Interview: Canadian Contemporary Musical Theatre

This blog is a part of www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com. Don’t sing just any song. Sing something new!

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“Join four Toronto-based composers for an evening celebrating Canada’s exciting new voices in contemporary musical theatre,” read the article on BroadwayWorld.com last month (read the full article here). Then we heard about the Canadian Music Theatre Project (CMTP) at Sheridan College. We here at ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com wanted to know more about all this new Canadian musical theatre!

CMTP was launched in 2011 by Michael Rubinoff at Sheridan College in and is Canada’s first incubator for the development of new musical theatre works by Canadian and international composers, lyricists and book-writers. ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com writers Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond patrticipated this past November with their show The Enlightenment of Percival Von Schmootz. 

CMTP

We reached out to the writers on the concert and asked them to tell us more about themselves and what excites them about the current Canadian musical theatre scene. Writer Kevin Wong, and the writing team of Colleen Dauncey & Akiva Romer-Segal responded to our interview request. Below are their responses to our emailed questions.

1Tell us a little about yourself and your background

ColleenAkivaHeadshot2015
Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal

Colleen & Akiva: We both grew up in Calgary, Alberta and met while performing in our high school’s musical. Drawn to each other’s passion, talent and silliness, we became fast friends. Years later I (Akiva) was pursuing a career in set design in Toronto, and Colleen was living in Quebec City pursuing a career in business, but we kept in close contact. We’d been doing some songwriting individually, but when we decided to write our first song together over Skype, it clearly clicked. Colleen visited Toronto, and after experiencing the vibrant cabaret, theatre and music scene here, she dropped everything and moved here a month later. We’ve since co-written numerous standalone songs, a song cycle (The Subway Songs), a family rock musical (Bremen Rock City), a collective creation musical (Scenes from the Bathhouse)…and had a blast the whole time.

Kevin Wong
Kevin Wong

Kevin Wong: I grew up primarily as a violinist who played piano and sang for fun. I eventually went into the practice of law in a non-profit organization and moonlighted as a singer-songwriter until I burned out pretty hard in 2013 and reassessed what I really wanted to do with my life. I quit in July 2013 and had my first piece, a song cycle titled “Recurring John” in Toronto’s SummerWorks Performance Festival the next summer!

 

2. There is a thriving musical theatre scene in Toronto. Can you tell our readers about what’s happening there?

Colleen & Akiva: Thanks to a few producers incubating local writers and material, it feels like Canada’s musical theatre scene is poised for a renaissance. We’ve been lucky to participate in a few great initiatives that foster the development of new work, including Theatre 20’s Composium and Acting Up Stage’s Noteworthy program, which both allowed us to meet and collaborate with other theatre creators, share our works-in-progress, and receive constructive feedback from our peers. Also, this past fall we had a chance to develop part of our newest show at Sheridan College’s CMTP (Canadian Music Theatre Project), which affords writers the time and resources to develop their pieces utilizing the school’s talented musical theatre students. We look forward to seeing audiences in Toronto grow and develop, and are excited to see more original Canadian musicals being produced in the years to come.

Kevin: Ditto to what Colleen & Akiva said re: Sheridan’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project and Acting Up Stage Company’s NoteWorthy program. Additionally, Musical Works in Concert, which I’m acting as general manager for this year, is an in-concert series devoted to showcasing readings of new musical works at various stages of development.

3. What is the difference between in how musical theatre is received in Canada vs. New York City?

Colleen & Akiva: Unlike New York, where a culture has developed around emerging songwriters, performers and projects, Canadian audiences tend to stick to the American tours of Broadway and West End hits, or the large-scale revivals of recognizable names that are offered to them. Because of this, it’s harder to convince producers and theatres to mount Canadian work. Luckily there are a brave few across the country who are trying to build up an audience and culture of new home-grown pieces. The best part of the Toronto scene is the tight-knit community of performers and creators that has formed. Everyone is so supportive of one another and willing to lend their time and talent to develop new work.

Kevin: The sheer amount of theatrical productions that play concurrently in New York City is mindboggling. We’re not there yet, but we certainly are growing. The performers, the writers, the talent, the excitement – that’s all here. I think that the Canadian musical theatre ‘voice’ (in the way that there is an American ‘voice’ or sensibility), is still forming and finding itself. That in itself is really exciting.

4. What writers or shows are you really excited about?

Colleen & Akiva: It’s always exciting to see Canadian shows break onto the world stage. After the international success of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Story of My Life, we are closely watching David Hein and Irene Sankoff’s Come From Away, premiering at La Jolla this season after being developed at Sheridan’s CMTP. Not only is the creative team Canadian, but the show is also telling a true Canadian story. We’re also big fans of writers like Lin Manuel Miranda and Pasek & Paul, who are able to successfully utilize pop music to tell musical theatre stories in an accessible way. And of course we’re always excited to see what Kevin (Wong) and Scott Christian cook up next.

Kevin: I sobbed like a baby during The Bridges of Madison County and was heartbroken to see it close so quickly, but am excited for the tour to give it another life. I think Adam Gwon, Will Reynolds, Pasek & Paul, and Kooman & Dimond are all doing some really beautiful work with unique voices, and eagerly await any new work from them. In particular, Kooman & Dimond’s “The Enlightenment of Percival Van Schmootz” is going to be hysterically good fun and I can’t wait. For Canadians, I adore the work of Scott Christian and Colleen & Akiva, of course. They’re brilliant and each doing something special that’s different from what I’m doing, and I love that. Leslie Arden is a master of the craft. And keep an eye out for anything written by composer/lyricists Britta Johnson, Adam Sakiyama, or Jake Vanderham.

5. What are you working on now?

Colleen & Akiva: We are currently working on a stage adaptation of Prom Queen, a Canadian TV movie that tells the true story of Marc Hall, a teen who fought the Catholic School Board for the right to bring his boyfriend to prom. Also, as the Playwrights in Residence for Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ontario this season, we are developing another collective creation musical, building on a process we first explored there a few years ago. Additionally, we are talking with some brilliant Toronto playwrights to generate ideas for exciting future projects.

Kevin: A two-hander musical about gentrification with book writer/lyricist Matt Sergi called “Highrising“, a cool book musical commission that will be announced very soon, and a period piece set roughly in the depression era with playwright Matt Murray!

To hear songs by Kevin Wong, and Colleen & Akiva
as performed at their “Breaking Into Song Concert” on March 9th, click here

For more information on Canadian Music Theatre Project,
visit their website here.

For more information and music from Colleen Dauncey & Akiva Romer-Segal,
visit their website at colleenandakiva.com

For more information and music from Kevin Wong,
visit his website at kevinwongmusic.com

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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 180 contemporary musical theatre writers and 550+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.

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