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'With this broom, I thee wed': offbeat family inspires play

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‘I now pronounce you wife and wife."

Canadian singer-songwriter David Hein, 36, heard those words about 18 years ago when his divorced mom married her lesbian partner. At the time, same-sex marriage wasn't legal, but the pair have since made it official.

Hein's mom came out as a lesbian when he was a teenager. Around the same time, she recommitted to her Jewish faith. Her bride, though, was a Wiccan -- a modern-day pagan.

So the non-traditional ceremony in the musical romantic comedy My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding is straight from life, says Hein. He co-wrote the warm-hearted show with his wife, Irene Sankoff, to salute his offbeat family and celebrate the idea that love knows no gender or religion.

"There were Jewish elements of the wedding, and Wiccan elements," he says. "They stood under a chuppah and they smashed a glass, but they also had their hands bound... and jumped over a broom and a cauldron of water."

A Winnipeg production of MMLJWW with a cast of 10 opens tonight at the RMTC Warehouse, produced by Winnipeg Studio Theatre. It's the company that has recently staged musicals such as Altar Boyz and Spring Awakening.

The Toronto-based Hein and Sankoff, 36, are here to play themselves, as they did in the original production at the 2009 Toronto Fringe Festival.

At that festival, their modest little hour-long musical, performed in an 85-seat bar, became such a runaway hit that prominent producer David Mirvish asked for tickets.

As soon as he'd seen it, Mirvish signed them to write an additional 30 minutes of material. Four months later, the expanded MMLJWW opened at a 700-seat Toronto theatre, where it ran for five months and was seen by 65,000 people.

Next, it won awards at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival in Manhattan. It's gone on to have two American and two Canadian productions. The co-creators are accustomed to people assuming the show is now Broadway-bound.

"We have some fingers crossed," says Hein. "They say it takes eight to 10 years for a musical to get to Broadway. It took The Drowsy Chaperone about eight years. We're on Year 3."

"We've been warned not to just take an off-Broadway offer and then close in three weeks," Sankoff adds. "We're sort of waiting until the right offer comes along."

"We keep tweaking it," says Hein. One of the tweaks is changing some song titles so they don't give the laughs away. A song originally called You Don't Need a Penis is now titled Romance 101.

Performing the show south of the border has been eye-opening. "We had no idea how political it was," Sankoff says.

One song outlines the history of gay marriage in Canada. "In the States, barely anyone knows that same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005," says Hein. "You could audibly hear the audience sort of turn to each other and say, 'Really? I didn't know that!'"

"A lot of times (audiences) clapped or cheered," Sankoff adds.

In upstate New York, the show got complaints that it was "perverse" and the director was going to hell. But there have been many positive responses, American and Canadian.

In Toronto, Hein recalls, one woman told a cast member after the show, "I'm 70 years old and I'm Jewish. My granddaughter is about to marry another woman. I wasn't OK with it, and now I am."

Hein's role sees him sitting on a stool, playing his guitar and acting as a musical storyteller. His style is in the folk tradition, he says, and that goes back to growing up in Saskatoon. "My mom used to take me to the Winnipeg Folk Festival every year," he says.

He and Sankoff are at work on another real-life musical, Come From Away, about the people of Gander, N.L., opening their hearts to thousands of stranded airline passengers during the events of 9/11.

If you go to see MMLJWW, don't be surprised if members of Hein's real family get introduced at the end. His dad (portrayed here by John Bluethner) lives in Alberta and is coming to see the show for the first time.

As for the brides whose bond inspired the whole thing, "The moms have come to see every production (except in Minnesota)," Hein says. "They hold hands, they sing along and they cry. They're generally embarrassing."

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

Theatre Preview

My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding

RMTC Warehouse

Opens tonight, to May 20

Tickets $22 to $29.50 at 942-6537 or www.mtc.mb.ca/wst

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2012 D3

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