Curtains up on musical theatre at Shenkman

Laura
Laura Cummings
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The Shenkman Arts Centre’s first-ever musical theatre production is shaping up to be a blast from the past, as the east-end facility gets set to host a production that brings audiences back to the music and moments of wartime.

Curtains up on musical theatre at Shenkman

’Til We Meet Again – being staged by Theatre Panache, a non-profit company based in Hudson, Que., for a seven-night run from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3 – is the story of “love and human decency” against the backdrop of World War II, explains executive producer Rick Fitzgerald, explored via the format of an old-time CBC radio show. “It’s love on many different levels,” he says of the show’s main narrative, which follows a bevy of characters as they deal with the impacts and influences of wartime. “It’s about the decency of human beings in the face of conflict. It’s a warm and entertaining endeavour.”

Another major theme of ’Til We Meet Again is hope, Fitzgerald continues, expounded through the production’s musical numbers and even its title. “It was a very challenging period on a world stage,” he explains. “It’s hopeful for positive things in the future.”

The production also explores the idea of connections and connectedness “in many different ways,” Fitzgerald suggests, including those across the homefront via radio, and between soldiers on the front lines and their families back in Canada.

Using an old-time radio format, ’Til We Meet Again’s structure and set-up is “a replica of the kind of show that was heard on the CBC at that time,” he explains, broadcast live every Saturday night from a Montreal hotel. “It was the entertainment of the time,” Fitzgerald recounts, and allows for a range of emotions and storylines to come into play through a unique lens. “If people leave the theatre and have laughed and sung along and shed a tear … then we’ve probably done our job.”

Background for the show was carefully researched by its playwright, David Langlois, he continues, including interviews with some 60 WWII veterans. “The personal stories are used as a frame,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s a human story at the end of the day.”

Initially brought to the stage in 2002, ’Til We Meet Again was first workshopped on a much smaller scale, Fitzgerald explains, eventually building up storylines and other aspects of the production. Wanting to bring the show to bigger audiences in bigger theatres, this version will complete a 36-performance run across Ontario and Quebec throughout the fall, he adds.

Shenkman is “a fantastic spot,” suggests Fitzgerald suggests, who’s already visited the facility once. “I was going, ‘Oh my gosh, this is how theatres should be built.’”

The opening curtain on ’Til We Meet Again will be a particularly special occasion for the east-end facility, he continues, as the first time a running performance will be staged within its walls. “It’s a great venue for the show,” Fitzgerald adds. “It’ll draw a lot of interest and attention towards (it).”

And though it’s a production that embraces nostalgia for a long-gone era, ’Til We Meet Again is also a show that touches the hearts of both young and old, he says, whether audience members relive their own memories connected to the war or feel kinship with the young characters onstage. “They’re all enthralled,” Fitzgerald describes of watching previous productions of the show and audience reaction. “People start to see the storylines (as parallels). The past becomes real again ... it brings history live. It’s a show for all ages.” For more information, please visit www.tilwemeetagain.ca or www.shenkmanarts.ca

Organizations: CBC, Theatre Panache, Montreal hotel

Geographic location: Hudson, Canada, Ontario Quebec

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