No Such Nonsense

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Very Rough Week for Canadian Theatre

On Monday, hundreds of mourners filled a church in Stratford to bid farewell to William Hutt. Who's that, you might ask? Well, you might ask, but only if you had never been to Stratford.

Hutt was one of Canada's finest stage actors, and arguably the actor most closely associated with Canada's Stratford Festival in the minds of its audiences. His King Lear was considered definitive - in fact, in a recent review of the Royal Shakespeare's Company's new production of Lear, Toronto Star critic Richard Ouzounian wonders how the star could measure up to his memories of Paul Scofield and William Hutt. The new Lear in question was Sir Ian McKellen.

On Wednesday, Canada's theatre community took another dramatic hit - the loss of impresario 'Honest' Ed Mirivish. Many of the stories written about Honest Ed since his death have focused on his retail empire, his very practical philanthropy (free Turkeys!) and his larger than life persona. He was a lovable icon, for all of those reasons. But he was also one of the most important figures in Canadian theatre - and likely the single most significant force in Toronto theatre.

In 1962, Ed bought a crumbling wreck of a theatre on King Street West with the goal of returning it to its former glory. He restored the Royal Alex and took to filling it with touring productions of Broadway shows. He brought shows to Toronto - Les Miz, Crazy for You, Miss Saigon - that helped build Toronto's reputation as a theatre city - and one of the most important stage centres in North America. For a time, he ran a series of restaurants along the King Street theatre strip, until the land became too valuable to continue. His most beloved restaurant - at least with my own parents - was Old Ed's. The menu was simple - roast beef, mashed potatoes and peas was the featured dish. Ed often related that he had sought the advice of a restaurateur friend who told him the secret was to do one thing and do it well. So, roast beef it was. Mirvish built a huge new theatre - the Princess of Wales, and purchased the Pantages - leaving his son David to run the most significant theatre company outside New York.

As that same critic Ouzounian has it: "He gave us a world of commerce where we could buy whatever we needed and he gave us a world of art where we could dream of everything else. But most of all, he gave us himself."

1 Comments:

  • At 10:04 AM, Blogger the2scoops said…

    If it wasn't for Ed Mirvish, the Toronto theatre scene would consist of dinner-theatre in the O'Keefe Centre, likely starring an endless rotation of former cast members of MASH and WKRP (Gary Sanders and William Christopher in "Nuns on the Run!"; David Ogden Steirs and Loni Anderson in "My Fair Lady"). Thank God for Ed Mirvish.

     

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