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The List: 10 things Les Misérables star Colm Wilkinson can’t live without

Everyone’s favourite Jean Valjean stars (as the Bishop this time) in the new Les Misérables movie, and is currently touring a solo show. Here, the 10 things he can’t live without

The List: Jean Valjean The List: Jean Valjean

1 | My awards
I’m really chuffed to have two Doras—one for Phantom and one for Les Miz. And I love the award statue. It’s so beautifully done. Maybe I should keep them out and use them as doorstops. That’s what Gambon does with
his awards.

2 | My guitar repair kit
My son Aaron, who’s a talented singer-songwriter, gave it to me to use when I’m on the road. It’s great for making quick
adjustments onstage.The List: Jean Valjean

3 | My notepad
Jessica Tandy came to see Les Miz a few times, and I got to know her quite well. She gave me a beautiful leather notebook as a gift.

4 | My favourite guitar
When I was leaving the Broadway run of Les Miz in ’87, this was one of the gifts the cast gave me. It’s an Ovation Special Series, which is quite expensive. I was so taken by it. Contrary to popular belief, most actors aren’t paid a lot.

5 | My candlesticks
The List: Jean ValjeanI bought these in Waterford, Ireland, because I thought the twisted wood was just beautiful, but candlesticks also have symbolic meaning for me. In Les Misérables, the Bishop hands candlesticks to Valjean as a sign of faith, and Valjean keeps them with him the whole time. Playing the Bishop now in the movie, I feel like I’m handing the baton to Hugh Jackman, who’s playing Valjean.

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Jeff Calhoun’s production of Jekyll and Hyde to stop in Toronto

Tony-nominated triple-threat director, choreographer and producer Jeff Calhoun has put his talents to work on a new production of the Jekyll and Hyde musical, which is set to hit Toronto as part of a pre-Broadway tour between November 14 and 18 at the Mirvish Theatre. Canadian R&B singer Deborah Cox (remember “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here”? Or this 1999 Roots commercial?) will play the role of Lucy, while former American Idol contestant and Rock of Ages star Constantine Maroulis takes on the dual title role of Jekyll/Hyde. [h/t CBC News]

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The List: 10 things Stratford artistic director Des McAnuff can’t live without

McAnuff’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar hits Broadway this month. Here, a few of his favourite things

Des McAnuff1| My Litespeed racing bike
It’s the same kind of bike Robbie McEwen used to win his first green jersey at the Tour de France. The bike is a work of art, and I’m completely unworthy of it.

Des McAnuff2| My Fender Telecaster
I bought my guitar in the summer of ’86 when I was playing in a rockabilly band in California. Since then, I’ve used it to play with Pete Townshend when we were doing Tommy, and I still sometimes play with the Jersey Boys band.

Des McAnuff3| My scent
It’s very metro of me to admit this, but I’ve always liked cologne. My scent is Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford. I get lots of compliments on it, which is nice, and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to smoking again.

4| Fast cars
I’ve been a fan of Formula 1 since I was 10 years old. I still follow it religiously—I’ve been known to get up at 4 a.m. to watch races in Europe. My hero is Gilles Villeneuve, the fastest man ever to drive a Ferrari. I’m also a fan of his son, Jacques.

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The Argument: Why War Horse’s puppets win by flaunting their artificiality

War HorseSince it was first staged more than four years ago, War Horse has enjoyed the kind of success that’s usually reserved for Disney extravaganzas and jukebox musicals. The show, adapted from a 30-year-old children’s novel by the British author Michael Morpurgo, is about Joey, a spirited, rust-coloured stallion sold to the British cavalry during the First World War, and the valiant quest of his young former owner to retrieve him. After premiering at London’s National Theatre in 2007 and shattering box office records, it quickly moved to the West End and then to Broadway, earning the Tony Award for best play last spring.

On paper, War Horse seems like another formulaic tearjerker—a variation on Black Beauty or Seabiscuit, with some trench warfare thrown in. What sets the show apart is its use of puppets: Joey, like the other horses in the play, is a clunky-looking mechanical contraption made of wooden planks and nylon stretched over a corset-like cane frame. He bears little resemblance to a real animal. The three puppeteers who control him make no effort to conceal their presence. The one in charge of major head movements is not even inside the frame of the horse—he stands next to it in full view of the audience.

But from the moment Joey hobbles onstage as a young foal, stick-legged and unsteady, he’s as alive, and emotionally resonant, as any of his human co-stars.

