‘The hills are alive!’ at Royal MTC
And so is a board-game whodunit, jukebox music, Métis romance, duet of poets and more
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Riding the momentum of its current production of Into the Woods, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre announced Friday the lineup of programming for its 2023-24 season.
On the John Hirsch Mainstage, there will be a campy mystery comedy based on a beloved board game, a Tony-winning jukebox musical about one of the 20th century’s most decorated songwriters, a visit to a civil rights icon’s hotel room, a Wall Street epic, a Manitoba love story, and a stage adaptation of one of the greatest movie musicals ever made.
At the Tom Hendry Warehouse down the road, there will be an intercontinental Métis romance, a pastoral ode to two of Canada’s greatest poets, a 2022 Governor General’s Award-winning play, and a one-woman comedy about the dissolution of marriage.
Artistic director Kelly Thornton could hardly contain her excitement when she sat down with the Free Press. “When I create a season, I think of it as a meal,” said Thornton, the first female artistic director in the centre’s six decades of existence. “Or even a buffet. Some people love musicals, and some people love really muscular drama, some people love comedies and just want entertainment.
“In constructing this season, I really thought about how I can create a collection of plays that satisfies everybody’s appetite,” said Thornton.
Let’s dig in.
On the John Hirsch Mainstage
Oct. 19 to Nov.11
Based on the 1985 cult film, which was based on the classic whodunit board game, Clue is a campy murder mystery comedy set against the backdrop of the McCarthy era. Col. Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, Prof. Plum and Miss Scarlet show their true colours and are ready to name names in this adaptation by Sandy Rustin. Round up the usual suspects.
The Sound of Music
Nov. 30 to Dec. 22
Royal MTC has confidence that this adaptation of the beloved 1965 musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer will be something good, and maybe, even, a favourite thing for longtime von Trapp fans and new ones alike. A co-production with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, which partnered with Royal MTC on last fall’s production of Network, The Sound of Music is one of two very different musicals on tap for the next season. “The Sound of Music is in our bones,” says Thornton. “But it’s also a story of resisting the rise of nationalism.”
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Jan. 11 to Feb. 3, 2024
The legendary singer-songwriter Carole King gets the jukebox musical treatment in this show, which earned stars Jessie Mueller a Tony and Katie Brayben an Olivier during its runs in New York and London. King herself could more than fill a Billboard Hot 100: 118 songs she wrote or co-wrote made the list. A few standouts: I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, You’ve Got a Friend, and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. And those are all from the same album, 1971’s multiple Grammy Award-winning Tapestry. Thornton is set to direct.
Feb. 15 to March 9, 2024
Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the greatest orators in American history, and in this play, written by Katori Hall, the doctor checks into his room at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, craving a cigarette and preparing for his next speech. A maid arrives with fresh coffee, and the unlikely pair pry open King’s complex character, and in turn, America’s, on the night before the country changed forever. This fictionalized show will be directed by RMTC associate artistic director Audrey Dwyer, who produced a digital version earlier in the pandemic.
“It’s very much about the human being behind the legendary MLK,” Thornton says.
The Lehman Trilogy
March 21 to April 13, 2024
A sweeping epic about capital-C capitalism, this show traces Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman’s family business from their mid-19th-century Alabama dry-goods shop to the collapse of one of the largest investment banks in the country during the 2008 recession. A Tony winner for best play, this show will be directed by Richard Greenblatt, the acclaimed co-creator of Two Pianos, Four Hands, one of the most successful stage shows in Canadian history. “It’s a gorgeous piece of storytelling about the history of America, and the birth of capitalism,” says Thornton. “It was so exciting to get the rights to do this.”
April 25 to May 18, 2024
From Manitoban creators Trish Cooper (Social Studies) and Sam Vint (who contributed research to the acclaimed NFB docudrama We Were Children) comes this story of marriage, family and the ongoing legacy of settler colonialism. Jesse and Adam come from different backgrounds: one is Métis and one is Scottish. When the couple conceives, they confront the past and what their future together might look like. “It’s a real Manitoba story,” says Thornton. Eric Coates is attached to direct the culture-clash comedy.
At the Tom Hendry Warehouse
First Métis Man of Odesa
Another story of cultures clashing and merging, First Métis Man of Odesa is based on the real-life international love affair between Matthew MacKenzie, an Edmonton man, and Mariya Khomutova, a Ukrainian actor living in the port city of Odesa. MTC presents this production by Edmonton’s Punctuate! Theatre, of which MacKenzie is artistic director. MacKenzie’s show Bears won a pair of Dora Awards, including outstanding new play, in 2018.
Jan. 25 to Feb. 10, 2024
Al Purdy and Milton Acorn were men of many words, in constant pursuit of a more perfect sentence. As their lives went on, Purdy and Acorn became iconic Canadian poets. But in this work by Canadian playwright David Yee, success has yet to find them. While building an A-frame cottage, the men share whiskey and tall tales, illustrating a complicated portrait of mid-century masculinity. A co-production with Theatre Projects Manitoba, the show will be directed by TPM artistic director Suzie Martin. Yee is a two-time Governor General’s Literary Award nominee and a three-time Dora finalist.
The Piano Teacher
Feb. 29 to March 16, 2024
This show from Vancouver writer and musical director Dorothy Dittrich is new, but has already made a dramatic flourish on the Canadian theatre scene, winning the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. When a concert pianist named Erin loses her capacity to play, she begins taking weekly lessons from a gifted woman named Elaine. It is set to be directed by Manitoba’s Simon Miron.
Guilt: A Love Story
April 4-20, 2024
From acclaimed comedic writer and performer Diane Flacks comes this one-woman show about that pesky little feeling that just won’t go away. Flacks was in town last year to star in the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s production of 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, and with her signature honesty and lightning-quick wit, she explores in this new show the slippery slope of infidelity, divorce and forgiveness. MTC presents this production by Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre.
Mix Tapes From My Mom
A regional touring production
Winnipeg performer and writer Cory Wojcik created this story of a day that is too surreal to believe, split between two hospitals and two lives, one beginning and one ending. Directed by Trish Cooper (The Comeback), the show is soundtracked by Wojcik’s mother’s titular cassettes.
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, January 30, 2023 10:25 AM CST: Corrects references to productions by Punctuate! and Tarragon