Crow's Theatre announces its most ambitious lineup yet

The east-end theatre presents a dozen premieres and extensions, plus brief reviews of half a dozen spring shows

Crow's Theatre announces its most ambitious lineup yet
Detail from season brochure cover, courtesy of Crow's

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A new adaptation of a rarely-staged Ibsen play, a Pulitzer Prize-winning musical and world premieres by half a dozen exciting Canadian writers are on the bill for Crow's Theatre's 41st season.

“Our 40th anniversary has left us feeling hugely optimistic about the future of theatre in Toronto," wrote Crow's artistic director Chris Abraham in a press release sent out yesterday.

He's referring, of course, to the company's hugely successful season that included extended hits like Michael Healey's The Master Plan and Dave Malloy's Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, which helped Crow's double its annual audience to over 75,000. (Both productions are returning this season, with partnering producers.)

"Next season is an expression of that optimism, with a slate rich in new work at Streetcar Crowsnest and partnerships that will bring hit shows to larger audiences across the city and beyond," continued Abraham. "The programming is as multifaceted as the city itself, with works that will surprise, delight, and move in equal measure. Next year, our stages will transform into arenas of aspiration and passion, where dreams are forged, convictions are tested, and our shared humanity is celebrated.”

The 2024/25 season kicks off in the fall with the Canadian premiere of UK playwright Duncan Macmillan's new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's Rosmersholm. Set before an election in a country that's polarized (sound familiar?), the play – directed by Abraham – features a cast that includes theatre heavy-hitters Virgilia Griffith, Jonathon Young, Ben Carlson and Diego Matamoros.

Already announced last week was the Canadian premiere of Michael R. Jackson's Pulitzer Prize-winning musical A Strange Loop. A massive show, this co-pro between Crow's, the Musical Stage Company and Soulpepper (directed by Musical Stage's Ray Hogg) is a meta examination of Usher, a large Black gay man who's writing a musical about a large Black gay man. Usher also works at the front-of-house of The Lion King, which in a very meta turn of events will be playing across town when Loop opens in the spring of 2025. Big question: Who's gonna play Usher?!

As announced recently, Great Comet, the meteoric hit musical of this year's season and a co-pro between Crow's and Musical Stage, is going to be remounted at the Royal Alex in July 2025 as part of the Mirvish mainstage season. Casting has yet to be announced, but expect lots of names to be called out when the Dora Award noms come out in a few weeks.


Some of the most thrilling parts of Crow's 2024/25 season are its three commissions.

First up is Michael Ross Albert's The Bidding War, about a 12-hour bidding war for the last affordable house in Toronto. Directed by Crow's associate artistic director Paolo Santalucia, the comedy features an all-star cast that includes Aurora Browne, Sergio Di Zio, Izad Etemadi, Peter Fernandes, Veronica Hortiguela, George Krissa, Amy Matysio, Fiona Reid, Gregory Prest and Steven Sutcliffe.

It's especially gratifying to see Albert, a veteran of several hit Fringe plays (The Huns, Anywhere, Good Old Days), getting the chance to work on a big scale.

"Chris commissioned me to write a comedy that could be 'as big as I wanted,'" he wrote yesterday on Instagram. "After the dreamiest development process a new work could have, I am overjoyed that Crow's Theatre will be producing the world premiere of the biggest, wildest play I've ever written."

The Bidding War is likely to please audiences drawn to recent homegrown, Toronto-set Crow's hits like Fifteen Dogs and The Master Plan. The latter, by the way, is being remounted at Hamilton's Theatre Aquarius this fall. Fingers crossed it returns here afterwards.

Zorana Sadiq, here seen in 2021's MixTape, returns with Comfort Food. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Another exciting commission is Comfort Food, Zorana Sadiq's follow-up to her moving and insightful show MixTape, which played at Crow's in 2021 and has since toured the country. Under Mitchell Cushman's direction, Sadiq plays a popular cooking show host whose life is about to go up in flames. Sounds delicious.

And perhaps the most intriguing/surprising commission is Wights, by Liz Appel, a Toronto-born playwright who's now based in New York. (If that name sounds familiar, her grandmother is arts patron Bluma Appel.) The play, directed by Abraham, is about an English professor's interview to head up a new centre – the "Center for Reparative Thought and Justice" – at Yale. With academic institutions making headlines these days, this sounds like it could be the hot-button-issue play.

Other highlights

Another much-anticipated production is Anusree Roy's Trident Moon. Set in 1947 against the backdrop of India's partition from Pakistan, the social/political thriller takes place in real time and is set in a transport truck in which three Muslim women have been abducted by three Hindu women.

