Don’t call it a comeback
Garth Drabinsky readies Sousatzka for the stage
Rehearsals for the large-scale (in every way possible) new musical
Sousatzka are well underway at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre.
It’s a massive undertaking, with nearly as many designers, technicians and producers in the rehearsal space as there are cast members. But the first scene we watch is a small and intimate moment between Tony Award–winners Victoria Clark (who plays the title character) and Judy Kay, which reveals some of Sousatzka’s mysterious past.
Lead actor Jordan Barrow gives us a quick synopsis.
“My character, Themba, and his mother leave South Africa to escape apartheid and journey to London where the great Sousatzka gives music lessons. He’s a musical prodigy, but he also has PTSD from the death and destruction he witnessed: his father’s imprisoned; he had to leave everything behind.
“He can’t see what he might have in common with Madame Sousatzka, but we learn she escaped Warsaw during the Holocaust,” he continues.
“So they develop this bond, especially through music, of empathy, for their shared refugee experiences.”
The production marks veteran theatrical impresario Garth Drabinsky’s first foray back into theatre. Sousatzka is based on an original novel, which was itself turned into a film.
Drabinsky is not a fan.
“It didn’t work. I was involved in it, and it and the book had some of the same issues. [The book] is a rich source of imagery, which is the essence of great lyrics in musical theatre, so that aspect was important. But the powerful triangular relationship [between Themba, his mother and Sousatzka], is, as it was in
Ragtime, the key to the story. “And neither the book nor the movie did much to help you understand the context for these people. Where did Sousatzka come from? You see it all in the show. That’s what we’ve created — that and the prodigy’s back story and that of his mother,” Drabinsky says.
For the principal actors, those deep back stories help contribute to their dreams of originating new, complex roles, which is rare in musical theatre.
Toronto’s Ryan Allen (“born and raised!”) plays Themba’s father, Jabulani. He has had highprofile roles, including that of the General in The Book of Mormon on Broadway.
“That was a terrific experience, and I learned a lot, taking over for the original General, but it’ll be great to be back on a Toronto stage, originating something new,” he says.
“For an actor, this is the dream: to create a role, to have some ownership of it.” Sousatzka begins previews on Feb. 25 at the Elgin Theatre, www.sousatzkamusical.com.
L–R: Performers Fuschia! and Montego Glover at a rehearsal of ‘Sousatzka’