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‘Live! And in person’: London’s Grand Theatre unveils 2022-23 season offerings

Courtesy: The Grand Theatre via Twitter

Officials with London’s historic Grand Theatre have unveiled the venue’s upcoming 2022-23 season, and are planning for a full roster of live, in-person performances for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago.

Keeping that in mind, the theme of the season will be, understandably, “Live! And In Person.”

“It is time at the Grand to come back to what we do best, which is live theatre,” said Dennis Garnhum, the Grand’s artistic director.

“We want to remind people that that is in fact what we do the best, and that is why you should come to the Grand Theatre … I’m very hopeful that things will keep progressing in a great direction where we can gather.”

The 2022-23 season will see 10 productions staged on the Spreit and Auburn stages, including four world premieres and two holdovers from the 2021-22 season, officials said. The season will also see the return of favourites Jeans ‘n Classics, and ELF – The Musical.

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“The big thing about next season is that we’re returning to our subscriber model, so we’re inviting people to not buy tickets to only one, but a whole package of them,” Garnhum said.

“For the last two years, we’ve been uncertain, so we didn’t do that … But because it is time to come back to theatre, we really want to go back to what we’d call ‘the new normal.'”

Subscriptions for the 2022-23 season are now on sale, with single tickets expected to be available in the late spring.

“The best way (to buy tickets is) to either drop by our beautiful new renovated theatre at 471 Richmond St. or go online to GrandTheatre.com,” Garnhum said.

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The season will begin with the staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods as part of the theatre’s annual High School Project program. Running Sept. 20 until Oct. 1 on the main Spreit Stage and directed by Saccha Dennis, it marks the first full production done by the High School Project since the pandemic began.

“We’ve been online with the High School Project for the last two years, so we’re particularly excited to have high school students back, live and in-person presenting Into The Woods,” said Garnhum.

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Sondheim, whose lyrics helped reshape American musical theatre more than anyone else, died in November at the age of 91. Garnhum notes that honouring Sondheim’s passing was one of the main reasons why Into The Woods was chosen.

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“Also, I think, is a great piece for students to sink their teeth in. The music is so brilliant, and the complications of all these famous storybook characters all landing in the woods is pretty spectacular.”

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The Grand Theatre itself will be the subject of a production entitled Grand Ghosts, set to run Oct. 18 to Nov. 5. Written by Trina Davies and directed by Jillian Keiley, the show will dive into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the theatre’s founder, Ambrose Small.

At the age of 53, Small, who owned several Ontario theatres, vanished on Dec. 2, 1919, exactly one day after selling his theatre assets for a sum of $1.7 million.

Due to his own history of “going off the radar,” his disappearance wasn’t reported by the newspapers until a month later, becoming a major news story and an enduring mystery. Small’s disappearance has never been solved, and in 1924 he was declared legally dead.

Legend has grown of Small’s ghostly presence at the theatre, with actors and crew members reporting supernatural incidents, phantom sounds, and what they believe to be sightings over the subsequent decades.

“The biggest haunt lately … he’s been seen on stage when people are working. Usually, it’s later in the night and people will see him in the distance, and it’s all about the moustache. Ambrose had this defined moustache, and so people will look and think, ‘Oh, that man. Why is–oh my gosh,'” said Garnhum.

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“We have written a play that’s asked the question ‘Why is he still around and haunting us?’ … It’s in the style of vaudeville, because that’s when Ambrose Small was producing back in 1918.”

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Downstairs on the smaller Auburn Stage, will be the mounting of Zorana Sadiq’s Mixtape, directed by Chris Abraham, from Nov. 8-20. In the audio-intensive show, theatre officials say Sadiq “invites audience members into a personal exploration of her life experienced through sound.”

“From Barbra Streisand to George Michael, from Sondheim to Mozart, and from squeaky oven doors to the thwap of a heartbeat, a multidisciplinary artist of Pakistanis descent, Sadiq has curated the ultimate mixtape for life: part memoir, part scientific inquiry, and part love affair with listening,” reads a Grand Theatre release.

