‘Musicians gone wild’: the Mayfield’s upcoming five-show season

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The air of creative nostalgia floats over the upcoming 2023-2024 season at the Mayfield Theatre announced by artistic director Van Wilmott Tuesday.

The five-show line-up capitalizes on the strength, stylistic versatility, and expertise of the theatre’s musical forces  — “music is a huge part of what we do at the Mayfield,” as Wilmott says. The season launches a new series,  Musicians Gone Wild, designed to celebrate seminal eras in pop culture history. Part one Rock The Canyon, a creation of Wilmott with playwright Tracey Power, takes audiences to fabled Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, in the late ‘60s early ‘70s the incubator of a generation (or two or three) of superlative popular music. 

“The story of Laurel Canyon,” as Wilmott puts it, is a whole genealogical narrative, a veritable commune threaded with starry names —The Byrds, The Turtles, The Doors.… “that begat Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash.” Ah, and the recurring motif of an instrument, the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar (inspired by A Hard Day’s Night), and the invention of the “California sound, reverberating through time in a gallery of hits.

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The production, which runs Sept. 5 to Nov. 5, has a cast of 10, “all musicians.” Wilmott, who likens the Laurel Canyon era to Paris in the ‘20s, says the idea isn’t impersonation, but the capture of a time and its music — as Joni Mitchell has it, “pouring music down the canyon.”

The longest run of Mayfield seasons is claimed by the holiday show. Canada Rocks: The Reboot, which runs Nov. 14 through Jan. 28,  featuring “celebrated Canadian artists” of every era. Fearless prediction: it’ll be the only show of the season where Don Messer shares a stage with Leonard Cohen; ditto Stan Rogers with Justin Bieber. Says Wilmott, the new revue revisits (updates and refines) the idea of the Mayfield’s 2018 Canada 151. It’s a big bash in honour of all things Canadian, starting with the music but including our collective personality quirks and cultural motifs, street hockey to cod-kissin’.

One Night With The King is an Elvis tribute show, in which the story, the legend, and the short, storied career come together. The Mayfield production Feb. 6 to March 31 2024 stars Matt Cage, whom Mayfield audiences saw as Elvis in the Mayfield’s 2019 Million Dollar Quartet. 

The Mayfield’s spring musical returns us (no matter our age) to our collective alma mater, Rydell High, and the year of 1959. Grease, which premiered in a Chicago night club in 1971, has been part of the cultural DNA ever since. It takes Wilmott back to the summer of 1993, when he was visiting from a Calgary gig, “the first time I ever set foot in the Mayfield,” he says. In the cast were a mother and daughter duo of actors, Maralyn and Kate Ryan. It’s the latter, the artistic director of Plain Jane Theatre, who directs the Mayfield production that runs April 9 to June 16.

Wilmott has a particular fondness for the evergreen 1979 comedy that runs at the Mayfield in the summer of 2024. “I’m a sucker for On Golden Pond,” by the American playwright Ernest Thompson, which taps the rich reservoir of family and intergenerational dynamics. And as film and TV adaptations attest (Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda for the former; Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Glenne Headly  for the latter) — the juicy roles have always attracted stars. The director and cast of the Mayfield production (June 25 to July 28) are yet to be announced. 

After that, in August, “we get out of the way,” says Wilmott, because of the mighty Fringe and “respect for its artists.”

And meanwhile First Date continues at the Mayfield through March 26. Still upcoming this current season, there’s Rock of Ages — a good-time jukebox musical with a redeeming air of self-mockery about its eminently danceable gathering of ‘80s hits (along with a Queen’s ransom in hair products). Kate Ryan directs the Mayfield production April 4 to June 11.  

And June 20 to July 23) at the adventurous dinner theatre, Clusterflick: The Improvised Movie undertakes exactly that improbable feat. Three of the most deluxe improvisers anywhere — Mark Meer, Ron Pederson and Jacob Banigan of Gordon’s Big Bald Head — will improvise an entire movie before your very eyes, inspired by cues from the audience.

Mayfield subscriptions and tickets: mayfieldtheatre.ca.

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