Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wednesday's Webcast Now Online

If you missed the live webcast with General Director Antoni Cimolino yesterday, or you want to see it again, it's now available online at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

All segments will play by default, but you can open each individually from the video playlist.

PART A - Introduction from Antoni Cimolino. (5 minutes)

PART B - Backstage tour. (20 minutes)

You'll see maquettes for Romeo and Juliet (2008), The Taming of the Shrew (2008), Hamlet (2008), and The Music Man (2008) in the scenic arts shop.

Then it's off to the Avon Theatre, where Cabaret (2009) really does look as if it's "been through a war".

Backstage at the Festival Theatre, in the wardrobe department, you'll see sketches for Bruce Dow and Leah Oster, as well as shoes being made for Stephen Ouimette.

Finally, they'll spoil a plot point from Cabaret (2008) in the props shop.

PART C - Antoni Cimolino takes questions from live participants. (11 minutes)

Why do Shakespeare today? What can you tell us about new play development in the fall? (It's expanded, so news will be slow.) Why do musicals in the Avon? Are you really doing Shaw? (Yes, it's part of the repetoire.)

And then it lapses into promotional information about the new $20 ticket program, the Festival Pavilion, and whether or not passports are required for crossing the border on land.

Cimolino also announced that there will be seating available on the Tom Patterson stage for There Reigns Love (2009), a look at Shakespeare through his sonnets developed and performed by Simon Callow.

Just follow the link for your own guided tour behind the scenes of the 2008 season at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Spelling Gets Four Stars

Richard Ouzounian gives The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2008) four stars.

"I must confess I've loved this honey of a show ever since I first saw it on Broadway in 2005. Still, I had my doubts that it would work as well in the Elgin as it did its original, smaller home. But my fears were all unfounded. The touring company on view is a winner and James Lapine's canny staging has been adapted nicely for the larger space.

"Rachel Sheinkin's book is a clever piece of work, making us think we're going to get nothing but jokes, while she's actually laying the groundwork for some considerable pathos.

"And nobody writes the kind of songs you find here as well as William Finn, the Meistersinger of malaise. Finn loves all of these adorable losers and gives them voice in music that has the tang of real feeling and lyrics with the wit of genuine speech turned slightly on its head.

"But all of this wouldn't work as well as it does without the cast, led by our biggest heartbreakers.

"Eric Roediger takes no prisoners as the chubby, nasally congested William Barfee ('pronounced Bar-fait!' he keeps correcting everyone). He spells with his 'magic foot' and keeps the world at bay with his arrogance. Wonderful work.

"And Vanessa Ray captures the essence of every child caught in the crossfire of her parents' wars as the almost painfully gentle Olive Ostrovsky, wanting someone to love her, without realizing she has to love herself first."

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2008) runs until February 10 at the Elgin Theatre as part of the inaugural Dancap season.

Globe Gives Average Grade for Spelling

Critic Paula Citron calls The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2008) "F-L-U-F-F" in her review for the Globe and Mail:

"The show follows the fortunes of six elementary students (and four audience volunteers) in their quest to win the county spelling bee and so become eligible for the national competition in Washington. The three adults are host Rona Lisa Peretti (Roberta Duchak), a real-estate agent and former spelling-bee participant; Douglas Panch (James Kall), the school vice-principal moderator; and Mitch Mahoney (Kevin Smith Kirkwood), a gangsta from the 'hood doing community service. The latter's job is to dispense a hug and a juice box to the losers.

"The trick is to get the audience volunteers [including theatre critic Michael Posner] eliminated on cue with some really difficult words so the show can carry on. These good sports are around long enough to participate in some songs and choreography, which is certainly amusing. Their presence also gives the real actors a chance to improvise with fictional facts about the volunteers' lives.

