Junk, Plants and Radios: Sheridan’s 2019 Festival of New Musicals

Junk, Plants and Radios: Sheridan’s 2019 Festival of New Musicals
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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What does a Nottingham house full of garbage, two Amish girls growing marijuana, and a radio show by an Arizona teenager all have in common? Why, the Canadian Music Theatre Project 2019, of course.

The three new productions featured in this year’s festival include Hoarding: A Musical, Grow and Pump Up the Volume. These three premises create the trio of new, workshopped musicals being showcased at Sheridan College and downtown Toronto this week.

Each fall, the festival features three or four staged performances each year at Sheridan’s Oakville Campus. This year features 45-minute excerpts of each that are performed for audiences as dramatic readings with musical accompaniment.

Michael Rubinoff, producer and artistic director of Theatre Sheridan, chooses the titles that are produced each fall. When welcoming and introducing the audience at Wednesday night’s first public performance, Rubinoff said “Tonight is where you get to see work on their next step to the professional stage.”

Several works from past festivals have done exactly that. The most famous new musical, of course, is the now famous Come From Away, which premiered at this same event in 2012 and 2013.

Productions may continue from this festival to production in the next year’s Theatre Sheridan season and/or continue to professional workshops or productions around the world, including the Australia, China, the USA and the UK.

So what were this year’s productions like? Below is a short recap of the ranging success from each presentation. Audiences hopeful to see the new works may see them in Oakville tonight (October 10th) or in Toronto tomorrow (the 11th.)

It should be noted, the standout part of each show was the near-perfect work of the endlessly talented fourth-year students in Sheridan’s Bachelor of Music Theatre program. While their names weren’t matched to the characters they played in the programs, the entire company was extraordinary to see.

Photo: Canadian Music Theatre Project

Hoarding: A Musical
Music and Lyrics by Rob Green and Nic Harvey. Book by Esther Coles.
Directed by Adam Lenson.

Developed in part by UK’s Sheep Soup Productions, this unorthodox concept sees grandmother Nel “reaching a breaking point with her hoarding problem, as she reluctantly embarks on a mammoth de-cluttering,” according to the program.

Green’s songs are snappy, fun, and very catchy. But having them all be diagetic (having the music literally happening in the story) makes for a weak book. Coles oddly needs several lines of dialogue before each song to explain why the characters are choosing to sing.

The songs, however, are great. Sound is creatively and dramatically used to replicate Nel’s illness and overwhelmed mental state with fascinating results. That creative thinking was the highlight of the show, especially in a number called “Use It or Lose It.”

The only other odd parts out were the overuse of her personified trash talking to Nel, which was a funny joke taken too far, and too many stage directions. While some are needed in a staged reading, this is clearly a show to be seen to be fully understood.

Grow
Music by Colleen Dauncey. Lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal. Book by Matt Murray.
Directed by Dennis Garnhum.

Grow actually began as Rumspringa Break! at this same festival in 2016, but after three more years development, is now preparing for a full production. Its world premiere will be at the Grand Theatre in London, ON in April 2020. Based on tonight’s presentation, that will be a premiere worth seeing.

The story follows twin sisters Hannah and Ruth as they embark from their Amish village on a journey to the big city of Toronto. They soon meet a new friend who needs help with his now-legal cannabis dispensary, and soon the lines blur between the world the girls thought they knew.

While this project has had the benefit of three years of refining and workshopping, it was the evening’s highlight. This was the single best showcase of any new musicals I’ve ever seen at the Festival. Every song was dynamite, Murray’s script is truly hilarious, and it plays like a PG-rated, Canadian “Book of Mormon.”

It’s a love letter of religion and culture, and like one character describes the marijuana they grow, “it’s like tarragon, but more festive.” It’s vibrant, exciting, and pops with potential. This will be a must-see musical next year.

Pump Up the Volume
Music by Jeff Thomson. Book and Lyrics by Jeremy Desmon.
Directed by Dave Solomon.

Finally, Pump Up the Volume is based on the 1990 film of the same name. It’s opening number, “Speak to Me,” was the best of the night. The show is about shy 90s teen Mark, who secretly hosts a radio show where he secretly becomes star “Hard Harry.”

There’s a big twist that really starts the plot about 20 minutes that shouldn’t be spoiled, but the show gets considerably more interesting after that. Even still, while ferociously entertaining, never really overcomes its lack of originality.

The beginning is eerily similar to Chelsea Sunrise, another past member of the festival that premiered at Theatre Sheridan back in April this year. Later, it becomes a scene-for-scene mimic of New York favourite Dear Evan Hansen.

Despite its shortfall of breaking new ground, all the parts are great. The character of Mark is the best performance of the night, the stakes only get higher, and the vocal harmonies were a treat to listen to. This show is the likeliest contender for full production in the 2020/2021 season at Theatre Sheridan.

But all three shows create a varied, interesting and wildly fun night of new music theatre. And, though it should go without saying, it’s a great preview of the outstanding ensemble Theatre Sheridan will offer for the rest of the season.

The Canadian Music Theatre Project Festival of New Musicals 2019
Rated 13+. 3hrs. Musical Showcase.
Producing and Artistic Direction by Michael Rubinoff.

Plays Sheridan College’s MacDonald-Heaslip Hall on Thursday October 10th and Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre on Friday October 11th 2019. Tickets available online here.

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