By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“Opportunities for people to make theatre part of their lives again!” That’s the mantra under which Citadel Theatre artistic director Daryl Cloran unveiled the upcoming $13 million 2023-2024 lineup Monday night at Edmonton’s largest playhouse.
“Our goal is to get people back into the building … back into the habit and excitement of coming to the theatre,” says Cloran.
The demographic appeal is deliberately broad, and so is the embrace of both local and international connections. Of the nine shows Cloran announced, all on the Citadel mainstages, four are musicals, of every size and shape, including one that the Citadel’s Canadian premiere in 2019 played a part in preparing for Broadway success. One’s an old-school big-cast Rodgers and Hammerstein blockbuster with undimmed relevance. One’s a long-running Off-Broadway hit with cult status. And one’s an original Métis song and story cycle.
It all starts with the summer return to Edmonton of SIX: The Musical, the sassy Edinburgh Fringe project-turnedBroadway hit, in which the six fractious wives of Henry VIII catapult out of Tudor history as girl-power pop stars: “Divorced. Beheaded. Live in Concert.” As Cloran explains, “we’re working with the producers (both U.K. and U.S.) to rehearse a new cast and launch a tour that starts here before it moves elsewhere…. It speaks to the relationships we’ve built, the commercial partnerships, and (witness Hadestown, also developed at the Citadel pre-Broadway) “our reputation as a great place to launch.”
“By this spring three shows that have come through the Citadel and were developed here will be on Broadway,” says Cloran: Six, Hadestown, and now Peter Pan Goes Wrong, the work of London’s Mischief Theatre. The North American premiere of the latter happened at the Citadel last season. And now it’s Broadway bound; “the set and costumes we built here have been shipped to New York.”
SIX: The Musical runs Aug. 12 to Sept. 10, a period that overlaps with the Edmonton Fringe. And Cloran hopes to capitalize on Six’s own origins in tandem with that festival; “after all, it’s the ultimate Fringe success story…. Could the queens do a Fringe cabaret?” The idea, he says, is “ if you like theatre, Edmonton is the place to be in the summer.”
Small-scale and retro in its ‘60s score by Alan Menken (lyrics and book by Howard Ashman), the 1982 horror-comedy musical Little Shop of Horrors hasn’t been done at the Citadel in 20 years. We’ll see Seymour and his disturbing relationship with a certain bloodthirsty plant in a Citadel co-production with Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre (Oct. 21 to Nov. 19), directed by the Arts Club’s artistic director Ashlie Corcoran.
Announced by the Citadel before the pandemic, The Sound of Music, the Tony winning last collaboration in 1959 of Rodgers and Hammerstein, finally comes to pass March 2 to 31 2024 , in a co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre directed by Rachel Peake (The Garneau Block, 9 to 5). The adult cast of 16 or 18 will move between Winnipeg and Edmonton, joined by local kids in both cities.
Rubaboo (Feb. 10 to March 3, 2024) “continues our commitment to Indigenous programming,” says Cloran of the song and story cycle created and performed by Métis singer-songwriter/actor Andrea Menard (music by Menard and Edmonton’s Robert Walsh). Borrowing its title from the Métis word for a rich stew, Rubaboo is “a beautiful evening, something really welcoming, something really uplifting,” says Cloran of a piece that’s already played the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. and the Arts Club in Vancouver. Alanis King directs.
The official subscription season of six shows opens (Sept. 23 to October 15) with English language theatre’s most perfectly formed, and funniest, comedy, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The Citadel production is directed by Jackie Maxwell (The Humans), the former director of the Shaw Festival, who’s “perfect for this, for her understanding of this kind of wit, and the period,” as Cloran puts it.
“In Jackie’s very first season at Shaw she programmed Earnest,” says Cloran, and then had former festival artistic director Christopher Newton do the directing honours. “It’s a play she’s always wanted to do, and never had the chance.” No word yet on casting for this comedy sparkler.
