The culinary world often champions the eating local philosophy. At the Grand Theatre in London, artistic director Dennis Garnhum puts his own spin on the local movement. The Grand’s vision is to be “World Curious, London Proud.” The new season of 12 productions on two stages, which kicks off in September with the High School Project and wraps up in May with Mamma Mia!, pays tribute to this vison with internationally acclaimed and locally-infused productions.
It all starts with a uniquely London tradition: The High School Project and the controversial decision to produce Prom Queen: The Musical. There was criticism from some long-time educational partners who felt the topic was not appropriate for younger audiences, but the controversy spurred on a successful crowd-funding campaign. In turn, The Grand announced it would use the funds to offer 1,600 complimentary tickets to schools. It runs September 18 to 29. Meanwhile advance sales have doubled over the previous season, according to The Grand. The production, directed by Garnhum, stars London high school student Devon Kenway and features more than 50 students on stage and another 30 back stage. They receive mentoring by professionals in all aspects of theatre production through this unique program, now it its 22nd year.
Prom Queen was developed by the Musical Theatre Project at Sheridan College. It is based on the real-life story of a teenager, Marc Hall, who wanted to bring his same-sex partner to the high school prom, and the controversy that ensued. It is described as being suited for youth in Grade 7 and beyond.
Vigilante, the story of the locally famous Black Donnellys of Lucan — think 1880s massacre in a rural setting with a modern-day rock musical score — returns to the Grand February 19 to March 9. It was last here in 2016, when it played to sold-out houses. Ironically, it is an Edmonton company, Catalyst Theatre, which tells the story so many locals know by heart.
Being “world curious” is depicted by Garnhum’s accomplishment in bringing Barber Shop Chronicles from the National Theatre in London, England to this London for its only Canadian performance. As of late June, the show was already 50% sold out for the run from November 15 to 24 on the Spriet Stage. This high-energy production takes the audience to barber shops around the world to hear discussions by African men. From our London it heads to the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. We are certainly fortunate to have Garnhum spotting such hits and bringing them to our community.
The Brits return at Christmas with the second annual production of A Christmas Carol, December 5 to 29. This is a reprise of Garnhum’s spectacular adaptation of 2017, featuring ice-skating, ghosts, and the re-birth of the human spirit. This year theatre-goers will see the lobby transformed into an artisanal market with local vendors, artists, carolers and more, including treats and cider. This is sure to warm your holiday season!
Our American neighbours bring us the Pulitzer Prize-winning production of August Wilson’s Fences, March 19 to April 6. This is a look at Pittsburgh in the 1950s through the eyes of a former Negro League baseball star, now a garbage collector.
The Grand has a focus on global and local stories, as well as being proudly national with the beloved story of Maggie & Pierre as well as Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, which is directed by Canadian Megan Follows.
If you reach far enough back in the time machine you will remember Follows as Anne of Green Gables, or as Juliet at the Stratford Festival opposite a young Antoni Cimolino. This Canadian-made story retells Homer’s Odyssey through the eyes of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. It runs January 22 to February 9.
For those with long theatrical memories or who were swept up in Trudeaumania, the nostalgic show of the season will be Maggie & Pierre. This epic Canadian love story runs February 12 to 23, and has already been extended. The one-woman show tells the story of a young Maggie Sinclair falling in love with Canada’s dashing, and much older, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. I first saw this as a teenager in Toronto and can’t wait to see it again decades later! It stars Kaitlyn Riordan who portrays many characters, including the love-struck couple, their parents, members of the media, and more.
A “world curious” production with a national slant is The Wars by Timothy Findley. Adapted and directed by Garnhum, it is his acknowledgment of the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, known as the war that was supposed to end all wars. This fittingly runs in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day, October 23 to November 11 — a poignant day to close the show. There will be several events around this production including a pre-show theatre talk on November 7 at noon by James Reaney, long-time London Free Press arts writer (now retired).
Another Ontario journalist, Ian Brown (CBC, Globe and Mail), brings us The Boy in the Moon, November 20 to December 1. It is based on a true story of a family that includes a severely disabled son, Walker.
The Grand season wraps up with the feel-good musical, Mamma Mia! April 23 to May 11, 2019. The music of Abba, and a complicated love/family story will take us into the summer on a high note!