"The rules allow the spellers to ask for a definition and to hear the word used in a sentence. My favourite part of the show is Mr. Panch reading those sentences, which are bizarre to say the least. 'Put down the phylacteries, Billy, because we're Episcopalian.' Even the romance-obsessed Miss Peretti comes out with a good one that, intoned in a dreamy voice, goes something like, 'I entered the dawn, but it turned out to be crepuscule' (twilight).

"[William] Finn's bouncy songs have serviceable if unmemorable tunes, but his lyrics are quite clever. Unfortunately, not every word was articulated by the cast, which is quite irritating. Dan Knechtges's banal choreography is hindered by Beowulf Boritt's bleacher/table set, the components of which have to be rolled out of the way to make room onstage. Jennifer Caprio's delightful costumes, however, are spot on.

"My problem with [Rachel] Sheinkin's book, despite its obvious entertainment aspects, is that it doesn't know what it wants to be, which makes for a disjointed experience. The slapstick/absurdist humour collides with the more satiric/social-statement side and it's not a good match. Spelling Bee does touch on some serious problems in the youth culture, particularly the treatment of outsiders, pushy and/or indifferent parents, the destructive power of competition and so on. Unfortunately, the Sturm und Drang moments don't ring true amid the general high jinks. Then there are the political and cultural references (with George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton taking the most hits), which seem like random add-ins.

"At best, Spelling Bee is a fun night out performed by an energetic cast, which, after all, isn't such a bad thing."

Paula Citron gives it 3 1/2 stars.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2008) runs until February 10 at the Elgin Theatre as part of the inaugural Dancap season.

Lloyd Webber Rewrites for Canadian Cast

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton are revising The Beautiful Game (2000) with plans to bring it across the pond.

This time around, it will be The Boys in the Photograph (2009) because, as Elton remembers the original 11-month London run, "people thought they were coming to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's soccer musical and it's no more about soccer than My Fair Lady is about flower sellers."

It's about a soccer team in Belfast, Ireland, that is composed of both Protestants and Catholics. Set in 1969, the musical explores how the boys are affected by the severe political and religious tensions around them as they grow up.

"It really doesn't matter what [they're playing]," says Elton, who wrote and directed We Will Rock You (2007), currently at the Canon Theatre.

In a remote interview with Richard Ouzounian, "Elton estimates 15 per cent of the actual material will be changed, but he claims that 'the show will be 50 per cent different in terms of atmosphere and impact.'"

Apparently, "people came thinking it was about soccer and left thinking it was about terrorism and neither of those things were true."

Once revamped, The Boys in the Photograph (2009) will rehearse at the Manitoba Theatre Centre with a "100% Canadian" cast and creative team.

It is expected to open in Winnipeg in April 2009, run through May, and then transfer to the Canon Theatre in Toronto in June.

Storch Will Star Next Season

An update this morning from Michael Posner at the Globe and Mail reports that Artistic Director David Storch, who yesterday resigned his post with the Canadian Stage Company, will be acting in the as-yet-unannounced 2008-2009 season.

Artistic Producer Martin Bragg had previously confirmed that Storch will remain on as the director of Misery (2008), which opens on May 5.

Misery (2008), an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, is perhaps appropriately the last show of the season.

Richard Ouzounian observed that "the usually upbeat Bragg was tense yesterday as he discussed the current climate in the organization. He conceded that Little Shop of Horrors [2008] underperformed at the box office and to make up for it, 'I rebalanced the organization. I made a few nips and tucks.'

"Bragg was unwilling to go into further details, saying that all would be made clear when he announces the 2008-2009 season 'sometime in February,' but he did allow that, 'there are going to be major changes in new play development and other areas.'

"Informed observers are predicting the departure of long-time dramaturge Iris Turcott, as well as other key personnel in the organization.

"The Canadian Stage Company is currently carrying a $1 million deficit on a budget of $10.7 million, with nearly 70 per cent of that having been incurred during the 2005-2006 season."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Storch and "CanStage" Torched

David Storch has resigned as Artistic Director at CanStage.

