The much anticipated opening of Sousatzka, the musical billed as the comeback of Garth Drabinsky, took place last night at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. Sousatzka tells the story of Holocaust survivor Madame Sousatzka (Victoria Clark), her prodigy piano pupil Themba (Jordan Barrow) – and how the two change each other’s lives for the better.
Despite oversight from a producer whose artistic genius is still whispered about in theatre lobbies across the city, Sousatzka is, like the spun narrative of its producer, overproduced.
Above the Elgin Theatre in Toronto on the 4th floor, magical things are happening. A company with 70 Tony Award nominations and 12 wins between them are gearing up to premiere a new musical, Sousatzka, based on the 1988 Shirley MacLaine film Madame Sousatzka. At the helm of the project, notorious theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky – who is making his comeback to “artistic producing” following his convictions for fraud and forgery during his time as the head of Livent. Livent, of course, was once a division of Cineplex Odeon which produced the Sousatzka film before being bought out by Drabinsky and his then business partner Myron Gottlieb.
Sitting front and centre in the 4th floor rehearsal hall, a soft-spoken Drabinsky quietly observes, occasionally adding feedback as the star-studded creative team and company work their way through the first act on the day I’m here to observe. Various production members tell me Drabinsky is here every day from the first call time until everyone is dismissed. On the off days he’s in the office working on various production aspects. While not a traditional producer in the sense that he doesn’t manage the show’s finances – that is another aspect I’m told he routinely consults on.
Drabinsky tells me about the flaws in the original movie – that you won’t feel for the characters in the manner required for a musical because “there’s not enough backstory” – which he says is why he abandoned the idea of first musicalizing the work in the late 80’s.
He solved the major issues with the work after studying the book on which the film is based, and that only after Drabinsky had done the base work was book writer Craig Lucas able to write a first treatment. He credits himself with many aspects of the project’s development – and says while he “doesn’t choreograph” he gives plenty of notes.
Come From Away is not a musical about the September 11th terrorist attacks – if anything it is the exact opposite. Come From Away is a musical about all that is good in people – compassion, care, love, acceptance, equality, and treating others with kindness. Truly, it is a musical written for now.
What began as a short workshop in Toronto at Sheridan College’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project (the initiative spearheaded by Michael Rubinoff creating new Canadian works) has become an incredible full scale, Broadway-bound production.
Written by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the musical tells the tale of the 38 and planes and their occupants which were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When passengers were finally permitted off the plane and taken to makeshift shelters in town, they didn’t know what to expect. Many didn’t speak English, and many had never been to Canada let alone a town like Gander.