Though indie theatre is still scrambling to exist, Toronto’s mid-tier theatre scene finally feels well and truly alive again. This April was the first time since early 2020 that there were so many openings that critics had to pick and choose and I’m thrilled to report that I haven’t seen a bad thing all season. In fact, every one of the productions I’m about to describe was enjoyable, enriching, and encouraging to see. If only we could bottle this feeling.


The Seagull  (Soulpepper) *Must See*

We have to start with director Daniel Brooks’ long awaited staging of Chekhov’s The Seagull in a new adaptation by Simon Stephens. A production that was in rehearsals when the pandemic hit, The Seagull is a beautiful and startling monument of an artistic moment gone by, featuring some of Soulpepper’s greatest talent who hasn’t appeared on their stage in years. Hailey Gillis and Paolo Santalucia are in outstanding form as Nina and Konstantin, naive artists tortured from without and within, while Michelle Monteith weaponizes her disarming lilt as a grande dame fighting her age. Brooks artfully brings everyone together with frank, creative staging that thoughtfully balances a harsh critical eye with a grounding fondness for the characters and their big feelings. Stephens’ script is very much an adaptation with large modern diversions from Chekhov’s original that mostly enliven the sometimes dour work in a really necessary way. Though a few scenes are pushed a bit too far (one act two interaction between Irina and Trigorin is particularly jarring), Stephens and Brooks’ fresh, fun touch brings the sadness down harder than ever and turns my least favourite of Chekhov’s full length plays into the unmissable production of the season.


Never the Last (Delinquent Theatre @ Theatre Passe Muraille)

The smallest and most personal story in this group, this new work out of Vancouver is a charming pas de deux set to live violin music. A semi-tragic rom-com highlighted by the splendid chemistry between Christine Quintana and Amitai Marmorstein, Never the Last sports a bright and charming script with a strong female leading voice (by “voice” I mean that Sonia’s perspective is strong and refreshing, though Quintana’s glorious singing voice is also worth a mention). The staging is a little dull and the live violin, though a lovely touch, isn’t up to the expected standard, but Never the Last is nevertheless a sweet, sad, delicate delight.


The Hooves Belonged to the Deer (Tarragon)

Makram Ayache’s splashy new drama directed by the ever-exciting Peter Hinton-Davis is an ambitious blend of hyper-personal strorytelling with biblical iconography. At times the non-linear structure, double casting, and heavy allegory are exhausting but the story is captivating as brought to life by Hinton and designers Anahita Dehbonehie (set/costumes), Whittyn Jason (lighting), and Chris Pereira (sound)’s stirring visuals, and strong performances especially from Ayache and Eric Wigston whose palpable connection is the strongest of cores to anchor the piece (credit is due in part to Corey Tazmania’s brilliant intimacy direction which is both achingly real and beautifully impressionistic). The play’s ending, both its horrifying final plot moment and its Angels in America-esque closing speech, is alienating to the point of undermining its earlier successes but a rethinking of those moments would leave behind an evocative and memorable epic with deep personal impact.


Music of the Night (Sound the Alarm @ Bluma Appel)

This touring concert of Andrew Lloyd Webber hits is a schmaltzy treat for fans of the prolific composer. With numerous selections from Phantom, Evita, and Jesus Christ Superstar as the anchors and a smattering of other standalone hits sprinkled in, the concert aptly communicates the range and consistency of Lloyd Webber’s work, albeit with some laughably tinny “orchestral” arrangements played by an over-worked four-piece band. Only the Starlight Express numbers that open and close the show reveal some weakness in Webber’s canon as the rest of the show unveils hit after hit sung with solid vocals and at times over-the-top showmanship from a strong quartet of vocalists. Insight into Webber’s songbook can certainly be derived from the presence of two wide range tenors of contrasting style rather than a true baritone/bass though both male singers stand out as worthy of properly playing any of their given roles (Tainui Kuru nails both Judas and Jesus while Nathan Keoughan’s “Music of the Night” easily bests Broadway’s would-be final Phantom). Toronto was the final stop on this tour that saw the show play many of Ontario’s most arts-starved towns and, while it was a treat here, it’s hard to imagine it was anything short of a season-defining gift in places where voices of this calibre are rarely heard.


The Gray (Hart House)

Billed as “A Wilde Musical in Concert”, this new work by Anthony Palermo is still in its workshop phase but shows plenty of promise. Palermo’s catchy music blends musical theatre tropes with 70s glam rock to memorable effect and their premise that sees the characters and principal themes of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray transplanted into Toronto’s Gay Village in a moment of extreme violence is a strong concept. The show still has a long way to go dramaturgically- all the dialogue is heavy with explanation and the plot, particularly in act two, is far too murky- but the bones are clearly there though the workshop cast and concert staging far from lives up to what Palermo’s piece asks of them. Scruffy production and weak falsetto aside, leading man Nick Palazzolo is quite the find for a very tricky-to-cast role and his charisma goes a long way towards showcasing the true potential of Palermo’s ambitious project.