SummerWorks program Musical Works in Concert creates new festival for musical theatre

Prince Jen

For many theatre-makers, SummerWorks is a place to experiment and innovate, eventually taking the experience they gain at the festival to create bigger and better productions. This year SummerWorks’ role as a hothouse for new Canadian theatre has grown beyond individual shows to catalyze a whole new festival: the Musical Works in Concert program is taking flight.

When Tracy Michailidis stood up to introduce The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen on Monday night, the artistic director of Musical Works in Concert bore news that fans of musical theatre in Toronto will love. The five-year-old program will be stepping out from under the SummerWorks umbrella and moving forward on its own in the coming year.

“SummerWorks has been great,” says Michailidis, who has acted in Canadian theatre for twenty years and recently starred in the off-Broadway production of Ethel Sings. “I wanted the program to grow with baby steps; it did, and now it’s getting bigger. Last year we had two casts of twenty people. It just felt like time.”

One of the original inspirations for Musical Works in Concert actually came from Stuart McLean, albeit indirectly. Michailidis heard McLean compare Owen Pallett to Stephen Sondheim, and was so taken with the idea that she contacted The Vinyl Cafe and asked if they could suggest any musicians who would be interested in doing theatre. That request eventually led to a full staging of the concept album Origin:Orphan by indie band The Hidden Cameras, with more than twenty tour dates across Canada in 2009.

This year’s production of The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen is a good example of how much Michailidis’s vision for innovative musical theatre has been able to flourish at SummerWorks since then. “SummerWorks is a great place because there’s a spirit of experimentation,” she says. Such was the case for this show, still technically in development. Though technically presented without full staging, there was still plenty of gusto.

Audiences don’t get much more enthusiastic than the musical theatre crowd, especially when given the chance to witness the genesis of a high-quality Canadian original. The atmosphere at the Great Hall was almost breathlessly rapt throughout the performance, punctuated by roaring applause after each of the songs.

Composer Daniel Green and lyricist/director Lezlie Wade began working with each other at the well-known BMI Lehman Engle Musical Theatre Workshop in New York. Initially they collaborated on a ten-minute musical based on the Prince Jen story, and ultimately created the full two-hour musical that was presented this year at SummerWorks.

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen is based on the beloved children’s book of the same title by Lloyd Alexander, first published in 1991. It tells the story of a young prince who must learn humility through a variety of adventures in order to become a true leader. Green and Wade’s adaptation demonstrates real inspired artistry as well as unmistakable talent and well-deserved confidence.

There will be more opportunity for composers and lyricists at the new festival based on Musical Works in Concert. Already Michailidis and her collaborators George Masswohl and Derrick Chua receive 20-50 submissions each year. At the new festival they’ll be able to stage several more productions in various stages of development, and give them more showings.

This new development is also good news for audiences. “I’m really interested in the idea of bringing an audience in early on and then having a workshop with the actors and seeing where you get to in a week,” she says. But that’s just one possibility. “There’s lots of ideas,” she adds.

 

Details

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen played Monday, August 11 at The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West).

All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, or in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.

Photo provided by Getty Images

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