And it's not CanStage.

It is, once again, the Canadian Stage Company.

In a prepared statement, Storch said that "it has become clear to me that the demands of artistic director of this company are not ones which I feel are in my creative interests to pursue".

Why that required him to quit in the middle of the season (his first in the role) has yet to be determined.

According to CBC News, however, Storch will maintain his responsibilities directing an adaptation of Stephen King's Misery (2008), which is set to open May 5.

He last directed Judith Thompson's Palace of the End (2008) at the Berkeley Street Theatre. One of ten finalists for the $20,000 (U. S.) Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Palace of the End (2008) runs until February 23.

Storch has spent almost twenty seasons acting and directing with the Canadian Stage Company, which Artistic Producer Martin Bragg said will continue to depend on Storch's "considerable skills as an artist" beyond the 2007-2008 season.

That is, if he'll have them.

Panych Plays! Tonight on Bravo!

Playwright Morris Panych will be featured tonight in the documentary Panych Plays! (2008) on Bravo! at 9pm.

According to the Edmonton Journal, the one-hour special will bring "viewers into the real and imagined worlds of the passionate actor and playwright renowned for his biting wit and existential themes" as it follows Panych preparing for two shows:

Vigil (2007) at the Vancouver Playhouse. An original work, it premiered at CanStage's Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto in 2004. That production of the characteristically dark comedy featured Martha Henry (who will be acting in this season at Stratford, as well as directing the Birmingham Conservatory) and Brent Carver (Elizabeth Rex [2000]) as dying aunt and estranged nephew.

Panych Plays! will also document preparations for What Lies Before Us (2007), which premiered at the Berkeley Street Theatre and starred Matthew MacFadzean (The Glass Menagerie [2006]), CanStage regular David Storch, and Wayne Sujo (The Adventures of Pericles [2003]) stranded in the wilderness, starving and discussing the meaning of life.

Runs for both shows have since ended, but Panych (above, in a picture from his website) has two adaptations opening this theatre season.

The Amorous Adventures of Anatol (2008), from text by Arthur Schnitzler, opens February 16 at the Vancouver Playhouse. It will feature Mike Shara, David Marr, and Jennifer Lines as all seven women. Background and preliminary creative designs are online in Panych's Workbook (a space shared with Ken MacDonald).

Moby Dick (2008), from the novel by Herman Melville, begins previews July 22 at the Studio Theatre in Stratford with David Ferry as Captain Ahab. Ideas and images for this, too, are available in the Workbook.

Panych will also be directing the Hugh Wheeler (book) and Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) musical A Little Night Music (2008) for the Shaw Festival. Previews begin June 1 at the Court House Theatre. Find images, sketches, and ideas in the Workbook.

Live Webcast at 4:30 ET

Just a reminder of the live webcast this afternoon at 4:30pm. Stratford Shakespeare Festival General Director Antoni Cimolino will be leading a tour of the backstage area and answering questions.

To participate, follow the links on the Festival website.

For more details, defer to this post.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

San Francisco Expecting Stratford Alumni

Principle casting for the Canadian premiere of Ha'Penny Bridge (2008), announced yesterday, includes beloved Stratford alumni Kyle Blair (known to musical audiences as Will Parker, Noah Claypole, and Ambrose Kember); Keith Dinicol (who has, in 24 seasons, been in more than 60 productions); Susan Henley (just three seasons), and Mary Ann McDonald (last in The Sound of Music [2002]).

Musical director and choreographer Donna Feore, whose Stratford credits include Oliver! (2006) and Oklahoma! (2007), will be heading up this touring production.

Ha'Penny Bridge is the tale of "a love torn apart in a country divided". Molly Cassidy (Broadway's Anika Larsen) and the "handsome and quick-witted" George Aitkin (Kyle Blair, pictured above in guess what?) meet in 1922 Dublin, in the midst of the civil war. And he a Londoner. What chance has their love of surviving?

