Commentary on the Citadel Theatre's  unveiling of its 2017/18 season

Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
February 13, 2017

The sigh of relief was audible last week among seasoned Citadel Theatre fans in Edmonton, as, play by play, new artistic director Daryl Cloran unveiled the 2017/18 season.

This kid, the grizzled veterans of Edmonton theatre thought to themselves, is for real.

Until the 2017/18 season announcement, we didn’t know quite what to think of Cloran.

The Citadel board search committee had plenty of time, almost a full year, to find a replacement for past artistic director Bob Baker. Baker had announced his retirement after 17 excellent years at the helm of the theatre. He continues an association with The Citadel as artistic director emeritus.

The board was excited about Cloran, who during six seasons as director of Kamloops’ innovative Western Canada Theatre had built a national reputation for both innovation and audience-building.

But then this kid showed up!  Cloran, according to his Wikipedia biography, is 42 years old, married, with a couple of young kids. But he looks 25, with a gee-whiz attitude, high energy and an amiability that is all Archie bounding down the steps of Riverdale High. 

Of circumstance, a new artistic director is an enigma in his or her first year, presiding over a season assembled and orchestrated by their predecessor.  

Citadel audiences only knew Cloran from  pre-show opening night appearances during the current season, where he was immensely cheerful, boyish and said “awesome” many times.  

But any fear that a lightweight has taken over one of Canada’s most important theatres has been banished by Cloran’s choices for his 2017/18 season, a total of 10 shows that collectively constitute one of the most exciting and interesting Citadel seasons ever. That is s saying a great deal, because past artistic director Baker was a master of season-shaping.

In order:

Shakespeare in Love (Sept. 16 to Oct. 8, 2017):  Who doesn’t remember the fabulous film version of this Shakespeare fantasy, co-written by the legendary Tom Stoppard, and starring Gwyneth Paltrow  at her most beautiful and most innocent?   What a great idea for a play! Why wasn’t it done before?  Plus it will be directed by Cloran, so we can see his directing chops up close and personal.

Ubuntu – The Cape Hope Project – (A season add-on, Oct. 11-22, 2017): Cloran was very much involved in the creation of this stage show as a joint project between Canadian and South African theatre folk. It was successful enough to tour both Canada and South Africa, playing on major stages in this country like the Neptune in Halifax and Tarragon in Toronto. It appears to dig deep, well beyond the superficialities and niceties that often accompany such two-culture endeavours.

Hadestown (Nov. 11 to Dec. 3, 2017):  The late Joe Shoctor, Citadel founder and 36-year executive producer, is cheering from above. It was Broadway Joe’s dream to see a show born or gestated at the Citadel Theatre go on to be a hit in Broadway.

It never quite happened for Joe. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love was brought to the Citadel after it failed on Broadway, to be doctored up by director Robin Phillips in 1991. The show near-bankrupted the Citadel and it never did get back to Broadway. 

Cloran saw the off-Broadway production of Hadestown and it knocked his socks off, a show mixing Greek tragedy into an American folk/New Orleans jazz musical context. Through little more than sheer persistence, Cloran has persuaded Hadestown’s producers to bring the show to The Citadel for its tune-up before hitting Broadway. 

A Christmas Carol (“Special Seasonal Presentation”, Dec. 1 to 23): Every Citadel actor knows this script by heart, running as it has every December since 2000. A Christmas Carol keeps filling our hearts with joy, and filling the Citadel’s coffers as the most popular show ever mounted by the theatre. It will be directed by Bob Baker as always, and will hopefully again star its adapter, Tom Wood, as Scrooge.

The Humans (Jan. 6 to 28, 2018):  A Citadel season would not be complete without an obligatory, well-written, Tony Award-winning Broadway show featuring modern, wealthy, dysfunctional New Yorkers who drink too much and explode at each other around the dining room table in  Upper Manhattan apartments.  Added bonuses to The Humans: There’s a whodunit murder-mystery element, and this show will be overseen by one of Canada’s best directors, Jackie Maxwell.

Empire of the Son (season add-on, Jan. 31 to Feb. 18, 2017):  Sounds a bit Fringe-ish, a one man touring show about a Japanese-Canadian  two-culture, difficult father-son relationship written and performed by CBC personality Tetsuro Shigematsu, who I have never heard of.  The show has had excellent reviews wherever it has played, and ticks off the ethno-Canadian box.  

Mamma Mia (Feb.  17 to March 18, 2018):  Just as the season was getting a tad serious, Mamma Mia comes along as an easy-going, too-much-fun musical where everybody knows all the words and melodies. It has not yet worn out its welcome.  Mamma Mia will be a crowd-pleasing hit and will have to have a few new twists as it’s to be directed by Ashlie Corcoran, another up-and-coming innovative Canadian director.

Children of God (March 3 to March 24, 2018): One is inclined to be skeptical about “relevant” theatre, as so much of it degenerates into social causes masquerading as characters. But Children of God sounds like the real-meal deal, an excellent theatrical story and a musical based on two Indigenous siblings taken away to a residential school. Like Catalyst Theatre’s Jonathan Christenson, multi-talented Corey Payette created the story, wrote the music, lyrics and script and directs.  It has garnered rave reviews wherever it has played.

Undercover (season add-on, April 4-29):  Five years ago, Rebecca Northan has us rolling in the aisles with her improvised production of Blind Date where she picked one unsuspecting soul in the audience each evening to be her co-star and co-create that evening’s date night.  Rebecca is back, and her picked-from-the-audience co-star will be an armchair detective assisting her in solving comedic mysteries.

The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (April 21 – May 13, 2018):  Cloran is going all in for his season finale.  The Silver Arrow is an untested script, written by Edmonton playwright Mieko Ouchi, to which all the resources and actors in the annual Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program have been committed. The show is adding another dimension with Edmonton’s Firefly Aerial Theatre integrated into the show.  Plus Cloran himself is directing, perhaps to ensure all the parts move in harmony. All going well, it should be a night of spectacular fun.

Every single show in Cloran’s first real season as artistic director is intriguing. There’s not a lame duck in the bunch.

The arc intuitively makes sense – there’s eclectic and exciting variation and pacing, moving from the on-stage version of a very fine popular film, to an unusual brand-new but semi-proven musical, to your Tony Award winner, to Mamma Mia!, to what could be a Canadian Indigenous People’s classic. 

There’s nothing overtly classical – Shakespeare in Love, and framing Orpheus and Eurydice in contemporary New Orleans jazz is about as close as that gets – but  we’ve had a slew of “classic” shows in the recent Citadel seasons. There’s no harm taking a break from actual Shakespeare and  American post World War II dramas. 

Interest has been renewed in multi-collaborations with theatres across the country. Other than Mamma Mia and The Silver Arrow, the main-stage shows are all co-productions of some sort – with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Canadian Stage, National Arts Centre and others. You could argue it’s about cost-sharing, or you could argue Cloran is leading the way in creating a pan-Canadian theatrical culture. Probably it’s a bit of both. 

The artistic directors Cloran has invited in – Jackie Maxwell, Ashlie Corcoran, Corey Payette – are vibrant and on the ascent.

The gee-whiz kid has passed his first test as Citadel artistic director with flying colours. 

With whetted appetites and true excitement, the Citadel audience awaits the 2017/18 season.