre’s You Can’t Get There From Here audio series last year, is a breathless real-life cross-continent pandemic love story — a high-stakes race against time and borders, fraught but not without its screwball features. It belongs personally to two theatre artists, the Canadian actor/playwright Matt MacKenzie and his  wife, Ukrainian theatre star Mariya Khomutova. 

The pair themselves take to the stage to tell how they met, how they fell in love and got married, how things got even more complicated when she got pregnant, an how they got to Canada before the borders closed. Now terrifying world events have galvanized them to work on an Act II to their story. Punctuate!’s Lianna Makuch directs. 

Formally, in the way the co-playwrights create characters who are stage stand-ins for themselves, the play reminds Cloran of A Brimful of Asha. “I love theatre that plays with (its) relationship with the audience.…I’m so pleased to be able to amplify the work of a company with a growing national profile.”

So, a Size Large live season returns to the Citadel’s three stages. After a pandemic pivot to film in 2020 and a reduced-scale version in 2021 A Christmas Carol is back (Nov. 26 to Dec. 23) on the scale originally imagined by playwright van Belle. 

But first, a summer slapstick comedy mystery of the who-dunnit stripe (July 16 to Aug. 27). Nancy McAlear directs a cast of 10 in Clue, Sandy Rustin’s stage adaptation of the 1985 film, based on the evergreen board game. Be there, or find yourself an alibi.

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