The subscription season grand finale is a stage adaptation, by the American playwright Catherine Bush, of The Three Musketeers. “Big ensemble, big costumes, big swashbuckling, big adventure, big romance…. And it’s also super funny,” says Cloran, who directs the Citadel-Arts Club co-production April 20 to May 4, 2024. “Really lively, really fun.” Casting awaits, but Jonathan Purvis has been enlisted for the swordplay.
The lineup announced by Cloran also includes a Citadel production of The Mountaintop, a 2009 reimagining by young American playwright Katori Hall of the events in Memphis the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. The production (March 30 to April 21, 2024) returns director Patricia Darbasie to the very piece she directed a year ago at Shadow Theatre. “This is us amplifying the work of local artists,” Cloran explains. The play “has been on our list for a long time, and it gives Pat the opportunity to imagine it for a large space and share it with a large audience, with more production resources.”
Along with SIX and A Christmas Carol, outside the mainstage subscription series, is the return of Farren Timoteo’s hit solo show Made In Italy (Jan. 6 to 28, 2024). Directed by Cloran, it chronicles in go-for-the-gusto fashion the Italian immigrant experience. “It’s a pure Edmonton success story,” says Cloran. “A great Edmonton artist.”
Made In Italy premiered in 2016 in Cloran’s last year as artistic director at Kamloops’ Western Canada Theatre. “The day after it opened I got in the car and drove to Edmonton” for a new Citadel job.
“We started as a tiny little studio show in Kamloops. We brought it here to the (Citadel’s) Rice Theatre for a weekend, and people liked it, so we brought it back again….” Since those modest origins, Made In Italy has had an unusually lively mainstage life for a solo show — at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, the Thousand Islands Playhouse, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and return engagements by popular demand at the Arts Club.” With more to come. “It’s running all next season,” says Cloran of its multiple engagements across the country, including the Citadel.
If there are fewer productions at the Citadel next season, 12 down to nine, it’s because the Highwire Series — collaborations with local indie companies (this season The Wolves, Deafy and First Métis Man of Odesa) — is “on temporary pause next season,” says Cloran. “It’s partially because of our focus on the mainstage.” And it’s partly budgetary factors, and time. “Partnerships enable us to do shows we couldn’t afford by ourselves and (indie companies) couldn’t afford by themselves…. But it takes time for indie companies to get grants and do fund-raising, and no one had confirmed funding yet.”
Cloran acknowledges that after two years of cancellations and ingenious pandemical pivoting the much anticipated return of live theatre in the current season hasn’t been without its challenges — “a slower return than we’d thought.” The big regional theatres across the country, the Citadel among them, have reported a drop of 30 per cent or so in audiences in the fall. But there’s been a warming return to sold-out houses for holiday shows. “A Christmas Carol made us very hopeful,” he says of the full houses in December for David van Belle’s adaptation “back in its full glory,” with a fulsome 35-actor including a dozen kids.
That production returns for the fifth season Nov. 25 to Dec. 23 (making a quarter-century of Christmas Carols at the Citadel), with John Ullyatt back as Scrooge.
2023/24 season packages go on sale Jan. 30. Casual tickets for SIX: The Musical go on sale on April 6, with the rest of the season on sale by July 12.
The 2023-2024 Citadel lineup at a glance:
Mainstage subscription series: The Importance of Being Earnest (Sept. 23 – Oct. 15, 2023; Little Shop of Horrors (Oct. 21 – Nov. 19, 2023); Rubaboo (Feb. 10 – March 2, 2024); The Sound of Music (March 2 – 31, 2024); The Mountaintop (March 30 – April 21, 2024); The Three Musketeers (April 20 – May 12, 2024)
Summer musical: SIX: The Musical (Aug. 12 – Sept. 10, 2023)
Holiday production: A Christmas Carol (Nov. 25 – Dec. 23, 2023)
Special presentation: Made in Italy (Jan. 6 – 28, 2024)