An Irish musical, Ha'Penny Bridge (2008) is characterised as "Broadway bound" by Playbill, though neither a tentative date or theatre has been issued - even tentatively.

Ha'Penny Bridge (2008) will run in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre May 16 to June 29, 2008, before moving to San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre on July 6, 2008.

CanStage Plays on the International Stage

Judith Thompson's topical Palace of the End (2008), which reveals in three monologues three perspectives on the War in Iraq, has been nominated for the $20,000 (U. S.) Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

Blackburn, an actress and playwright, died in 1977. Thirty-one years later (thirty since the Prize was installed), the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is still bringing recognition to female playwrights in English language theatre.

This year plays by the ten finalists, who represent five countries, were selected from a total of 92 submissions. Sarah Ruhl, a 2004 Blackburn Prize winner, was one of the jurors.

Also nominated for a prestigious Pulitzer Prize, The Clean House (2008) is up next at CanStage. Seana McKenna (last at MTC/Mirvish with a revival of the Stratford Festival production of Orpheus Descending [2005; 2006, tour]) and Fiona Reid (A Delicate Balance [2007]) will star.

The Clean House (2008) begins previews February 11 at the Bluma Appel Theatre before opening on February 14.

Palace of the End (2008) ends its run at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto on February 23. Don't wait for the Prize to be awarded to see it; that doesn't happen until March!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Backstage in Webcast Wednesday

Rehearsals begin today for the 2008 Stratford Shakespeare Festival season.

Enthusiasts are invited backstage into the costume and scene shops during a webcast airing live this Wednesday, January 30.

General Director Antoni Cimolino will lead the tour, which will focus on the first four Shakespearian productions - Hamlet (2008), The Taming of the Shrew (2008), Love's Labours Lost (2008), and All's Well That Ends Well (2008) - as well as both musicals - The Music Man (2008) and Cabaret (2008).

Cimolino will also answer questions from participants.

While you're waiting for the 4:30pm ET webcast, check out the production construction photographs posted earlier this month.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In the News: Graham Abbey

Queen’s University graduate Graham Abbey was snagged for an interview with the Kingston Whig-Standard in light of his recent air time in The Border (2007), which also features fellow former Stratford actor Nazneen Contractor.

But this is about the Kingston connection.

"Abbey, who graduated from Queen's in 1994, plays Det.-Sgt. Gray Jackson, whom the show's bio notes is a 'womanizer, gambler and all-round cowboy, with an athlete's body and an easy, amiable smile.'

"'I'm the Action Jackson character,' chuckles Abbey, referring to the '80s film character who was big on acting macho and fistfights.

"In the most recent episode ['Bodies on the Ground', which you can watch online], Jackson was shot at and nearly blown up by terrorists on the lam in northern Quebec. The week before, he was nearly taken out by some Albanian mobsters while going undercover as a gambler at a casino on a native reserve.

"'My mother asked me if there was going to be a week when I wasn't covered in blood,' he said.

"It may seem a far cry from Stratford, where Abbey spent [ten] years playing almost all the good parts there are for young men. He also played Macbeth, a role normally reserved for older actors. He left after the 200[6] season, looking for new acting mountains to climb, specifically, the world of TV and film. However, he hasn't given up Shakespeare altogether. He is currently rehearsing Othello for a CBC-TV production.

"Abbey is nonplussed about the move to TV.

"'Acting is acting. It all has to do with listening,' he said."

In his last season at Stratford, in Coriolanus (2006), Abbey had time to discuss the change with his co-star Colm Feore, who has found success both on the stage and on the screen. Feore told him that "theatre prepares an actor for film and television".

"'Stratford is such an intimate world. You're acting on a stage with the audience almost 360 degrees around you. The greatest acting on Stratford stages, people like John Hutt and Martha Henry, made it extremely intimate. I'd heard that stage actors have to turn it down for film and TV but I haven't found it a big leap,' he said.

