I saw a lot of musicals last year. Some were terrific, like the new production of Jekyll & Hyde, starring Constantine Maroulis, who deserves the Tony, and some were abysmal,
like the recent production of La Cage aux Folles. Who on earth would cast ancient George Hamilton in the show? Turns out he also produced it. My point is, good theatre is hard to find.
“I want to keep musicals important,” says Mitchell Marcus, founder and artistic director of the Acting Up Stage Company. “We would probably sell more tickets if we did the hits, like Avenue Q, but I so admire the potential and the art of musical theatre.” Sounds snobby, but the man is true to his word. Every spring for the past few years, I have gone to see their latest shows, near-perfect productions of such highfalutin' fare as A New Brain, The Light in the Piazza and Caroline, Or Change, the latter of which won them four Dora Awards. “The stars just aligned nicely for us last year,” Marcus says.
So it’s fair to say my anticipation for the upcoming production of William Finn’s Falsettos is huge. Finn wrote the first act, about a married man who comes out and leaves his family, in the late 1970s, then wrote the second act 10 years later, to reflect the emergence of AIDS. “It hasn’t been done in Toronto since 1995,” Marcus says. “It gives you a snapshot of gay history from two moments in time. The first act is about a family being destroyed. The second half is about them coming together.”
If something as ambitious and risky as Falsettos isn’t enough to keep Marcus busy, there’s his other show, Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, by Veda Hille and Bill Richardson. It’s an original Canadian musical that uses Craigslist postings as a lens on humanity.
On top of that, Marcus and his partner are raising two infants. “It was a year-and-a-half process. My best friend was the egg donor. We planted two embryos, one boy and one girl, and they both took. It’s very different from theatre.” He pauses. “Actually, no. Same amount of drama.”
An incredibly boyish and young-looking 30-year-old, Marcus teaches an arts administration course at Ryerson University and was a producer at Luminato for six years. We talk about how musicals are such a purely American art form. “I wish we could be doing things from other parts of the world. I cannot find a really great musical that’s been written anywhere else but New York. That’s where the work is happening.” I point out that his productions of Craigslist Cantata and last year’s hit Ride the Cyclone are both Canadian musicals. “We don’t do musicals the same way in Canada, and that’s okay,” he says. “The American musical theatre has had 100 years in which to develop. In Canada, we have no infrastructure to create great musicals. In the US, you can actually get your master’s degree in book writing for musicals. There isn’t even a course here in Canada for lyricists.”
I bring up one of my favourite musings: how Broadway rarely depicts gay relationships on its stages. “Musical theatre is a gay vision of the world,” he explains. “It doesn’t need to depict gayness. It is gayness. It may be the one place where gays can enjoy heterosexual romance without feeling threatened by it. Why? Because it is fashioned in our image.” — Paul Bellini
DO YOU WANT WHAT I HAVE GOT? A CRAIGSLIST CANTATA
Wed, Jan 30–Sun, March 3, Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst St.
Tues, April 23–Sun, May 12, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St E. actingupstage.com
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