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COVID-19 closes curtain on Mirvish Productions, Stratford Festival

TORONTO — COVID-19 safety concerns are closing the curtain on hotly-touted theatre shows planned by the Stratford Festival and Mirvish Productions.

TORONTO — COVID-19 safety concerns are closing the curtain on hotly-touted theatre shows planned by the Stratford Festival and Mirvish Productions.

Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino says the entire 2020 season is on hold until it is safe to gather in theatres. It was supposed to run April 11 to Nov. 1.

Meanwhile, David Mirvish says his season — which traditionally starts in September — won't launch until January 2021 out of "an abundance of caution."

COVID-19 precautions suspended theatre shows in mid-March, halting audience favourites including Mirvish's "Hamilton" and "Come From Away" and forcing Stratford to scrap its April and May shows.

Cimolino called the cancellation "devastating" for the southern Ontario city, where "thousands of people and hundreds of business owners rely on the festival for their livelihood."

Mirvish says the largely Toronto-based cast and crew of "Come From Away" can be ready to relaunch if public health officials deem it safe, suggesting "they would need very little time to get the show up and going again."

But "Hamilton" is a different story.

"Of the two, 'Come From Away' is a much easier proposition," communications director John Karastamatis explained by email.

"While the sets, props, costumes, lights and sound equipment of 'Hamilton' are also sitting idle at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, its cast is from the United States, where they returned once performances were cancelled here. It is more complicated for them to return, especially as there is an international border for them to cross."

Resumed shows would also depend on "Hamilton"'s touring schedule, which extends through the next two years, he said.

"Hamilton" was scheduled to play 112 shows in Toronto over 14 weeks. It had mounted just 37 of those performances when COVID-19 forced restrictions on large gatherings, with its last show running Fri., March 13.

In Stratford, Cimolino called his festival's decision "a crushing announcement" that was "entirely beyond our control."

"Sadly, we have to come to terms with the fact that, as it relies on large public gatherings, theatre will be one of the last sectors to recover from this pandemic," Cimolino said Monday in a release.

Stratford was set to roll out 15 productions in four theatres, including Colm Feore's "Richard III" as the inaugural show at the new $70-million Tom Patterson Theatre.

Cimolino had hoped to open and dedicate the theatre to the festival's late founder on June 11, which would have been Patterson's 100th birthday.

Other major shows included the first major production of "Chicago" outside of the United Kingdom and New York in more than 30 years; a new musical from Steven Page and Daniel MacIvor; and "Three Tall Women" featuring Martha Henry and Lucy Peacock.

Mirvish's six-show lineup set for January includes the Canadian premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" sequel, "Love Never Dies" and the North American premiere of the musical comedy "& Juliet," which had just received nine Olivier Award nominations including best musical.

Also slated are new productions of "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Oklahoma!," and "Murder on the Orient Express."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2020.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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