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Blythe Wilson is leaving Toronto to star in a Broadway production of Mary Poppins

Blythe Wilson will be saying farewell to the Princess of Wales Theatre. Wilson, who portrays Mrs. Banks in the stage production of Mary Poppins in Toronto, has been called to Broadway to take over the same role. Sadly, she’s the only performer from the 12-member cast who has been tapped, and at last Saturday’s opening night party, there were tears (some of joy and, presumably, some of jealousy—it is Broadway, after all) because she’s be leaving on Monday. (Her husband and fellow Mary Poppins castmate Mark Harapiak will stay behind). After cutting her teeth at both the Stratford and Shaw festivals, it’s about time she lived out her dream, and the dream of every actor who has ever struggled to make it big in Toronto. Well, she’s big, and now Broadway has her (at least for the time being).

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Spotlight: Actress Blythe Wilson brings brassiness and a big voice to Mary Poppins at the Princess of Wales Theatre

Blythe Wilson

In a world of instant stars and stunt casting, Blythe Wilson is a throwback to the brassy belters and hoofers of theatre’s golden era. Behind her polished, aristocratic veneer—all long limbs and stately grace—lies a big, show-stopping voice and an astonishing versatility. Wilson has been a stalwart in the Toronto scene for the better part of two decades, lending her substantial stage presence to several of the Broadway bel canto roles. She stole the show (from Colm Feore, no less) as hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Nancy in Stratford’s 2006 production of Oliver! The following season, she brought a rare depth to lovestruck farm girl Laurey Williams—a part not known for its complexity—in Oklahoma! She even vetoed a stand-in dancer for the show’s famous dream ballet, performing it herself.

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Best of Fall #10: Don McKellar and Bob Martin find the funny in depression in their new TV series

Best of Fall #10: Laugh Addicts

The impish comedy men Don McKellar and Bob Martin can’t get enough of the crazy—or of each other. Twitch City, the cult sitcom about an agoraphobic television addict? McKellar starred and shared the writing with Martin. Slings and Arrows, the behind-the-scenes satire about a theatre festival headed by an artistic director perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Martin wrote, McKellar co-starred. The Drowsy Chaperone, the wedding present–turned–Fringe hit–turned–Broadway show about a musical-obsessed shut-in? Martin starred, Martin and McKellar wrote, and they both won Tonys.

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Stratford Shakespeare Festival artistic director Des McAnuff hits broadway in 2012 with Jesus Christ Superstar

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rices Jesus Christ Superstar first hit Broadway in 1971, and now its Stratford incarnation is slated to return to New York’s famous theatre district in 2012, with Des McAnuff, artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, taking his interpretation to the stage once again. The musical follows the life of Jesus Christ upon his entry to Jerusalem, focusing on the drama surrounding his popularity and teachings, his betrayal by Judas, his trial before Pontius Pilate and, ultimately, his crucifixion. While the official cast list hasn’t been announced, McAnuff expects to keep most of the original cast intact, including Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene, Paul Nolan as Jesus, Josh Young as Judas Iscariot, Bruce Dow as King Herod and Brent Carver as Pontius Pilate.

With musical numbers that include “What’s the Buzz,” “Superstar” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” Jesus Christ Superstar is a favourite among Broadway fanatics, and McAnuff recognizes the importance of paying tribute to the history of the production, which was first introduced as an album before being staged on Broadway. McAnuff makes it clear he’s faithful to the original recordings: “We’ve treated it more like an opera than a musical,” he told the Associated Press. McAnuff is no stranger to Broadway himself—he previously directed Tommy in 1993, as well as Jersey Boys in 2005 and Guys and Dolls in 2009—and Jesus Christ Superstar garnered rave reviews when it opened at Stratford in July. The production ends its run in Stratford on November 6, moving first to La Jolla Playhouse in California for tweaking before opening on March 22, 2012 in New York.

Stratford’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ heads to Broadway [Associated Press]

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Best of Fall #9: Kim Cattrall dazzles as the brittle Amanda in Noël Coward’s Private Lives (proving she’s much more than Carrie Bradshaw’s sidekick)

