New Work in Progress: Onegin

The Musical Stage Company, formerly known as Acting Up Stage Company, is preparing to open a production of the new Canadian musical Onegin, written by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille. We reached out to find out more about the production and The Musical Stage Company as a whole.

A thrilling, contemporary adaptation of Pushkin’s timeless poem and Tchaikovsky’s renowned opera, Onegin features a high-energy musical score to tell a sweeping tale of unrequited love, infatuation and intrigue.  When the young and innocent Tatyana falls in love with the self-obsessed aristocrat Onegin, he firmly rejects her, arousing passionate love letters, noble duels and second chances.

What is The Musical Stage Company’s history with new works, and how does this new production of Onegin fit into your overall commitment to new works development?
On top of our regular season of programming which features contemporary musicals from around the world, we have commissioned nearly a dozen new Canadian musicals in the last five years, and produced six new Canadian musicals at home and abroad. Additionally, we have pioneered programs to support Canadian writers including training programs, commissioning programs and our new Crescendo Series which brings one writer into residence with our organization for three years alongside a commitment to produce one of their new musicals each year of their residency.

Giving Onegin its second production and bringing it to Toronto audiences for the first time helps advance our goal of sharing new Canadian works with local audiences. Our belief that we can subsequently champion Onegin across Canada and beyond through our production (we have already confirmed a tour to Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa in September) reinforces our priority to shepherd new Canadian musicals around the world.

How did Onegin first find its way to The Musical Stage Co?
In 2013 we produced the Toronto premiere of the hilarious Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata by Veda Hille, Amiel Gladstone and Bill Richardson. Subsequently, we took our production on tour across Canada for two years.

Through that experience, we built a valuable relationship with the writers, and when Veda and Ami were developing Onegin, they asked us to be the producers of the work in Toronto. We feel very lucky that our positive relationships with writers keep allowing our midsize company to land the rights to extraordinary works.

What has the development process looked like as you and the writers prepare for the production?
While we do a lot of dramaturgical work with writers and develop musicals from the ground up, Onegin is a situation of producing a new work that was developed elsewhere (at the Arts Club in Vancouver). As the original developers are all still involved, we decided to offer the writers a second production, without stepping on the toes of the core team who have been honing the work for years. As such, other than sharing our notes and thoughts, we have stayed fairly arms-length, knowing that there is a smart group of people who are undertaking a long-term development, and that we can best help by giving them a sandbox to continue to play in.

What do you hope is next for The Musical Stage Company and the Canadian musical theatre scene as a whole?
We recently announced a significant expansion of our organization (including rebranding as The Musical Stage Company) which is going to result in a very robust program over the next three years. In addition to bringing Toronto incredible American musicals (like our upcoming production of Fun Home), our great hope is that we can champion new musicals being created in Canada, and phenomenal writers who may not (yet) be known.

The talent in Canada is extraordinarygreat storytelling is in our DNA (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Alice Munro, etc.) and our musical theatre creators possess tremendous originality. But our market in Canada is small. So I hope that The Musical Stage Companythrough partnerships, co-development, cross-border promotion, etc.can play a role in bringing these fantastic voices to the world. I think Come From Away has done a remarkable job of shining a spotlight on what our musical theatre writers can offer. I hope it results in increased opportunities for the many writers who are creating exceptional works in the Canadian musical theatre scene.

Why should everyone plan a trip to see Onegin and the rest of the work you’re doing in Toronto?
If you (or your audience) love Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Spring Awakening, Hamilton or the other musicals which blend classic stories and contemporary music/theatricality, Onegin is a must-see. Based on the response to the world premiere in Vancouver, it’s an audience favourite and I think that having its development continue with other NAMT members would be hugely beneficial to the future of the piece.

And if not Onegin, I hope NAMT members will find another opportunity to visit Toronto (including the world premiere of another new musical called Life After in September/October). At The Musical Stage Company, we are hungry to partner with theatres from around the world to develop new musicals across borders. I believe that with like-minded partners, bi-national musical theatre development can be artistically rich, financially beneficial and effective at building multiple markets for new musicals.

For more information about The Musical Stage Company visit the their website.

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