Theatre Northwest is going to cash in big, this next season. Scratch that, they are going to Cash in big, with that capital C and a Johnny to go with it.
The centrepiece of this coming TNW season of professional plays is Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Story.
Coming into this past season, the record holder for TNW's box office was The Buddy Holly Story, but that was surpassed by the wildly successful Million Dollar Quartet that told the story of a real life studio meeting one night by Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, the man in black who also has a play all his own.
"Do you know how many people came up to me after Million Dollar Quartet and asked me if the actors were playing their own instruments for real?" said Jack Grinhaus, TNW's artistic director.
"Yes, and wasn't it amazing? That was so much fun to experience, including for me, so when I discovered that we could get the rights to Ring of Fire I knew our audience was in for a big treat. This is going to be five actors, all of them playing their instruments live, and more than 30 songs. It's going to be fantastic."
Ring of Fire will amp TNW up in the leadup to next Christmas, but it is a biting comedy that will lead things off when the 2019-20 season gets underway in fall. Grinhaus has programmed a horror comedy to get things started.
Dracula: The Bloody Truth felled audiences in England and Calgary, and now it will wrap its cape around central B.C. for the third time in as many years, TNW will partner with Western Canada Theatre Company in Kamloops to share a play, so both cities will get to feast on Dracula.
"It's a comedy that throws you a couple of chilling characteristics, this is Dracula we're talking about, after all, but there's clownish humour and actors throwing themselves into multiple characters, and a lot of cool action," Grinhaus said. "It gives you the Dracula story in this hilarious revision, and it gives us something to sink our teeth into right at Halloween."
The third play in the four-production set is the full-scale version of a show local audiences already got a taste of in development. Isitwendam (An Understanding) was the brainchild of one of Canada's leading Aboriginal actors. Meegwum Fairbrother is one of the stars of the hit TV series Burden Of Truth, and he was also a regular on the television program Mohawk Girls. He was a regular on Helix and Hemlock Grove as well.
Fairbrother called in Grinhaus to work on a passion project he had in mind, and together they created what is shaping up to be an innovative hit stage production that digs into the personal side of the Canadian residential school atrocities and provides audiences with a virtuoso performance by Fairbrother in this next-level drama experience.
"This is one guy playing eight roles with movies going on all around him," Grinhaus said. "There's one moment where he's supposed to be flying an airplane and it looks just like he's in an airplane. It takes you away. And here we have a prime time TV star who developed his work of art right here in Prince George at our facility. How exciting that we have seen this play in its earlier stages and now we get so see it come home in full force."
Isitwendam (An Understanding) will bridge cultures and the midwinter, running through most of February.
Heroes deliver the heavy stories to a triumphant conclusion. That's when an audience wants to end on a big laugh. Grinhaus went out to the island of mirth to find this coming year's comedic conclusion.
"We are going to enjoy a good ol' Irish comedy," he said. Stones In His Pocket is a worldwide hit (it won an Olivier Award and nominations for three Tony Awards) written by Marie Jones who also penned TNW's Fly Me To The Moon a few years ago.
It's such a respected work that TNW got famed Persephone Theatre Company in Saskatoon to partner with them on this production.
"It's got two actors playing 15 parts, it's designed to move at quite a pace," Grinhaus said. "It's about extras in a small Irish town working on a Hollywood movie that's come to film there. It's about that whole small-town-meets-big-city mentality. It'll take your breath away just with astonishment at what two really good actors can do, and the laughter. There's a lot of heart in this one, and it gives us a good look at what fame and celebrity and fortune really mean. You'll see acting at its best in a way that Netflix just can't give you."
That's the theme of the entire season. Grinhaus is bringing together four plays that will convey to the Prince George audience the true muscle and beauty of live theatre. All of them will demonstrate performance qualities that movies cannot replicate.
The four plays can be seen more cost effectively and with benefits like specifying dates and seat preference if a season's pass is purchased. This package deal is available now on the TNW website even though their current play, Meet My Sister, still has some days in its run.
It has been reported that Grinhaus has left his position at TNW due to a family matter that requires his attention in Toronto. This is true, but he said he would be closely connected to these plays at the theatre company throughout the 2019-20 season so the audience gets the best live drama experience possible. He thinks he has programmed the plays to do it.