Toronto Star

Toronto fringe hit to gamble on Vegas


Tamara, that one-of-a-kind participat­ory theatre attraction, a.k.a. “the living movie,” is poised for a startling comeback as a glitzy, sexy Las Vegas spectacle, cheek by jowl with Jersey Boys, The Phantom of the Opera and Blue Man Group.

According to my spies, plans call for a splashy debut next summer in the desert city’s most luxurious hotel complex: in a high-end mall under an Olympic-size pool that links the Venetian Hotel and its new sister property, the Palazzo, where Rat Pack favourite the Sands Hotel once flourished.

But don’t tell anyone. Producer Barrie Wexler is trying to keep it secret for now.

Sources say a group of investors has leased a large space for 15 years and is ready to spend $5 million (U.S.) transformi­ng the space into a perfect venue for the show.

At the creative centre of the venture are the same two Toronto fringe theatre veterans who started the Tamara craze 27 years ago: writer John Krizanc and director Richard Rose.

In December, the two collaborat­ors presided over a six-day dry run of a new script for Vegas (90 minutes instead of three hours) in a warehouse at Toronto Film Studios, a clone for its Vegas space.

Ten Toronto actors were hired for the intense workshop — mostly those who had appeared previously in the play. There was no audience. But Wexler flew to Toronto and kept a close eye on proceeding­s.

“We had scripts in hand, working in a huge studio space, with the division between one room and another just marked by tape on the floor,” says Dan Lett, who reprised his performanc­e as Mario, the chauffeur. “The show moves faster, with no intermissi­on, and there are exciting new elements, including gunplay and sword fights. It is going to be much more visually spectacula­r.”

The Vegas version will also feature colourful magic tricks in the style of Cirque du Soleil, flamboyant costumes and nude scenes. At one point, for instance, the audience can follow Mario when he takes a shower.

Other actors who took part in the Toronto run-through include Richard McMillan, Caroline Cave and Maria Ricossa.

“I don’t have anything to say about it right now,” says Wexler, a former Montrealer who worked with Citytv founder Moses Znaimer on taking Tamara beyond the fringe two decades ago. He eventually bought the rights from Znaimer to produce it in the U.S. “If and when I do have something to say, I’ll let you know.”

But here are clues: he has a Las Vegas cellphone number and his email address includes the phrase “Tamaravega­s.”

Sources say there are constraint­s

and non-disclosure commitment­s binding those involved in the deal. And Wexler faces some obstacles, including getting approvals to turn what was once a golf shop into a theatrical space. “We’re hoping Tamara will have a future life in the United States,” says Krizanc, who has been kept busy in recent years writing TV series and movies, “but I’m not at liberty to discuss details.”

In its Vegas incarnatio­n, Tamara will be very different from Krizanc’s original play, set in an Italian villa in 1927, which began life as the hit of the 1981 Toronto Theatre Festival and went on to long runs in Los Angeles and New York.

Sets and costumes were minimal. What everyone remembers is running around a mansion, choosing which character to follow, and knowing that while watching one scene you were missing other scenes elsewhere in the house.

For the Las Vegas version the locale has been switched to Venice, so gondolas and canals will loom large, and the date has been fastforwar­ded from 1927 to 1938. And oh yes — this being Vegas, there will be two shows a night.

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 ?? NIR BAREKET PHOTO ?? Tamara Hickey played the title role in the Necessary Angel Theatre’s 2003 production of the groundbrea­king participat­ory play Tamara.
NIR BAREKET PHOTO Tamara Hickey played the title role in the Necessary Angel Theatre’s 2003 production of the groundbrea­king participat­ory play Tamara.

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