Preview: Longtime musical director examines own life in latest show, Buy Me a Drink, Joe!

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When Forte Musical Theatre Guild presents Buy Me a Drink, Joe!, the drinks might not be on the house, but music and memories most certainly will be.

This is Joe Slabe’s 11th musical and, by far, his most personal.

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“It looks at my life from my Grade 12 year to 2007 when my musical, Austentatious, opened at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. I play a present-day version of me, talking to myself who is at the premiere of Austentatious. A young actor-musician from Toronto named Stephen Ingram plays me. It was essential this actor be an accomplished musician and that’s what we found in Stephen,” says Slabe, who explains he was inspired to write Buy Me a Drink, Joe! after seeing Steven Morton’s solo show Drag Me to the Opera.

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“I loved how honest and personal his show was, but also how musical it was. I knew if I was to tell my story, it would have to be with music because music is such an enormous part of my life. I knew I could write my story because I’ve always been pretty game at recognizing my shortcomings and foibles.”

Still, Slabe admits he had to do a great deal of soul-searching because “the show is all stuff that really happened. I’m a private person so, even people I’ve worked with in theatre, don’t know the path I’ve taken. It helps that I am an introvert who has learned how to act like an extrovert in public.”

The early workshops for the musical made him feel particularly vulnerable.

“I worked with my longtime collaborators, JP Thibodeau, Allison Lynch, Eric Wigston and Daniel Fong. It was never my intention to be in the show, but they were adamant I should be. They kept saying it was weird that it was my story, but I wasn’t a part of it, so I reworked it so I could be.”

Lynch is the only member of the workshops who is in the present production. Both Wigston and Fong were booked for other shows, and Thibodeau was committed to directing Something Rotten and The Music Man. Valerie Pearson, who has collaborated with Slabe numerous times, stepped in as director and she added Ingram and Jason Lemmon.

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There are 17 songs in the show, 14 of which come from previous shows that Slabe has written. The oldest song, Everything is Fine, comes from a 10-minute show called If I Weren’t With You that Slabe wrote for Alberta Theatre Projects in 1997. He would later expand it into a one-act play that premiered at Lunchbox Theatre in 2013. He has written three original songs for this, his 12th play.

“Fortunately, I kept journals for 40 years of my life, so the material for these three important songs was in them. I didn’t have to struggle over those lyrics because they were all in those journals. I just had to weed them out. ”

Slabe says, as personal as this musical may be, it’s also universal.

“It’s about having the courage to follow your true passions. Lots of people can relate to that. I hope the show is moving, and inspiring, but above all, I hope it is funny. I want to hear laughter, lots of laughter each night.”

Slabe’s earlier shows include Crossing Swords, The Urban Jungle Book, Paper Bag Princess, Touch Me, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the irreverent holiday musical Naughty But Night which celebrated its 10th year this past December.

Buy Me a Drink, Joe! runs in cSPACE King Edward at 1721 29th Ave. S.W. from April 23 through May 5 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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