Best of Fall #9: Better Than Sex

For many people, Kim Cattrall’s body of work begins and ends with Samantha Jones, the ageless, tireless publicist who put much of the sex—lewd, shameless, hilarious—in Sex and the City. But Cattrall’s career has been about much more than breathy double entendres and a legendary libido. Born in Liverpool and raised in British Columbia, she was discovered at age 17 by Otto Preminger. In the span between dating Pierre Trudeau in 1981 and co-writing Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm in 2002, Cattrall starred in Porky’s and played a Vulcan in Star Trek VI, a mannequin in Mannequin and Britney Spears’ mom in Crossroads. Often ignored in discussions of this eclectic CV, however, are Cattrall’s accomplishments on the stage. In 1986, she made her Broadway debut opposite Ian McKellen in an adaptation of Chekhov’s Wild Honey, and over the next two decades she appeared in half a dozen major theatrical productions. Earlier this year, in London’s West End, she dazzled as Amanda in Noël Coward’s 1930 classic Private Lives. Coward’s tart, impudent play tells of a divorced couple who reunite and fall in love (and hate) again while on honeymoon with their new spouses. The Telegraph described Cattrall as a “vision to behold…miraculously combining vulnerability with sharp wit.” This month, at the Royal Alex, Cattrall trains that sharp wit on Paul Gross, before the pair takes the production to Broadway in November. Amanda has been played before by many greats—Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith—but Cattrall’s incarnation inevitably recalls her best-loved character. When she says, “To hell with love,” you can almost imagine Carrie Bradshaw in the wings, taking notes.

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The Conversation: Colm Wilkinson and Deborah Hay discuss melodic storytelling at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

The place: Luma at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The people: musical theatre legend Colm Wilkinson and actor-turned-singer Deborah Hay. The subject: melodic storytelling

HIGH NOTES

Torontonians love blockbuster musicals. We flocked to Phantom of the Opera for a decade and sang along to Mamma Mia! for five years, and Colm Wilkinson has made his career on our zeal. The prodigally piped Irishman moved here in 1989 to star in Toronto’s first production of Phantom after spending two years doing Les Misérables in NYC and London. His latest concert, Broadway and Beyond, features a band and two singers accompanying Wilkinson as he sings classics from both shows, along with some of his personal favourites (John Denver, Johnny Cash, John Lennon and of course the Irish anthem “Danny Boy”). Deborah Hay made her name in Shaw Festival productions like The Women and Born Yesterday and is now adding musical theatre to her repertoire, taking on Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. We got them together for seared tuna salads and a little shop talk.

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Kristyn Wong-Tam is pushing an ambitious revitalization plan for Yonge Street—but will it fly at Rob Ford’s city hall?

The Yonge Street strip (Image: John Douglas)

Yonge Street dollar stores, strip clubs and head shops be warned: an ambitious new plan for revamping Toronto’s main drag is looking to erase some of the ramshackle shabbiness on the stretch between Dundas and Gerrard streets, adding wider sidewalks, a narrowed roadway and high-quality retail stores. Spearheaded by local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the plan is set to be fully unveiled Wednesday—in the always exciting form of a report—and is designed to look at ways to improve the troubled stretch following a suspicious fire that ripped through a heritage building at the corner of Yonge and Gould in January. The loss of that building served as a wake-up call to businesses and residents, highlighting the fragile and often overlooked history that exists on Yonge, particularly north of Dundas. But while we welcome any changes to the historic street—and, really, it should be one of downtown Toronto’s finest—we have to wonder: will this kind of thing make it past council with the Rob Ford regime running city hall?

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Today in Toronto: Short Film Festival, Camelot and Camille Claudel

CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival North America’s largest short film fest returns to screen 275 flicks from 33 countries. Italy claims centre stage this year, while satellite programs focus on New Zealand directors and student films from Tel Aviv University and York University. Find out more »

Camelot The musical that opened the O’Keefe Centre with a pre-Broadway launch 51 years ago returns to the area for the summer. Find out more »

Camille Claudel (L’implorante) Indulge in some noon-hour French immersion with Claude Guilmain, the co-founder of the local company Le Théâtre la Tangente. He conceived this work for two dancers and a narrator as an exploration of the intertwined lives of poet Paul Claudel, his sister Camille (a big-time sculptor) and Auguste Rodin (her even more famous lover). Find out more »

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Just-announced Harold Green theatre lineup includes Eugene Levy and Mandy Patinkin

From Fiddler on the Roof to Purim pageants, there’s no denying that performance has a vital role to play in Jewish culture. Since 2006, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company has capitalized on that tradition, allowing Toronto’s Jewish theatre scene to thrive. The group has just announced its fifth season, and it’s a pretty impressive lineup, with boldface names like Hannah Moscovitch, Eugene Levy and Mandy Patinkin.

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American Idiot announces open casting call in Toronto

American Idiot makes promises, promises (Image: Marlon E)

At long last, every Torontonian who can sing and dance will have the opportunity to become an American Idiot in the Broadway hit’s Canadian production. The producers of the New York success story—the New York Times calls it “wonderfully raucous,” whatever that means—will be holding an open call for auditions at Roy Thomson Hall on March 26 at 11 a.m.

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