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Theatre to Celebrate

100th Anniversary

The Grande Dame of King Street has really earned her moniker. This year marks the centenary of The Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto’s oldest theatre. Owned by Mirvish Productions, which also operates the Princess of Wales and Canon theatres and produces some of the city’s highest-profile shows, the Royal Alex has hosted almost 3,000 productions since 1907. The Beaux-Arts–style venue—with an interior of imported marble, mosaic tile and crystal chandeliers—is a National Historic Site and currently hosts Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage.

That highly touted production opens on the heels of another hugely successful Mirvish musical ongoing at the Canon Theatre: the raucous We Will Rock You, which incorporates 32 songs by the famed classic-rock band Queen. The show’s Toronto run was recently extended into 2008—hardly a surprise, considering it has been wowing audiences in London for the last five years. The story involves the search for a fabled guitar with the power to overthrow the tyrannical rulers of a dystopian future-world. But really, it’s just an excuse to rock out to fist-pumping anthems like “Under Pressure,” “We Are the Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

We Will Rock You continues its run at the Canon Theatre, 244 Victoria St., $35 to $94; call 416-872-1212 for tickets.

If you prefer musicals with a bit more of an edge, check out Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Royal Alex’s sister stage, the Princess of Wales Theatre. Set in 19th-century London, the Stephen Sondheim-penned “musical thriller” follows a man whose revenge plot against a crooked judge leads to a spree of grisly murders. Sweeney Todd won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, when it was first staged in 1979. This production sees the cast providing their own musical accompaniment, and has earned effusive praise from critics in London and New York.

Catch Sweeney Todd beginning November 6 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. W., $45 to $94; call 416-872-1212 for tickets.

The Time of Your Life
Get ready for Dirty Dancing

This month, the hotly anticipated Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage takes the Royal Alex stage for its North American premiere. The Toronto production has already sold more than 150,000 tickets. The musical is based on the hit 1987 movie of the same name about a young girl who falls in love with a rebellious dance instructor while vacationing at a popular resort. Local actor Jake Simons stars as Johnny Castle (the physically demanding role originated by Patrick Swayze) in this coming-of-age story that overflows with classic songs and thrilling steps.

Dirty Dancing is on now at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., $26 to $120; call 416-872-1212 for tickets.

20th Anniversary

It’s been two decades since the merger of two small theatre troupes created what has become a stalwart of the city’s show biz scene—The Canadian Stage Company. And what better way to celebrate 20 years than with a facelift? The St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, home to the Canadian Stage’s Bluma Appel Theatre, recently reopened following a $3-million renovation. This season, the company is staging five performances at the venue, plus another three at its intimate Berkeley Street Theatre.

Celebrate the company’s continued success by attending a performance of Little Shop of Horrors, the outrageous musical about an aspiring botanist (portrayed by comic actor Ron Pederson) and the giant talking plant that promises him limitless fame—for a ghastly price. With rousing tunes that hearken to the early days of Motown, doo-wop and 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, this zany take on the Faust legend has been a worldwide hit with audiences for more than two decades.

Little Shop of Horrors hits the stage starting November 15 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St. E., $18 to $87; call 416-368-3110 for tickets.

40th Anniversary

Housed in a landmark building, Theatre Passe Muraille makes its own history with the start of its 40th season. One of the country’s first alternative theatre companies, Passe Muraille develops and stages some of the finest new Canadian theatre productions—since 1968 it has helped create more than 500 plays, including works by Michael Ondaatje and Ann-Marie MacDonald.

In a sense, the theatre’s new production of The Drawer Boy brings its history full-circle. The intimate drama by Toronto playwright Michael Healey was an award-winning hit when it debuted at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1999. It’s also inspired by the true events surrounding the creation of The Farm Show, a 1972 play that was one of the company’s memorable early successes. Starring Randy Hughson, John Jarvis and Frank Cox O’Connell, The Drawer Boy is a humorous yet touching story that explores the dichotomy between urban and rural life, and the transformative power of storytelling.

The Drawer Boy runs to November 18 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., $30 to $35; call 416-504-7529 for tickets.

As Canada’s largest producer of 100 per cent homegrown plays, Factory Theatre hosts more than 45,000 local and visiting theatre-lovers each year. A champion of culturally diverse works created by Canadians, it was not only a major venue for this summer’s Fringe and SummerWorks theatre festivals, but also stages its own provocative works by talented emerging and veteran playwrights.

Age of Arousal is one such play. Created by award-winning playwright Linda Griffiths, and brought to the Factory Theatre stage by Nightwood Theatre, the play depicts a clash of ideas, emotions and sexuality when a trio of spinsters and a charismatic gadabout arrive at a prim and proper 19th-century school for secretaries. Age of Arousal debuted earlier this year in Calgary, where it received accolades from audiences and critics alike.

Previews run from November 17 to 22. The show opens November 23 at Factory Theatre’s Mainspace, 125 Bathurst St., $25 to $36 (previews $12); call 416-504-9971 for tickets.

The eclectic Annex neighbourhood is home to the venerable Tarragon Theatre, which hosts diverse performances in its cozy Mainspace and Extra Space theatres. With almost 40 years of history, Tarragon is consistently lauded as a leader in the development and production of new plays by writers from coast to coast—David French, Joan MacLeod and Morris Panych have each had acclaimed works produced by the non-profit theatre organization.

This month, Nova Scotia’s Daniel MacIvor brings his intimate human drama, How It Works (page 49), to Tarragon’s Mainspace. The Governor General’s Award-winning playwright also directs this insightful testament to the importance of family and the impact of storytelling on everyday lives, in which a divorced father tries to reconcile his relationships with his new partner, his ex-wife and his rebellious daughter.

How It Works opens November 6 at Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace, 30 Bridgman Ave., $19 to $38; call 416-531-1827 for tickets.

Established in 1997 by a dozen of Canada’s pre-eminent theatre artists, Soulpepper Theatre Company has quickly become an irreplaceable element in Toronto’s vibrant cultural mélange. Headquartered at the Distillery Historic District’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Soulpepper furthers the traditions of classical theatre by training new and mid-career performers and presenting exciting versions of history’s most enduring stories. This year alone, the company has staged seminal works by the likes of Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and Bertolt Brecht.

Soulpepper’s latest pedigreed production is Blithe Spirit, one of Noël Coward’s best-known social comedies. It centres on the foibles of novelist Charles Condomine, his new bride, and the mischievous ghost of his former wife who plots to bring the tormented Charles to her side in the afterlife. The beloved play features a host of eccentric characters and non-stop verbal sparring, and offers a memorable examination of jealousy, desire and the bonds of matrimony.

Blithe Spirit is on stage starting November 7 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery Historic District, $32 to $59; call 416-866-8666 for tickets.

TIP! Theatre Passe Muraille, Tarragon Theatre and Factory Theatre each offer discounted “Pay-What-You-Can” tickets at the door for their Sunday matinee performances. The recommended minimum rate for these shows is $15 to $20.

To find out more of the best performances this city has to offer, see 10 Don’t Miss Shows.—Craig Moy

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