By Madison Blanchard
Mike Ross has a quick line he usually peels off when someone asks him to describe the musical he co-created.
“It’s Brother Where Art Thou, it’s Prairie Home Companion meets The Walking Dead”
Ross is coming back to the Charlottetown Festival after a nine year hiatus with a new musical, Spoon River, that has just come off a highly successful debut in Toronto. Now is the perfect time to return, he said.
“I thought if we had a little bit of success in Toronto with the show and as soon as we did I thought, ‘We gotta get this back home.’”
The goal for years was to get back to Charlottetown, which he is finally completing after co-creating Spoon River with director Albert Schultz. It’s based on a 1915 book of poetry by Edgar Lee Masters of the same name and is meant to be the experience of walking through a graveyeard.
“It’s set in a small town in Illinois,but it could easily be set in Souris or Alberton or Ten Mile House.”
The play portrays a community where everyone gets their say in the afterlife. Some talk about what they miss about being alive. Others talk about how they were in love with someone and never told them. Still others talk about their cheating spouse who they never told they knew about it.
“You, the audience, are alive, we, the cast , are dead.”
This is the first production of Spoon River outside of Toronto and Ross is keenly aware of that.
“It’s the big test for the show, you know? Can it play in other places.”
Spoon River will play at the Mack next summer, while Anne of Green Gables and Mamma Mia will be playing at the MacKenzie Theatre. The English adaptation of Belle Soeur will play next fall. They are very different from the kind of plays that were being done when Ross was last at the festival.
“This past season, and since Adam (Brazier)’s taken over, the concentration on Canadian work and the executing of the Canadian work on a really high level is the beginning of something special.”
When he was here they were still doing good shows, but there wasn’t as much emphasis on Canadian content, Ross said. Though Mamma Mia is not a Canadian production, it will be staged by Canadian directors and artists.
Anne of Green Gables is a festival mainstay, but the announcement of the other play taking the mainstage this summer, Mamma Mia was accompanied by a video of Confederation Centre staff lipsyncing to the title track, Mamma Mia.
Artistic director Adam Brazier appeared at the unveiling in a flashing 70’s style suit drawing on his own experience first acting in the musical in 2000.
“ What I experienced doing that show was the most infectious and fun times that a human being can have in the theatre.”
Mamma Mia is a musical based on the music of ABBA. It tells the story of a girl inviting her three possible fathers to her wedding and the chaos that ensues between her, them and her mother.
“This show turned into the best party anyone can go to anywhere,”said Brazier.
Tickets for the Charlottetown Festival go on sale Oct. 19.