When the upcoming Broadway musical Prince of Broadway cancelled plans for a Toronto tryout, it was a blow to the multi-decade tradition of Broadway shows (or Broadway- bound shows that never got there) testing their material on unsuspecting Canadians. Shows like:
1. Camelot (1960) was the inaugural show at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto. It ran 41⁄2 hours and the director had a heart attack, but at least Canadians got to see their own Robert Goulet become a star.
2. Hamlet (1964), a revival of the Shakespeare chestnut starring Richard Burton and directed by John Gielgud, not only opened in Canada, but Burton and Elizabeth Taylor got married there in between performances.
3. Baker Street (1965), a singing and dancing version of Sherlock Holmes, also played the O’Keefe, and had a score by Canadian songwriters. Unfortunately, their fellow Canadians were lukewarm enough that American songwriters were called in before it went to New York.
4. Home Again (1978) is a musical about a Midwestern family from the ’30s through the Watergate era, written by New York Times columnist Russell Baker. It closed in Toronto without ever reaching Broadway, and Baker was exiled to hosting Masterpiece Theatre.
5. Charlie and Algernon (1980), with a pre-Phantom of the Opera Michael Crawford, played its tryout engagement at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. On Broadway, the score got a Tony nomination, but audiences just didn’t want to see Crawford singing to a lab mouse.
6. Treasure Island (1986) opened and closed in Edmonton despite a score by the legendary Jule Styne (Funny Girl). The producer and book writer both became sick and died shortly before the opening. Are Canadian openings hazardous to your health?
7. Ragtime (1998) was produced by Garth Drabinsky, so of course it came to Canada first. And also because it was produced by Garth Drabinsky, it lost money and helped land the producer in jail.
8. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2011), had already been a hit in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K., but this campy rock musical played a pre-Broadway engagement in Toronto, where the producers learned that North Americans wanted to hear more Madonna music.
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