The cast of "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812". Photo by Dahlia Katz.For months there has been speculation, in “the business” and out, about what the unannounced “secret” seventh show of the upcoming 2024/25 Mirvish season might be. Possibilities mooted have included Beetlejuice and MJ: the musical, among others.

The real news is much more exciting.

It has just been announced (March 19) that this “secret show” will actually be a remount (or rather a newly enhanced version) of the hit Canadian premiere production of Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, currently finishing a triumphant and record-breaking 16-week run at Streetcar Crow’s Nest in Toronto’s east end.

I have been a champion of this production from very early in the process, interviewing director Chris Abraham (Dec/Jan issue) after a visit to early rehearsals where the chemistry of creative team, cast and musicians was boldly on display. When I saw the show for the third time a week ago I saw a production at its peak: the storytelling clear as a bell, the ensemble of performers a thrilling display of world-class Canadian musical theatre talent, led by Hailey Gillis as a luminous Natasha, and Evan Buliung as a tormented Pierre. Director Chris Abraham, choreographer Ray Hogg, music director Ryan deSouza, and the superb design team have given us a fully realized world that immerses the audience in a decadent recreation of 1812 Russia that is both true to the period and radically contemporary.

George Krissa (Anatole) & Hailey Gillis (Natasha). Photo by Dahlia Katz.Audiences hungry for exciting musical theatre have been flocking to Crow’s to experience this production that could easily have run for much longer if the space had been available. How perfect, then, that Mirvish should pick it up, giving Great Comet a chance to prolong its life and reach even more new audiences.

Championing Canadian musical creation is something that one always wishes top-flight producers will do, and Mirvish Productions are no strangers to the role, having helped to shepherd three shows that started off as experiments in much smaller spaces into being monster hits: Two Pianos Four Hands, Drowsy Chaperone, and Come From Away.

Also Recently...

Shifting Ground: Overlapping with Great Comet in late February, a new group of young talented performers and creative team with the name of the Shifting Ground Collective emerged seemingly out of the blue with an excellent (and also sold out) production of Sondheim’s famously problematic 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along at the intimate Annex Theatre. I recommend looking out for more work from this talented group!

Mother of All Shows: In early March another showcase of Canadian musical theatre talent was on display in the Toronto premiere screening at the Hot Docs Cinema of the musical film The Mother of All Shows, co-written by Melissa Agostino and David James Brock with music by Rebecca Everett, and co-starring Agostino and the brilliant Wendy Malick. While not completely successful it was both great fun to watch and exciting to see talented Canadian musical theatre writers taking risks to experiment with both form and format.

And Just Ahead...

Canadian Festival Of New Musicals: Coming up later this spring is what promises to be another showcase of new creation and Canadian talent: the Musical Stage Company’s new Canadian Festival of New Musicals in association with the Canadian Stage Company in their Berkeley Street space. Curious to know more details about this new festival running from May 22 to 26, I conversed with MSC’s artistic director Ray Hogg:

Ray Hogg. Photo by Dahlia Katz.WN: The new festival seems to be a continuation of the Musical Stage Company’s former showcases of new works in progress, sometimes in collaboration with the Canadian Musical Theatre Project. Now that the CMPT no longer exists will this be the new format going forward? Will it be an annual event?

RH: I’ve often likened creating a new Canadian musical to raising a newborn baby - it takes a village of artists. There’s a lot that goes into developing and nurturing a musical and the process often takes longer than any other form of theatre! As for our Canadian Festival of New Musicals (CFoNM), I believe wholeheartedly in creating more opportunities to invite audiences behind the scenes to witness the many stages of creating a new musical because it truly is a fascinating developmental process.

Can you tell me more about the three new works in progress which will be presented during the festival, and why they were chosen?

Absolutely! The three new musicals we’re showcasing are all works whose developmental history has brought them close to full production readiness: In Real Life, After the Rain, and Cowboy Tempest. In Real Life is the most production-ready of the three. The book is by superstar playwright Nick Green with music & lyrics by our latest Crescendo Series artist Kevin Wong, and the show is about a near-future society (think a musical episode of The Black Mirror) that grapples with the complexities of power, technology and freedom in a digital era. We’re very excited to share a 60-minute partially staged excerpt in partnership with fu-GEN Theatre.

