A new musical theater show questions loneliness and togetherness – no, not during the pandemic, during the blackout of 2003

Remember when Toronto came together in a time of disruption, when neighbors spoke to each other for the first time, and we got a whole new perspective on what loneliness and togetherness means?

That might describe the last 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Torontonians may also recognize the 2003 blackout in that description – the longest blackout in North American history, which extinguished most parts of Ontario and the northern United States. hot August night.

As outdoor performances become possible this summer, Toronto’s Musical Stage Company will present a new musical on that unforgettable evening of 2003 — fittingly, under the stars at the High Park Amphitheatre. Steven Gallagher and Anton Lipovetsky’s “BLACKOUT” runs from July 23 to August 15 and features a cast of seasoned Canadian musical talent, including Broadway star Chilina Kennedy and some up-and-coming talent.

“BLACKOUT” is one of the many initiatives developed by Musical Stage during the pandemic that finally manages to reach the public and that the Star unveils exclusively.

Nurturing “BLACKOUT” has become “a mission for our team” over the past year, said Mitchell Marcus, artistic director and general manager of Musical Stage, in large part because the synergies between the subject matter and the experience of the pandemic were so strong. “There was something emotional about the landscape of this room that gave us all such a sense of catharsis through this time,” Marcus said.

“BLACKOUT” began life as part of the “Reprint” project, in which theater artists created new short musicals inspired by material from the Globe and Mail archives. Gallagher and Lipovetsky were captivated by a stock photograph of a couple gazing at the cityscape from Riverdale Park as the sun set the night of the blackout. “We thought about what happens when there’s no artificial light,” Gallagher said. “How do people connect in the dark? »

Their 30-minute musical “Cygnus,” about a couple who meet at this location in Riverdale Park the night of the blackout, played in the summer of 2019. The full show is made up of three independent acts and thematically related. that span the night of the blackout: “Gemini,” about two sisters (played by Kennedy and Synthia Yusuf) in Little Italy in the early evening; “Pandora,” set in a Cabbagetown backyard in the middle of the night and starring Rami Khan, Germaine Konji, Yemie Sonuga, and Jonathan Winsby; and finally “Cygnus,” a story of new connections featuring its original “Reprint” cast of Brandon Antonio and Michael De Rose.

The High Park production of “BLACKOUT” involves a two-piece band and will not be the full form of the show; Musical Stage is committed to a fully produced world premiere at a later date.

Both creators relish the prospect their show offers Torontonians a way to come together. While a big theme of the show is, in Lipovetsky’s words, “the unique loneliness of living in the city,” Gallagher said another common thread is “people’s ultimate reconnection.” When they put everything away, there’s nothing stopping them from reconnecting… We can connect and that’s one way to do it, watch theater and sit with someone in that space.

A new Musical Stage project born out of COVID is Musical Moments, a micro-grants program that has offered a total of $25,000 to musical projects bringing people together across the city, taking place throughout July. The eight projects include “The Songs of my Elders” by Brittany Miranda, personalized outdoor song and story experiences for residents of long-term care homes; and “A Moment in the (Secret) Garden” by Sean Yauk, a musical installation in an urban garden on Wellington Street.

Musical Moments is particularly close to Marcus’ heart because it invests in the ability of artists to bring our city back to life. “New York and Chicago are coming back with culture. Beyond just opening the theater, they are integrating culture into every part of their economic redevelopment plan. And here we are fighting for, you know, capacity limits. Musical Moments intends to send the message that “artists can bring our city to life”, even at the most micro level, door-to-door.

Another element of Musical Stage’s summer lineup at High Park is “Stillwater School for Mosquitos”, an ongoing musical for children and families created by five well-known GTA theater artists impersonating the Mulligans: Peter Fernandes, Hailey Gillis, Qasim Khan, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Jennifer Villaverde. They first worked together in the nationwide touring cast of Soulpepper Theater’s ‘Alligator Pie’ and their company name is a tribute to one of the songs, ‘Mulligan Stew’, in this beloved family musical. based on the poems of Dennis Lee.

Clockwise from top left, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster, Qasim Khan, Jennifer Villaverde, Peter Fernandes and Hailey Gillis, aka the Mulligans, will perform the musical

The source of this project is Griffin Ondaatje’s children’s book “The Mosquito Brothers”, which tells the story of Dinnn, a little mosquito with big dreams. “It’s definitely from the perspective of this little creature not taking the same path as its 400 other siblings,” Gillis said.

The Mulligans are co-writing the music together and look forward to this production of High Park, which runs August 10-13, as an opportunity for feedback from young audiences. “We’re interested in having little sections where we go out and talk to them about where we’re at in the process…that doesn’t usually happen for kids,” Gillis said. Their goal is to appeal to audiences of all ages, doing what Gillis called “that double Pixar thing where there are adult jokes too”.

Audiences interested in connecting with the next generation of musical theater talent will want to check out the “Baapi Roho” cabaret, a showcase for the 2020-21 Banks Prize winners of Musical Stage, a mentorship and career advancement program for artists under 30. Dillan Chiblow, who is Ojibwe from Garden River First Nation, and Kenyan-Canadian performer and writer Germaine Konji (who also appears in “BLACKOUT”) will perform the concert Aug. 7-10.

Musical Stage Company has also revealed plans for its annual “UnCovered” fall signature concert, which will feature music by Dolly Parton arranged by the company’s musical director, Reza Jacobs. For the first time, the concert will take place outdoors at the CityView Drive-In in Port Lands from October 5-8. “Even in the worst stages of COVID, drive-ins were the first to reopen due to the safety of people staying in their cars,” Marcus said.

It blends live concert, drive-in and musical theater experiences – another innovative way Musical Stage is bringing Torontonians together to experience musical theater as difficult times draw to a close.

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