Get away from finally reopens at the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto on Wednesday.
This is a long-awaited reason to celebrate: Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Newfoundland-set musical about the power of kindness in difficult times, the most successful Canadian-written show in history, returns to Canada after an astonishing 21-month pandemic break.
Almost the entire cast that was on stage when the show closed on March 13, 2020 are back: Saccha Dennis, Steffi DiDomenicantonio, Barbara Fulton, Lisa Horner, James Kall, Jeff Madden, George Masswohl, Ali Momen, Cory O’Brien, Kristen Peace, Eliza-Jane Scott, Clint Butler, Kate Etienne, Amir Haidar, Lori Nancy Kalamanski, David Silvestri and Cailin Stadnyk.
The one new cast member is Kyle Brown, who, when things shut down, had already been rehearsing to take over from Kevin Vidal as the Brooklynite Bob, who is stranded in Gander on September 11, 2001.
It’s really annoying Get away froms new beginnings risk being overtaken by the Omicron variant, which has renewed uncertainty in Ontario.
The truth is that Toronto has been slower than most parts of the English-speaking world in getting the theater up and running again – in part because of the way the provincial government handled (and abused) the introduction and lifting of restrictions on the performing arts, and partly because of an inherent caution in the character here.
On the contrary Get away from was the first major musical to reopen in Australia way back in January 2021; it is currently playing in Sydney there.
The Canadian musical also reopened on London’s West End in July, on Broadway in New York in September, and the North American tour restarted in Memphis, Tenn., In October and is currently in Fort Myers, Fla.
Audiences in the US, UK and Australia have had many months to a year to get used to being back in cinemas, but mainstream audiences in Canada outside of Quebec are still adapting to the idea at all.
“A theater is one of the safest public places you can be,” says Randy Adams of Junkyard Dog Productions, the New York-based producers behind Get away from. “Everyone must be fully vaccinated to participate, and everyone must be masked throughout the visit.” (Adams is in Toronto for the reopening.)
John Karastamatis of Mirvish Productions also says, “We do not know what the future holds, but our medical advisers tell us that the key to keeping people healthy and safe is to make sure everyone is masked.”
Bars and concessions are not open at Royal Alex, so there is no need to remove your mask, Karastamatis notes – and the show only lasts 100 minutes without a break.
I’m there Wednesday night for the very first performance – which is not for review. I personally feel confident enough in my K95 mask even with Omicron, especially after seeing how well the Mirvish audience complied with the mask mandate at the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar.
But at the same time, it’s hard not to notice that the West End has more trouble containing COVID-19 outbreaks in cast and crew than it has since reopening there last summer.
The Guardian reported today on 10 shows closed for that reason in London, from Lions King to Pi’s Liv (yes, there’s a new hit British show based on Yann Martel’s book) for a brand new musical called Hex at the National Theater.
Broadway does not have that level of problems with the new variant – but there has been a noticeable increase in shows that have had to shut down for short periods lately. Mrs. Doubtfire and Freestyle Love Supreme, for example, both have canceled performances on Tuesday due to groundbreaking COVID-19 cases, according to Deadline.
In terms of safety for cast and crew Get away from, says Karastamatis that the backstage protocols are very strict: There are frequent tests and the only place where it is allowed not to be masked is on stage during the performance. He notes that the protocols in place are the same ones that have enabled television and film to continue working through the pandemic.
My holiday wish is that the theater industry can stay open – and Get away from resumes its record-breaking race.
Toronto’s Ross Petty Productions has not returned for personal performance of its annual holiday pantomime yet – which is not a big surprise as children are still in the process of getting their first vaccines.
However, the company produces a virtual holiday musical for children and families. Alice in Winterland streamed this weekend for only two days, December 18th and 19th.
There’s a choose-it-yourself adventure element to this online presentation that features Stratford Festival / Broadway actor Kimberly Ann-Truong as Alice, Thom Allison as ChesPfizer Cat and has Dan Chameroy again as the fairy godmother-to-all Plumbum.
This newsletter is going to take a break for the holidays – at what point will we have better control over exactly what kind of fresh hell Omicron is and how it will affect all the theater companies hoping to reboot in January.
See you in 2022.