Canadian theatre lovers have been curious about this show since it was nominated for the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2018 after debuting at London, UK's Finborough Theatre. Nina Lee Aquino directs the Canadian premiere by the Toronto-based writer, who recently relocated to L.A.

Toronto theatre audiences have lots of love for playwright Nick Green, writer/actor Jonathan Wilson and comedy duo/ace improvisers Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus. All are part of the Crow's season in their Studio space.

Green (Casey and Diana) brings Dinner with the Duchess, produced by Stratford's Here For Now Theatre and directed by Kelli Fox, to the Studio Theatre next January. The show, which received a fine workshop staging at the Next Stage Festival in 2019, is about an about-to-retire famous violinist who sits for an interview and must own up to some secrets from her past.

Wilson, who performed in that very same space in late 2022 in the remount of the Fringe hit (and eventual Dora nominee) Gay for Pay with Blake & Clay, brings A Public Display of Affection, what promises to be a moving companion piece to his breakthrough Dora-nominated show My Own Private Oshawa, still one of the best-written queer solo shows I've ever seen. Mark McGrinder, whose gripping production of Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is currently on at the Tarragon, directs.

And improv legends/Second City alums Baram and Snieckus, after triumphing with their Script Tease Project last fall, are premiering Big Stuff, a blend of storytelling and improv about "the stuff that gets left behind when we lose someone." Director? None other than Kat Sandler.

Finally, you can expect some dramatic dunk shots in Candrice Jones's Flex, a co-pro between Crow's and Obsidian Theatre Company directed by Obsidian's AD Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu. It's set in a high school in 1997, the first year of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and a bunch of ambitious, athletic young women are looking to make history.

And that's not all. Crow's will soon announce some additional offerings from other producing partners. But in the meantime, you can check out the season and look at various subscriptions here.

Kyle Brown (left) and Jamar Adams-Thompson star in Tyson's Song. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Recent reviews and interviews

We're nearing the end of the 2023/24 season, and as usual there have been a slew of openings. Frankly, I've been spotty with my reviewing, which I blame partly on my freelance assignments (see below), my part-time job, the fact that it was tax season (so many receipts!) and simple laziness/procrastination, which was exacerbated by all those other things.

Here are my reviews of Rose Napoli's Mad Madge (already closed), Peter N. Bailey's Tyson's Song (on until May 19) and Cherubini's Medea (closing May 17), for the Toronto Star.

Karl Ang catches Rose Napoli in Mad Madge. Photo by Dahlia Katz

I also got to interview a few artists involved in some spring shows, like Megan Follows, who returned to the stage for the first time in a decade for Studio 180's Four Minutes Twelve Seconds (closing May 12), Sabryn Rock, who directed bahia watson's shaniqua in abstraction (closed April 29), and Jordi Mand, whose powerful play about medical assistance in dying, In Seven Days – a co-production between London's Grand Theatre and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company – opens at the Greenwin Theatre later this week.

Sir Tim Rice made me laugh a lot during our Zoom interview. Photo courtesy of Jesus Christ Superstar.

I also got to chat with writer and lyricist Tim Rice, whose Jesus Christ Superstar returns in its 50th anniversary production later this week. After talking with Alan Menken earlier this year (Rice's collaborator on Aladdin), this was my second ever interview with a one of the world's rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) winners. Who's next? Bobby Lopez? Rita Moreno? Viola Davis?

bahia watson explores the complexities of Black womanhood in shaniqua in abstraction. Photo by Roya DelSol

In brief

Here are some notes on some recent spring shows (if they're still playing, I'll indicate that):

bahia watson is a captivating, unique performer, and her solo play, shaniqua in abstraction, imaginatively directed by Sabryn Rock, also demonstrates that she's a funny and insightful writer. But the piece could have used a tighter, firmer structure (and more ruthless editing) so its look into the complexities and contradictions of being a Black woman landed with more force and effectiveness.

Christine Quintana's El Terremoto feels like two competing plays: a domestic drama about three very different sisters (yes, the Chekhov reference seems obvious) living in East Vancouver and coping in various ways with the tragic death of their Mexican-born parents two decades earlier, and a magic realist tale about immigrant parents' dreams for their children. The two halves didn't fit together in director Guillermo Verdecchia's production. But there were a couple of warm, lived-in performances and some poignant insights about grief and belonging.

