A season to remember: Theatre Calgary offers classics and the hottest play in North America

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Theatre Calgary’s 57th season, which artistic director Stafford Arima is calling a season of classics, will feature legendary works of Tennessee Williams and Noel Coward, as well as a world premiere of a local play, a major hit from Britain, and one of the hottest new plays in North America today.

Coming off an exceptionally popular year for Theatre Calgary, Arima said he had to do two things in programming this upcoming season.

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“Our ‘make theatre accessible for all’ mandate has proven most successful. Not only are we seeing a rebirth of our audience, but we’re bringing so many new people into the theatre. The $39 tickets have made this possible. Inflation is forcing us to raise that price to $44, but we feel this is still affordable for many people,” says Arima.

Theatre Calgary
Theatre Calgary artistic director Stafford Arima. Courtesy, Trudie Lee cal

“It was also important to focus on recognizable titles, famous playwrights and familiar stories. Theatre Calgary has a history of sharing classic works on our stage, and it’s vital to continue doing so. We want people to be excited about making TC their home away from home, and to do that, they have to feel they know what they are in for when they book a ticket. We want them to think, reminisce, but, above all, to feel, to laugh, and be moved.”

TC will open its season in September with the slapstick farce The Play That Goes Wrong, now in its 12th year in London, and 7th year in New York. TC’s former artistic director Dennis Garnhum will direct this play in partnership with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Armia calls this hilarious comedy “a mashup of Monty Python and Sherlock Holmes. It’s Noises Off meets The Mousetrap. It’s farce mixed with a mystery that will have people laughing long after they’ve left the theatre.”

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In October, TC, in association with Arts Commons Presents, will stage Stefano Massini’s epic drama The Lehman Trilogy, which Arima says “is the hottest title in North America these days. There are productions playing, or scheduled, right across Canada. It’s based on the true story of the Lehman family and covers 163 years, from the time three immigrant brothers arrived in America and founded an investment firm, to the collapse of their empire in 2008. What is remarkable about the play is that three actors play a multitude of characters. The play won five Tony Awards in 2022.”

A Christmas Carol, starring Doug McKeag as Scrooge, returns for the holiday season. Arima says this lavish production is a jewel because “it is 100 per cent Calgarian. It was adapted for us by Calgary playwright Geoffrey Simon Brown, features 20 Calgary-based actors, and as many local backstage crewmembers. I have had people stop me in grocery stores to thank us for making A Christmas Carol financially accessible so they could finally take their children and grandchildren. They are so happy to have become part of what is a Calgary holiday tradition.”

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Next January, TC will present Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning drama A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most critically acclaimed plays of the 20th century. Produced in partnership with the Citadel Theatre, it will be directed by Daryl Cloran, who directed both Made in Italy and As You Like It for TC’s current season. Arima says Streetcar “is a great play to introduce new audience members to classic theatre. It has been produced on Broadway four times since its premiere in 1947, and TC staged it in 1984 and 2002. It’s one of the finest dramas ever written.”

Also, a classic, but this time a comedy, is Noel Coward’s 1941 supernatural romance Blithe Spirit, about a man who unintentionally summons the ghost of his first wife, who is determined to wreck his current marriage. Arima says Coward “is a genius of witty humour, and by adding the supernatural element, he made this play timeless.” TC’s 2022 production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was a runaway hit, and Arima is confident Blithe Spirit will have just as much appeal. Nikki Loach is directing a Calgary cast.

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In April, TC will present the world premiere of local Indigenous playwright Sable Sweetgrass’s Awowakii, a contemporary take on drawing-room comedies such as The Importance of Being Earnest. Arima says Awowakii is a project dear to TC’s heart because “the play has been in development since 2021. We have watched it develop, through extensive rewrites, into a hilarious, but heartfelt and heartwarming, comedy of errors. Alanis King, who is directing, wants it to be an immersive experience. She wants the audience to feel they are not just watching the story but are a part of it, so we are letting her stage it in One Yellow Rabbit’s Big Secret Theatre.”

TC’s next season will close with the musical Legally Blonde, which has gone from a hit 2001 movie to a hit 2007 Broadway musical. Arima says “People know and love this musical because of the popularity of the film. The Broadway production was nominated for seven Tony Awards, and, when it opened in London, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for best musical. It will be a fitting close to what I think will be a slam dunk season that combines classic titles with classic stories.”

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