"'Doing Shakespeare is like a three-hour marathon because you don't stop. In TV, it's sprints because you shoot the same scene seven or eight times from different angles.'

"At least he doesn't have as many lines to memorize. Even though he had a major role in the last episode, Abbey probably didn't have much more than a page of dialogue to memorize. You don't talk much when you're dodging bullets.

"'The TV world is so quick,' he said.

"'They make changes so you're getting your lines the morning of the shoot. You have to learn that stuff instantly and on the fly.'

"And there are some things that Stratford couldn't teach him - like guns and explosions.

"'The guns were a little daunting,' he said. 'They are real and loud. Usually, you wear flesh-coloured earplugs but I'm still pretty much a novice at it and when we shot the gunfight scene I forgot to wear mine. I was in pain because I couldn't hear.

"'And in a scene where a car gets blown up, I was only 20 feet (six metres) from the explosion. I was pretty worried about that one.'

"One thing that makes The Border unique is that its characters have all been given detailed back stories.

"Abbey's character, besides being a Young Turk, was also given up for adoption when he was young and has issues with his father.

"'You don't see this a lot in TV,' he said. 'They've given us nice deep stories and backgrounds. Coming from my Shakespeare background, if there weren't deep stories that would be a lot harder for me.'"

That's it for the Stratford connection. Continue reading if you're interested in other claims Kingston has made on the successful show.

Posner in Putnam County Spelling Bee

To get an early look at The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2007, tour), which begins in Toronto on Tuesday, January 29, Michael Posner joined the cast as a not-so-unsuspecting audience member in a recent show in Buffalo, New York.

"At every show," he explains, "the producers include a little audience participation, inviting three or four people to come on stage and join the Bee. My 'selection,' of course, was prearranged, and I was accompanied by three local Buffalo residents, including WKBW news anchorwoman Joanna Pasceri.

"I did not do well.

"How unwell did I do? Out on the second round.

"Ouch. Few demands are made of journalists, except the ability to spell.

"Mind you, you are not supposed to do well. If you make it past the third round, you risk interrupting the flow of the show, so they deliberately give you a word that only a genuine spelling-bee champion could be expected to handle. I knew this going in. I was fully prepared for my public humiliation, if not for the speed with which it was delivered."

Posner, who details his humiliation in an article for the Globe and Mail, was contestant #3 (pictured).

"At the theatre, before the opening curtain, the four of us were briefed by a support crew on what to do. Take the right stairs, stand behind the desk, listen to the other cast members and no funny business — no sophomoric attempts at humour, no monologues from Shakespeare. And always ask for a definition of the word and for it to be used in a sentence: These provide set-ups for jokes.

"We were all called up after the opening number and draped with contestant numbers. Then we took seats in the miniature bleachers.

"My first word was 'jihad.' 'Could you use it in a sentence, please.'

"'Khalid made sure the meat was strictly halal at the welcome-new-members jihad barbecue.'

"No problem.

"Jihad: J-i-h-a-d.

"Hey, this is a breeze. I thought.

"Joanna P. got an even easier word — 'cow.' Robert, a retired General Motors car-plant worker, got 'Mexicans.' Only one of us, Mari, a financial secretary, exited on the first round. Joanna's next word was fandango, which she spelled correctly.

"But the one they threw at me threw me: 'kinnikinnick.'

"Yes, my thoughts exactly . . .

"Definition: A preparation made from dried leaves, bark and sometimes tobacco, and smoked especially by certain native-American peoples.

"I gave it a try.

"'I don't know what you spelled,' said vice-principal Douglas Panch (James Kall), 'but that isn't correct.'

"'Goodbye, goodbye,' they serenaded me, while Mitch Mahoney (Kevin Smith Kirkwood), the comfort counsellor, gave me three bear hugs, removed my contestant number and handed me a consolation prize — a juice box (apple).

