Larry's Party, a new musical directed by Robin Phillips and starring Brent Carver, opens Jan. 11 in Toronto, offering audiences that rare thing in musical theatre — fresh, unfamiliar work.
The musical is not a revival, nor is it based on a work that is widely known, making it one of the more talked-about new shows in North America. Part of the reason it's talked about is its Tony Award-winner star, Brent Carver, in the title role, and esteemed director Robin Phillips at the helm. Both men are superstars of the Canadian theatre.
Previews for The Canadian Stage Company's Larry's Party, based on the novel by Carol Shields, who is best known for "The Stone Diaries," began Jan. 8 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.
Internationally-known director-designer Phillips began rehearsals for the new tuner Dec. 4, 2000, with Carver (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Parade) playing the title character, a garden maze-maker who is looking back on his life as he celebrates a birthday. The new Canadian musical is by librettist-lyricist Richard Ouzounian and composer Marek Norman.
Performances continue to Feb. 3 at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. After its Toronto premiere, the tuner moves to Ottawa's National Arts Centre and Winnipeg's Manitoba Theatre Centre. Producers are closely watching the project to see about a commercial future. Larry's Party, drawn from the 1997 novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Shields, is the story of an ordinary man "living an extraordinary existence," according to production notes. "The life of Larry Weller is explored as he struggles through marriage, career and parenthood hoping to somehow get it all right. Emerging from a dreamy adolescence with a floral arts diploma and a passion for garden mazes, Larry stumbles blindly through life in search of the man he believes he should become."
To read the Playbill On-Line feature story about Larry's Party, which includes perspectives from Phillips and Ouzounian, click here.
Robin Phillips recently directed Jessica Lange in the lauded London staging of Long Day's Journey Into Night and Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway (it closed there Jan. 7 after almost four years). He also staged the sensual, atmospheric Canadian and North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love. His has directed at the Stratford Festival (where he was artistic director during two separate periods) and at many regional and opera companies in North America. He directs and designs Larry's Party, overseeing the entire production in collaboration with his design team.
Carver is widely known for his Tony Award-winning performance as Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman in Toronto, London and New York, and he played Leo Frank in Parade on Broadway (earning another Tony nom). For many years, he has been embraced by Canadian audiences at regional houses and the Stratford Festival (in summer 2000 he played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof there).
Also attending Larry's Party: Barbara Barsky as Charlotte/Vivian/Sally, Michelle Fisk as Midge, Susan Gilmour as Dorrie, Jane Johanson as Dot/Erleen/Marcia, Gary Krawford as Stu/Bruce/Garth, Julain Molnar as Beth/Stewardess/Doctor, Mike Nadajewski as Ryan/Arthur/Sam and Jack Wetherall as Hersh/Johnny Questly/Ian.
Carver appeared in the November 1999 reading of the new show. Ouzounian and Norman collaborated on the Stratford Festival's popular 1999 staging of the musical, Dracula. They also wrote the hit musical adaptation of "Emily of New Moon," called Emily, staged in 1999 at the Charlottetown Theatre Festival on Prince Edward Island.
Canadian Stage commissioned the Nov. 15-25, 1999, workshop and reading of Larry's Party. Ouzounian directed. Carver played a 50-year-old designer of garden mazes who looks back on his past 25 years and throws a party for the people in his life.
Ouzounian previously told Playbill On-Line the show's score reflects the musical styles of the decades Larry passes through.
The creative team includes musical director Paul Sportelli, set designer Hisham Ali, costume designer Janice Lindsay, lighting designer Louise Guinand, sound designer John Lott, assistant director Anne Wootten and orchestrator Jim Pirie.
Larry's Party is a co-production with the National Arts Centre (February 14, 2001-March 3, 2001) and The Manitoba Theatre Centre (April 18, 2001-May 12, 2001).
The new musical was commissioned and developed by the CanStage AT&T Canada New Play Development Program and is supported by The Millennium Bureau of Canada, The Writers Development Fund and Alliance Atlantis Communications.
Tickets are $20-$75. The Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, is at 27 Front Street East, Toronto. Call (416) 368-3110 or (416) 872-1111 or visit the website at By www.canstage.com.
— By Kenneth Jones