Diego Matamoros's Walt Disney tries to make sense of his life. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Lucas Hnath's A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney left me cold – but that was likely intentional. Hnath's look at a fictional script penned by the beloved godfather of modern entertainment has only a few notes to sound. He's petty, tyrannical, egomaniacal, controlling. Those adjectives could apply to any of our modern leaders – in politics or culture. Director Mitchell Cushman, however, creates a dreamlike, hallucinatory atmosphere with this production that is hard to shake. He's upended our experience so we're literally on the stage of Soulpepper's main theatre space, with the raised playing area slowly revolving before us. The effect of this, and of Diego Matamoros's uncompromising performance as Disney, is hypnotic. Runs to May 12 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane. See info here.

• Sex, lies and videotape (well, cellphone video) all converge in UK writer James Fritz's absorbing, if a little thin, Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. David (Sergio Di Zio) and Di (Megan Follows) are a middle-class couple trying to get them and their unseen son Jack out of Scarborough, even though he's recently become involved in a scandal involving his ex-girlfriend that could blow things up. Fritz has structured the play as a series of two-handers, with Follows's Di the instigator. We're asked to fill in the pieces, even though many seem missing, and a few stretch creduility. The result, tautly directed by Mark McGrinder, is a disturbing yet always watchable play about class, power and privilege, with fine performances by everyone, especially Jadyn Nasato as Jack's wounded ex, Kara. Runs to May 12 at the Tarragon Extraspace, 30 Bridgman. See info here.

Madelaine Hodges (left), Phoebe Hu, Bessie Cheng and Richard Lam try to keep their family business afloat in Woking Phoenix. Photo by Jae Yang

Woking Phoenix, by Silk Bath Collective (Aaron Jan, Bessie Cheng and Gloria Mok) is about a Chinese-Canadian family who run a modest Chinese restaurant in a small, unnamed Ontario town. It was drawn from the artists' lives and extended family stories, and hence the details feel authentic, from the siblings' desire to fit in with their Caucasian fellow students to the single mother's (a beautifully understated Phoebe Hu) display of familial love through serving food. It's a sprawling but quiet work, beautifully directed, choreographed (Hanna Kiel deserves kudos) and performed. I kept waiting for a line about how the restaurant's name – which plays on wok, king, and the mythical bird – sounds an awful lot like a certain Oscar-winning actor's name, but it never came. Perhaps in another incarnation. This show was served up with lots of love.

• A bright, resourceful girl named Meghan (Eponine Lee) learns to come to terms with the death of her beloved grandfather in The Fixing Girl, Kevin Dyer's moving, funny and beautifully detailed look at grief. Meghan, an expert at repairing broken things – something she learned from her Grandpa (Eric Peterson in flashbacks) – believes she can get him back if she fixes a series of things. But some things can't be fixed. Director Stephen Colella's production, which includes props sourced from actual found used objects (Anna Treusch is the set designer), is full of surprises that will delight and enchant both children and adults. And Lee, supported by Zoé Doyle (as Mum) and the great Peterson, holds the stage in a mature and deeply felt performance.

• I'm so glad I caught one of the closing performances of William Finn's Falsettos, the second production by Bowtie Productions. I've seen the show – comprised of two separately composed one-act musicals – a couple of times and, until now, have never been convinced by it. (I missed the 2016 Broadway revival.) Making clever use of the Annex Theatre space, director Meredith Shedden and a likeable cast brought the often disparate elements together with efficiency, humour and heart. Shedden's sharp attention to detail (she also choreographed) and Ethan Rotenberg's lively musical direction made this a winner. These are all talents to watch.

Prodigal returns on PlayME

If you missed Paolo Santalucia's Dora Award-winning Prodigal last year (here's my original review), not to worry. The savage comedy about a black sheep son's return to his royally fucked-up wealthy Toronto family is back in all its entertaining, "Did they really do and say that?" glory as an audio drama on the CBC podcast PlayMe.

While some aspects are lost in translation – Dan Mousseau's physical recreation of his self-destructive Edmund is much missed – other things come into sharper focus. Santalucia is especially good at scenes with two people battling it out – listen to the tense early scene between mother Marilyn (Nancy Palk) and daughter Violet (Hallie Seline), or family head Rowan's (Rick Roberts) devastating speech to Edmund, which somehow feels even more brutal in audio.

And switching the actor who plays an unnamed preacher character at the beginning of each act somehow gives more balance to the piece. It also supplies actor Michael Ayres with more to do (and somehow gives his other character, Levi, more agency and depth).

Co-host/producer Chris Tolley's interview with writer/director Santalucia (who's going to be directing Crow's staging of The Bidding War, see above) reveals some fascinating facts, like the decision to stage the show entirely in the kitchen. And if you wondered what got Edmund to leave his family in the first place, Santalucia discusses his struggles around whether to include it or not.

You can listen to all all of Prodigal at CBC PlayME here. Or download it on your favourite podcast app.