"I drove home, not exactly jubilant. I went to the dictionary. I looked up kinnikinnick. Otherwise known as bearberry. They couldn't have given me that instead?"

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2007, tour) will run at the Elgin Theatre from January 29 to February 10, in the inaugural season of Dancap Productions. If you're preparing to be a participant, practice your spelling skills on the game featured on the official website.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dancap Takes Over Toronto Theatre

Not yet two shows under his theatrical belt, and Aubrey Dan is already managing the Canon and Panasonic Theatres in Toronto, and Broadway Across America, which tours in 42 U. S. cities and 20 Canadian cities. Both were part of a $61 million acquisition of Live Nation Inc. by Key Brand Entertainment, in which Dan is a primary investor.

Michael Posner provides the details at the Globe and Mail:

"Mr. Dan, 44, is in the first year of marketing a six-show subscription series in Toronto under the umbrella of Dancap Productions. In an interview, he said that through his investment company, Dancap Private Equity, he is taking an equity position 'north of 10 per cent and south of 15 per cent' in Key Brand, an investment company dedicated to development, production and distribution of live theatre. In return, he will manage its Canadian assets, including Broadway Across Canada, the Canon and Panasonic Theatres, and will sit on Key Brand's board of directors."

What does this mean for Mirvish Productions, which holds a lease at the Canon until 2016?

According to Dan's interview with Richard Ouzounian, there won't be a challenge to the contract. (We Will Rock You [2007] is free to continue its run as scheduled through 2010.)

"'I see this as a wonderful opportunity for the two of us to work together,' [Dan said]. 'I have the greatest respect for the Mirvishes and applaud the chance for synergy. We welcome them with open arms.'

"David Mirvish was similarly optimistic in a statement. 'I, too, think of it as business as usual and I look forward to meeting with Aubrey.'

"The acquisitions won't affect Dan's plans for the renamed Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York, where he'll present My Fair Lady [2008] and Jersey Boys [2008] this summer.

"All in all, it was quite a day for Dan, who on Tuesday opens The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee [2008] musical at the Elgin, only his second solo show in Toronto."

"The first was The Drowsy Chaperon[e (2007, tour)] last fall, also at the Elgin.

"'Not bad for a young start-up company,' he laughs."

Not bad at all.

Shaw Festival Slipping

Richard Ouzounian reports online at the Toronto Star:

"For the third time in the five seasons that Jackie Maxwell has been the artistic director of the Shaw Festival, the organization has posted a major deficit.

"At Friday’s annual general meeting, a shortfall of $927,000 was announced for the 2007 season on a budget of just over $25 million.

"Whereas this is nowhere near as disastrous as the $3 million and $2.57 million deficits incurred in 2003 and 2004, it does signal an end to the seeming upturn the organization had enjoyed in 2005, when it ended $52,000 in the black and 2006, where the profit margin reached $714,000.

"Just in terms of sheer dollars and cents, this would mean that Shaw has incurred an overall deficit of $5.73 million over the past five years.

"The board of directors has reduced this figure to $1.9 million, citing their use of a 'rainy day fund' and their own system – unique among Canadian arts groups – of claiming the Festival’s existing assets to help write down the amount of its operating deficit.

"On the positive side, the Shaw Festival Endowment Foundation now manages investments of $16.4 million.

"Treasurer Keith Mosley cited 'a volatile environment for theatre and tourism' as the reason for the 5% decline in box office revenues that led to this year’s deficit.

"However, faced with the identical economic realities, the Stratford Festival’s paid attendance rose 6% during the same period and yielded a $221,000 surplus – its 14th consecutive year of black ink.

"The Shaw Festival begins its next season on April 1st with a preview of the musical Wonderful Town."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

2008 Production Construction Photographs

Scenic art and construction are featured in recent photographs posted on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival website. Not all productions are technically "in the works" yet (not in a way that is accomidating to a photograph, anyway), but photographs are available for those with the earliest preview dates.

