TORONTO – Veteran Canadian theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky unveiled his newest project December 8: Sousatzka, a mammoth undertaking featuring an ensemble cast of 47 and an accomplished creative team that includes key contributors to Hamilton, The Lion King, and many of Drabinsky’s famous smash hits (Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman). The 67-year-old Drabinsky—who has faced numerous legal and financial issues since 1998, including serving 17 months in an Ontario prison for fraud and forgery—plans to take the new production to Broadway in October 2017 following a limited run beginning in February at Toronto’s renowned Elgin Theatre.
Drabinsky began putting wheels in motion for Sousatzka nearly five years ago, but his plans accelerated more recently as he recognized real-life geopolitical developments were mirroring the themes and plotlines of the new musical.
The musical is based on the novel Madame Sousatzka by Bernice Rubens, but has no connection to the Shirley MacLaine movie of the same name that Drabinsky produced in 1988. The musical tells the tale of a 16-year-old South African musical phenom (Barrow) living in Margaret Thatcher-era London, his piano teacher Madame Sousatzka (Clark), who survived the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II, and his mother, a South African activist (Glover); the production’s plot hearkens back to Soweto under the infamous apartheid regime and to Nazi-occupied Warsaw. The music of the production includes a mixture of contemporary, Eastern European, jazz, South African, and classical styles.
“As intervening world events unfolded, I believe the story has now become a profound fable for our times as it confronts the chilling issues of race, of exile, and of refugees,” Drabinsky said at a Toronto news conference. “At its center, Sousatzka is a story of hope and courage…but in the end, Sousatzka is a story about dreams, of what’s possible and what might yet be. We deal with the dreams of people from different cultures, languages, memories, music and art living side-by-side, without eliminating anyone’s truth or roots.”
Written by three-time Tony Award nominee Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza), composed by the team of Tony Award winner Richard Maltby Jr. (Miss Saigon, Fosse) and Academy Award winner David Shire (Baby, Big), and directed by former Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Adrian Noble, Sousatzka stars Tony Award winner Victoria Clark (Sister Act, Gigi), Tony Award nominee Montego Glover (Memphis, Les Misérables), Tony Award winner Judy Kaye (Nice Work If You Can Get It, Cinderella). It also includes the work of Hamilton’s Tony Award-winning costume and lighting designers, Paul Tazewell and Howell Binkley, as well as music and vocal arrangements from South African composer Lebo M., who worked on the score of the Disney film The Lion King.
Drabinsky staged a six-week workshop for Sousatzka this past summer, and full cast rehearsals kicked off December 14 in Toronto. Preview performances will begin at the Elgin Theatre February 25, and opening night is slated for March 23.