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Theatre Calgary’s Beaches the Musical brings exciting new changes for the Calgary theatre community

By Hannah Caparino, May 27 2024—

Theatre Calgary’s 2023-24 season is coming to a close with the global premiere of Beaches the Musical. The upcoming production will be a musical adaptation of Iris Dart’s 1985 novel of the same name. The novel was later adapted into a film in 1988, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. Theatre Calgary’s Artistic Director, Stafford Arima, sat down with the Gauntlet to discuss the process of bringing the production to Calgary, as well as to provide a look at the future of the show in relation to the growth of Calgary’s theatre community. 

“I think one of the universal themes of Beaches is the power of friendship. And one of the awakenings that happened after, or maybe during the pandemic, was how we started to really understand the importance of friends,” said Arima.

Attached to the musical are Broadway actors Jessica Vosk and Kelli Barrett. Vosk is best known for her portrayal of Elphaba in the long-running Broadway show Wicked, and Barrett recently portrayed Mrs. Phagan in the 2023 Broadway revival of Parade. Arima explained the process of bringing both Vosk and Barrett in for the production.

“Prior to coming to Canada, there was a workshop in New York City […] Jessica’s work on that workshop was really wonderful and they felt it was important to bring her to the first production city. There was a different performer in the role of Bertie in New York and she wasn’t able to come […] so Kelli became the person to play the role of Bertie.”

Arima also commented on the future of the musical, highlighting a potential transfer to a larger stage.

“So we have American producers who are attached to the project and their dream and desire is to be able to have a successful run here at Theatre Calgary, and then for the future maybe go to Broadway or to London’s West End.”

The production’s creative team includes Lonny Price and Matt Cowart, who are set to co-direct the show. Iris Dart will serve to write the libretto alongside legendary songwriter, Mike Stoller. New York based music director, Joseph Thalkan, will be the music director for the production. Local Calgary artists are given the opportunity to work with veterans of the industry and develop their craft. Arima also covers how Theatre Calgary is slowly becoming a space to produce shows with Broadway potential.

“I really believe in the power of allowing artists from all across the world to be able to work on our stages, and specifically on the Theatre Calgary stage,” Arima said.“It was a goal of mine to allow Theatre Calgary’s theatre, the Max Bell Theatre, to be a space where new works could come and in the business we would say [like] an ‘out-of-town’ tryout. […] Someone wants to bring a show to Theatre Calgary and it’s something that works within the values of what the season is, then the stage is open.” 

When discussing the musical, Arima emphasized Iris Dart’s involvement to ensure a faithful adaptation.

“Because Iris Dart, who is the writer of the novel, has had some connection to all of these projects, the heart and soul of Beaches will be there,” he said.

Arima highlights a number of reasons for audiences to see the new musical, emphasizing its central themes about female love and friendship.

“I think because it’s a timeless story, that I’m excited for a whole new generation of people, for that group of people who never saw the movie, or never even read the book, to be introduced to a powerful story that is really simple at its core,” said Arima.

Arima reflected on the future of Theatre Calgary, referencing the upcoming 2024-25 season, remaining hopeful for how Theatre Calgary can continue to be a company that includes diverse voices, despite financial setbacks due to the pandemic. 

“I think it’s really important [to] when one curates a season to make sure that there are offerings for all theatre goers. […] Next season we have this incredible new play written by local playwright Sable Sweetgrass, called Awowakii, which translates in Blackfoot to ‘Transgender’. And it’s a fun play about this Indigenous family who lives here in Mohkinstsis and the Blackfoot territory and the trials and tribulations that a family goes through,” he said. 

“It’s really important for us to curate a season that allows the widest range of people to come, and demographically that means from ages 10 to 90. What we’re doing now is with our ‘Theatre For All’ campaign, which is every ticket of the Orchestra for every show is $39, we’re trying to find ways to bring more people back to the theatre [and] rebuild our audience back over the next three to four years so that we can then take more risks later on,” Arima continued.

From the novel to the upcoming production, Arima comments on the timeliness of the piece.

“I think for me we have to be reminded of the power of a very simple word: love. […] Wars, strife, politics, there’s a lot of anger and hatred and carnage that’s happening. And so to me, ‘Why now Beaches?’ is because the world has to be reminded that the power of love is incredibly important and something we must never forget,” he said.

Beaches the Musical will run till Jun. 16. For more information and tickets, visit the Theatre Calgary website.

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