-- The Festival Theatre stage is rounded during the fitting for Romeo and Juliet (2008);

-- Cabaret (2008) undergoes the most complete stage fitting, while the escape stairs are built in the scene shop;

-- Nothing but welding and measuring is going on in the Hamlet (2008) scene shop;

-- The Music Man (2008) will get some beautiful buildings once they've dried;

-- And there's more paint drying on the floor for The Taming of the Shrew (2008).


Saturday, January 19, 2008

In the News: Evan Buliung

Evan Buliung is heading back to Stratford after five years (spent, variously, at the Shaw Festival and in Toronto) to take up such classic roles as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew (2008) and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (2008).

In an interview with Richard Ouzounian in the Saturday Star, Buliung says an early goodbye to his deliciously malicious We Will Rock You (2007, Toronto) persona Khashoggi:

"For the past year, he's been delighting audiences (and himself) with his hyper-camp performance as the villainous Khashoggi in We Will Rock You, but before that he endured his stint as Aragorn in what he now calls 'the physical, spiritual and emotional barrage' otherwise known as The Lord of the Rings.

"It's probably a good thing Buliung spent some of his formative childhood years as a military cadet, because without that rigour, he might not have been able to stand the strain of his time in Middle-earth.

"'It became a personal agenda for all of us in the cast to just survive it,'" Buliung tells Ouzounian. "'And when it first ended, I was heartbroken and pretty shattered as a person. Very bleak days. And many of us from the cast were in the same situation. I didn't leave my apartment for days.'"

After being kicked out of the theatre program at George Brown College, Buliung wandered around the local theatre circuit before ending up at Stratford.

"Since he's going back to the Festival this year, he chooses his words carefully when discussing his five seasons there.

"'Stratford is a very big organization. It's easy for a young actor to be a ladder-climber and I didn't want to go that route.’

"For whatever reason, Buliung got a rude awakening in 2002 after playing Edgar opposite Christopher Plummer in King Lear when he was told he would not be going with the production to New York. He was replaced by Brent Carver.

"'It was an incredibly humbling and terrifying experience' is how he describes his departure. But he quickly got back up on his feet and went to his colleague Ben Campbell, who was joining his wife Jackie Maxwell at the Shaw Festival and said, 'Take me with you!'

"For the next three years at Shaw, Buliung honed his craft, moving to a new level of accomplishment in shows like Journey's End and Major Barbara. He loved it at Shaw, but when he heard a new giant musical version of The Lord of the Rings was auditioning in Toronto, he wanted to be a part of it.

"'I was a huge fan of the movies and the video game, but I'd never read the books,' he says, laughing."

The Lord of the Rings: The Musical (2006) also starred Dion Johnstone as Boromir and inaugural Birmingham Conservatory graduate Michael Therriault as Gollum (a role which he maintains today in London, England). Brent Carver, Buliung’s King Lear (2002) replacement, was Gandalf.

"'We spent a month and a half doing the Battle of Helm's Deep,' he remembers with a shudder. 'We wasted a lot of time on technical stuff and didn't spend enough time on the scenes.

"'You can throw as much money and effects as you want at a production, but if the heart of the story isn't there, it just doesn't work.'

"Still smarting from the LOTR experience, Buliung at first refused to audition for We Will Rock You, vowing, 'I don't want to do another big thing.'

"But the power of Queen's music and the Blackadder-ish humour of the book won him over.

"'I went in on the first day of rehearsals,' he says, 'put on the sunglasses and gloves and just went to town.

"'I went very, very large and explored the monster of it.'"

That monster – Khashoggi – will be laid to rest Sunday, January 27, 2008. Adam Brazier, who dabbled in Stratford ten years ago, and who was last in Toronto as the street rat in Ross Petty's Aladdin: The Magical Family Musical (2004), will pick up the reins.

Evan Buliung, however, is off to Stratford for table readings.