Broadway pros to give Fredericton theatre lovers Sweet Dreams
Workshopped show to get debut later this month
Since this article was first published, the Playhouse added a third performance of Sweet Dreams, for Friday, Oct. 23, at 2 p.m., because the other two shows sold out.
What do you get when a team of Broadway professionals and local talent get together with a pop icon to reimagine a Shakespeare classic?
The answer is still a work in progress, but it's coming to the stage of the Fredericton Playhouse next week.
"Everybody's excited," said Tony LePage.
LePage is a Broadway performer from Fredericton. He was most recently a member of the cast of Come From Away and is the co-writer of Sweet Dreams.
Two "socially distanced workshop performances" of Sweet Dreams, a musical, are planned for Oct. 22 and 23, at the end of a two-week artistic residency.
"It'll be polished," said Courtney Hammond, LePage's partner. Hammond is also an actor and Broadway casting director who is producing the new show and performing in it.
"The goal is to show the community of Fredericton how a musical is made."
The bard's dream remixed
Sweet Dreams is described as a modern retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
It is being co-written by another Broadway performer, Justin Matthew Sargent, who was in Rock of Ages with LePage.
It features the songs of Air Supply, a duo that had worldwide hits in the early 1980s.
"They've been heavily involved since Day 1," said LePage, who has been working on this project for about seven years.
Graham Russell, Air Supply's singer-songwriter and guitarist, has been "instrumental," LePage said, "quite literally."
Russell has given the show the rights to use the band's music, including hits such as Every Woman in the World, Even the Nights are Better and All Out Of Love.
Russell has written two new songs for the show.
"It's been a lot of fun to write alongside them," said LePage.
Russell and Sargent wanted to come for the performance, but border restrictions prevented it, he said.
Executive director Tim Yerxa said the project is exactly what the Fredericton Playhouse had in mind when it created a residency program to support artists during the pandemic.
"It's such an amazing story," said Yerxa. "To be honest, we didn't think we'd get a project of this scope and scale."
Yerxa said "it was a no-brainer" when he saw who was involved and what they wanted to do.
"To see them here and performing and working alongside young emerging talent is amazing," he said.
That team also includes musical supervisor Jonathan Ivie, producer Tania Breen, director Ben Smith and musical director Michael Doherty.
Another New Brunswick Broadway actor, Justin Collette, is also involved in the project. So is Alisa Palmer, another Fredericton native, and a nationally renowned director of musical theatre.
"The arts have been shut down for so long," said Hammond. "I think everyone's excited to do something."
Escape from New York
Yerxa said it is serendipity that LePage and Hammond ended up in Fredericton. They fled pandemic hot zones, first in New York and then in Hammond's home state of Florida.
"It's been a wild ride," said LePage.
He and Hammond left New York on March 12, when theatre crowds were dwindling, COVID-19 cases were starting to rise and word came that Broadway was shutting down.
"We kind of looked at each other and said, 'Well, I guess we should get out of here," said Hammond.
They spent three months in her hometown of Orlando before heading to Fredericton.
"As soon as they opened the border for citizens to reunite with family we drove here," she said.
They camped along the way and arrived in June.
The pair say despite the challenges of having to collaborate with others at a distance and in many cases online, working on the project in Fredericton has been easier than in New York in some ways.
They don't have to worry about expensive rent on studio space and many people have been offering their help in a variety of ways.
"It's been an amazing reminder how supportive this community is of the arts," said LePage, "and how much I love it here."
With so many arts venues forced to shut down during the pandemic, Yerxa said he's glad the Fredericton Playhouse can provide a professional creative space and open to the public for a performance, even though seating capacity is reduced to 246.
"People who love to perform and work in the performing arts need to do it," he said. "It's part of who they are. It's like eating for them."
He expects the Fredericton Playhouse will get something out of it in the long run when Sweet Dreams "makes it big."
"Lo and behold, when this show makes it on Broadway or some national tour or regional theatre somewhere in North America, buried in the credits will be the fact that Sweet Dreams was workshopped at the Fredericton Playhouse in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 2020. So that's kinda cool."
With files from Information Morning Fredericton