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Winnipeg theatre talent graces stages across country

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Strike: The Musical earned good reviews during a five-day run in Edmonton.

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Strike: The Musical earned good reviews during a five-day run in Edmonton.

Winnipeg is rightly known as a theatre town but its ranks of actors, directors and designers also fan out to stages all over the country.

Regina's Globe Theatre is closing its season with the crowd-pleasing The Drowsy Chaperone, a production full of Winnipeg content. Robb Paterson is mostly the reason that Brian Perchaluk is designing the sets and Scott Henderson the lights and Kathryn Ball is the stage manager. The cast includes Jennifer Lyon in the title role and Tim Gledhill as Robert.

"They kept asking me who I wanted and I kept telling them," says Paterson, over the telephone during a break in rehearsals this week. "You only have three and a half weeks of rehearsal in this country so you need people you can trust."

It would seem that he trusts Lyon the most. This is the 10th time that he has cast the daughter of the late former Manitoba Premier Sterling Lyon. The list includes Steel Magnolias, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, Pride and Prejudice and Next to Normal at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre as well as Big and Footloose at Rainbow Stage.

"She's good, that's why," says the RMTC associate artistic director, who first chose her to play a mother in Two Times, Twice a Year at Manitoba Theatre for Young People in 1991. "With Jen, the eye goes to her on stage. She's smart, funny and sings well.

"Every time I've cast Jen, I've counted on her to do the great job I assume she will do because she has done it before. It makes me look good if she is that good."

Lyon is not Paterson's most frequently cast actor. That honour goes to Chris Sigurdson, who he assigned a part in his productions 11 times.

Regina is not the only western city flush with Winnipeg performers. In Edmonton, you can find Kevin Aichele playing Dennis Galahad in a current Citadel Theatre production of Spamalot. Across town at Mayfield Dinner Theatre, Laura Olafson has donned a blond wig to star in 9 to 5, the Musical in the Dolly Parton role of Doralee. The Alberta capital recently hosted a five-day run of Strike: The Musical, by Danny Schur and Rick Chafe. Directed by Arne MacPherson, the immigrant story told against the background of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike played to over 80 per cent capacity and earned good reviews (Strike! A stirring tribute to historic event -- Edmonton Journal).

Ontario will also see its share of former Winnipeg talent. Jeremy Kushnier (Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar) is back at Stratford Festival, this time as Captain Walker in the rock opera Tommy, helmed by its co-creator and original director Des McAnuff. In the current Shaw Festival revival of Guys and Dolls two ex-Winnipeggers appear: Thom Allison as Nicely-Nicely Johnson while Patty Jamieson is General Cartwright.

Later this month at Toronto's Panasonic Theatre, MaAnne Dionisio (Canada's first Miss Saigon) will play Grizabella in an all-Canadian production of Cats. Samantha Hill, currently on Broadway as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, will next fall join the new 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables as Cosette.

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Theatre Projects Manitoba will return to staging a pair of new Winnipeg plays in 2013-14, after a season of presenting two Quebec dramas.

The premiere of The Miser of Middlegate by Winnipeg's Carolyn Gray will launch the company's season Oct. 3 at the University of Winnipeg's Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Gray, who was just appointed executive director of the Manitoba Writer's Guild, will give a modern Winnipeg spin to Moliere's 17th century satire The Miser, a comedy about family, love and money.

Zone 41, which collaborated with TPM in 2011 on Bruce McManus's adaptation of Chekhov's Three Sisters, will again team up with Zone's artistic director Krista Jackson directing.

The other offering next year is Sargent & Victor & Me, written and performed by Debbie Patterson, and directed by her husband Arne MacPherson. Patterson (Head, Molotov Circus) gathered a series of first person accounts of the neighbourhood which was once a centre of Icelandic culture but has become rife with gang violence, prostitution and gang violence. The piece has evolved to include Patterson and explores the neighbourhood through her struggles with the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.

Sargent & Victor & Me runs Feb. 27- March 9, 2014.

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At 3 p.m. Sunday, Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre is hosting a performance of Forgiven/Forgotten at University of Winnipeg's Eckhardt-Gramatt© Hall. The Ontario touring show centres around a family that learns an offender will be serving his parole in their community and must choose between closing their doors and reaching out to those in need. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door or calling 204-783-8977.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 G5

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