Our Double Bill presentation will showcase readings from the two other shows. After the Rain has a book by Rose Napoli, and music and lyrics by Suzy Wilde, and we are co-developing and co-commissioning it with Tarragon Theatre. Cowboy Tempest Cabaret (book by Niall McNeil, Lucy McNulty and Anton Lipovetsky, music by Anton Lipovetsky, lyrics by Niall McNeil) features the latest work from our second Crescendo Series artist Anton Lipovetsky.

They are strikingly different. After the Rain is about a struggling composer who sings backup in her parent’s band but agrees to teach piano lessons to a terminally ill adult who is only interested in learning Gymnopedie No.1. This show is a gorgeous transcendent theatrical experience that explores the healing power of music. On the flip side, Cowboy Tempest is a totally lawless adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Think you know Shakespeare? Think again! This show was conceived by Niall McNeill, an artist with Down Syndrome, and is entirely painted with his world-view.  His longtime collaborators Lucy McNulty and Anton Lipovetsky help take us on an incredible musical tour through Niall’s inspired take on Shakespeare’s tale of magic and power.

Other than the showcase presentations, will there be public components to the festival such as question and answer sessions with the creative teams, or panel discussions with people in the industry?

Indeed! We are really looking forward to connecting audiences with our writers, composers, and creative teams. We are anticipating some lively discussion considering how passionate this group of artists (and our audience) is!  Aside from Q & A sessions, we›ll be kicking off the festival with our second iteration of the Noteworthy New Musicals Conference; a one-day musical theatre event dedicated to new musical enthusiasts, composers, lyricists and playwrights in Toronto.

There will be multiple panels made up of international industry experts, a keynote speech, networking opportunities, and Musical Stage Company’s 20th Anniversary Birthday Bash! The content of this year’s conference is geared toward providing chances to learn more about new musical theatre, with a strong emphasis on new work development and how to get your new musical produced in Canada.

Do you see this festival expanding in the future to include more shows and even more companies, like some of the festivals in the US?

I hope this is a possibility! We have already have several other Canadian company’s onboard for the inaugural  festival including Canadian Stage, fu-GEN and Tarragon Theatre.  We also have close ties and working relationships with other Canadian companies from coast to coast and with several US companies.  As for future festivals, if other companies are looking to come on board, I say the more the merrier!

For more details and to buy tickets, visit


April will see three dance productions that reimagine classics in wildly different ways. First up, from ShowOne Productions, is the new Hamlet from Guillaume Côté and Robert Lepage I wrote about in the previous column. It runs April 3 to 7 at the Elgin Theatre, promising a new and visceral physical take on Shakespeare’s classic.

What is it about Swan Lake that drives so many choreographers to articulate their own responses? Over at Harbourfront Centre from April 18 to 20 the Torque dance series plays host to two wildly experimental takes on what is probably the most iconic classical ballet with the Canadian premiere of the mixed program Swan Lakes and Minus 16 from Gauthier Dance & Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart.

Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard’s "Le Chant du Cygne: Le Lac". Courtesy of Marie Chouinard.The two swan lakes in the program’s title are Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard’s Le Chant du Cygne: Le Lac, a fiercely feminist manifesto in which the swans become passionate rebels, and choreographer and composer Hofesh Shechter’s Swan Cake, which is more playful and light-spirited. The mixed program will conclude with legendary choreographer Ohad Naharin’s theatrical cult classic Minus 16.

"Murmuration". Photo by Rolline Laporte.From April 25 to 28, at the ice rink at the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens, Montreal company Le Patin Libre are taking dance on ice to a new level of excitement and innovation with their Canadian/French/Scottish co-production MurmurationTo music by Jasmin Boivin and Philippe Le Bon, the wildly innovative work, performed by a company of 15 “ice mavericks”, combines the athletic virtuosity of competitive figure skaters with the choreographic intelligence of contemporary dancers to explore the physical instinct that birds – and humans – have for flocking.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

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