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What’s On Stage: Toronto’s Fall Performance Season



A mix of Tony-winning musicals and Canadian premieres comprises the fall playbill for six of the city’s top theatrical producers

Toronto Fall Performance Season 2015 Cinderella Mirvish

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella opens December 1 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (photo: Carol Rosegg)

With multiple productions on several stages, there’s no doubt that Canada’s largest theatre promoter, Mirvish Productions, is the king of King Street. Don’t miss a chance to see Kinky Boots before it closes on November 8. The inspiring tale follows mild-mannered Charlie and an outgoing drag queen named Lola as they work together to save Charlie’s family’s shoe factory, and boasts catchy songs by Cyndi Lauper and a standout performance by Alan Mingo Jr. as Lola. Motown the Musical is based on the life of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, the man who discovered artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and the Jackson 5. As such, its soundtrack boasts more than 60 timeless classics, including “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella and a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Mackintosh round out the Broadway-approved hits.

Preferring what it calls “theatre with grit,” Factory Theatre doesn’t shy away from challenging or uncomfortable topics. Instead it presents plays that are inspired by social injustices and difficult truths. Age of Arousal by Linda Griffiths certainly fits the bill: themes of female power and sexual freedom resonate in the 19th-century London-set story of a former suffragette and her lover. And next month, Banana Boys examines the incongruous lives of young Asian-Canadians torn between their dual identities and cultures.

Toronto Fall Performance Season 2015 Beckett Trilogy Canadian Stage

Lisa Dwan performs in Rockaby, part of her Beckett Trilogy, which starts October 18 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (photo: John Haynes)

Canadian Stage’s contemporary mandate is to present innovative works. Often this means stage pieces that incorporate media like dance, film and visual arts. Two national premieres are among the season’s highlights: Lisa Dwan stars in Beckett Trilogy—a set of three works by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett that has played to sold-out audiences in the U.K. and U.S.; later, real-life partners Paul Gross and Martha Burns share the stage for the first time in more than 30 years in Domesticated, which chronicles a public marriage’s private turmoil in the wake of a sex scandal.

Renowned throughout Canada for its encouragement, development and mounting of new works, Tarragon Theatre’s thriving playwright-in-residence program is responsible for two fall productions. First, an illicit infatuation threatens the career and family life of a high school volleyball coach in Gord Rand’s The Trouble with Mr. Adams. Later in the season, Andrew Kushnir’s Wormwood offers a clash of political ideals and harsh reality.

Toronto Fall Performance Season 2015 Spoon River Soulpepper

Soulpepper Theatre Company remounts Spoon River starting November 5 (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

The artist-founded Soulpepper Theatre Company showcases a mixed repertoire of classics and new works. The world premiere of Dora Award–winning playwright Pamela Mala Sinha’s Happy Place explores the stories of several women suffering from depression, while the return of Spoon River, an affecting, original musical based on the poems of Edgar Lee Masters, has the deceased residents of a small town looking back upon their lives.

Sketch-comedy company The Second City, which was founded in Chicago in 1959 but which has outposts here in Toronto and in Los Angeles, is often credited for helping some of today’s funniest men and women—including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers and Eugene Levy—get their showbiz start. Twice a year, in spring and fall, the Toronto troupe mounts a new mainstage revue, alongside additional seasonal programming. Click Bait & Switch is the current show, running through to the end of the year. It features satirical sketches and songs about a gamut of topics ranging from airport security, wheelchair-bound billionaires, and transforming from a caterpillar to a butterfly.


Toronto Fall Performance Season 2015 Toronto Symphony Orchestra Peter Oundjian

Peter Oundjian leads the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in a number of performances—both traditionally classical and pop-oriented—this autumn (photo: Sian Richards)

Founded in 1922, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is one of the country’s preeminent cultural institutions. Over the years, it’s toured throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia—including a historic 1978 invitation to China following the Cultural Revolution—but the ensemble’s natural home is on the Roy Thomson Hall stage, under the conductorship of longtime music director Peter Oundjian. The TSO demonstrates its breadth with programming that includes such classical favourites as Prokofiev’s Symphony no. 5, Mahler’s Symphony no. 4, and Tchaikovsky works like his Symphony no. 6 “Pathétique” and the waltz and polonaise from Eugene Onegin, alongside live-score performances accompanying such movies as Back to the Future and Psycho, and a showcase of Frank Sinatra’s biggest hits.

Well respected as an educational institution, the Royal Conservatory counts Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall and Measha Brueggergosman among its alumni. The organization is also known for presenting a diverse array of events and concerts at Koerner Hall. This season’s slate includes Meryl Streep reading from Philip Roth’s Everyman, accompanied by the Takács Quartet, and a celebration of cabaret singer Édith Piaf to mark what would have been her 100th birthday. The year wraps up with shows by the Vienna Boys Choir and a tribute to Oscar Peterson by some of world’s top pianists.


Toronto Fall Performance Season 2015 Canadian Opera Company La Traviata

The COC presents Verdi’s La Traviata beginning in early October (photo: Todd Rosenberg)

The Canadian Opera Company is the country’s largest producer of opera, and since 2008 has been lead by general director Alexander Neef. This season’s highlight is a new production that pairs Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe with two Baroque classics by Claudio Monteverdi, Lamento d’Arianna and Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. October also sees the return of Verdi’s still-provocative masterpiece, La Traviata.


Toronto Fall Performance Season 2015 National Ballet of Canada Winter's Tale

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is interpreted by the National Ballet of Canada this November (photo: Johan Persson)

This season marks Karen Kain’s 10th anniversary as the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, which was founded in 1951 and has featured works by such celebrated choreographers as George Balanchine and Rudolf Nureyev. The much-anticipated North American debut of The Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon promises a lavish and bold new interpretation of the Shakespearean romance. Don’t miss the company’s annual performance of The Nutcracker: James Kudelka’s opulent reimagining of the classic Christmas tale—a magical production complete with cannon dolls, dancing bears and, of course, the sugar plum fairy—is marking 20 years as a Toronto holiday-season staple.

—Linda Luong

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