Mixtape will be the first of three shows to be held during the season on the newly-renovated Auburn Stage, previously known as the McManus Stage.

Another show set to be performed on the Auburn, Homes: A Refugee Story, written by Winnie Yeung and Haysam Kadri, will run Feb. 21 to March 5, 2023. The show is adapted from the book of the same name, written by Yeung and Abu Bakr al-Rabeeah, who is the focus of the book and show.

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Homes follows the true story of how Abu Bakr al-Rabeeah survived the civil war in Syria as a boy, and how he “emerged from a war zone with a passion for sharing his story and telling the world what is truly happening in Syria.”

The third production to be staged on the Auburn is the Grand favourite Jeans ‘n Classics, which will see five shows performed between October and May.

They include: Time Warp: The Music of Rocky Horror (Oct. 6, 2022), Tears for Fears & The Allan Parsons Project (Nov. 10, 2022), Dancing Queen: The Music of Abba (Feb. 2, 2023), Bowie (April 6, 2023), and Back to Back: Elton John and Billy Joel (May 18, 2023).

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The 2022 holiday season will see the return of audience favourite ELF – The Musical, which is set to run on the Spreit Stage from Nov. 22 until Dec. 24.

Based on the Will Ferrell movie of the same name, the production will be directed by Garnhum with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin.

“Before my time, ELF was produced here and it was one of the most popular shows ever produced,” Garnhum said, noting both the appeal of the holiday film, and the music the show features.

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“The music that’s been added to this Broadway version of the show is just spectacular and fun and joyful, and it’s just full-on holiday season, Christmas, Santa Claus from beginning to end. It’s unabashed in that way.”

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Two shows originally planned for the 2021-22 season will go ahead in 2023: Controlled Damage and Rubaboo: Songs and Stories With Andrea MenardBoth were pushed back after the 2021-22 season was impacted by COVID-19 restrictions implemented in January during the Omicron wave.

Controlled Damage, from award-winning, London-based playwright Andrea Scott, showcases and illuminates the life of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond, and will run on the Spreit Stage Jan. 17-29, with opening night on Jan. 20.

“Originally we were going to do it downstairs in our Auburn Stage, (but) we’re bringing it upstairs to the Spreit Stage because in the last few months we’ve realized how incredible it is and how we want to share it with as many people as possible,” Garnhum said.

Rubaboo, described by the Grand as a “musical feast” of the award-winning actor, singer and storyteller’s Métis culture, will run March 7-25, with opening night on March 10, also on the Spreit Stage.

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Further into the year, the Spreit Stage will see performances mounted of Boom X from Feb. 7-25. Written, directed and performed by Rick Miller, Grand Theatre officials say Boom X continues where Miller’s previous show, Boom, left off, but instead of touching on the baby boomer generation, Boom X will deal with the culture and politics which shaped generation X.

Late March 2023 will see the limited run of Fall On Your Knees, based on the book written by Ann-Marie MacDonald and adapted for the stage by Hannah Moscovitch and Alisa Palmer.

Fall On Your Knees, which will run March 29 to April 2 on the Spreit Stage, “chronicles three generations of Cape Breton Island’s Piper family,” according to the Grand. The production is being done in partnership with four other theatre companies, including three in Toronto — National Arts Centre English Theatre, Vita Brevis Arts, and Canadian Stage — and Halifax’s Neptune Theatre.

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The final show to be staged on the Spreit Stage will be Neptune Theatre’s production of East Coast Kitchen Party, created by Jeremy Webb and Ian Sherwood and directed by Laura Caswell, set to run April 18 to May 6.

According to theatre officials, the show offers an “authentically Nova Scotian experience: a concert celebration set in a kitchen, where instruments come out, and friends start to play.”

“In this musical celebration, audiences will be transported to the shores of eastern Canada, where they will be invited to join an evening of brilliant, traditional, East Coast music. In each performance, a new, local band will join the cast to perform a set on stage, as well as immediately following the show in the Drewlo Lounge,” reads a release from the Grand.

Information on the 2022-23 season can be found on The Grand Theatre’s website.

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