Come From Away paves the way for more Canadian theatre in New York

For nearly as long as Canadians have been performing on stages, they’ve been trying to get to one stage in particular: New York City, the centre of the theatre universe. But the climb has been steep and arduous.

Despite Tony Award, maple leaf moments on Broadway have not always been a walk in Central Park

The musical Come From Away is the latest in a short list of Canadian theatre production to make a splash on Broadway. (Matthew Murphy)

For nearly as long as Canadians have been performing on stages, they've been trying to get to one stage in particular: New York City, theatre's "centre of the universe." 

Tony Award-winning musical Come From Away is the most recent Canadian production to land successfully in the Big Apple and, on its heels, other productions are lining up to capitalize on this maple leaf moment on Broadway.

Albert Schultz, of Soulpepper Theatre, stands in front of his "wall of madness" which charts the schedule for the company's New York festival. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre company is spending $2.5 million to stage a dozen shows off-Broadway in July, sending a pair of 16-metre-long trucks, 75 artists and support staff to New York in a massive undertaking. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a fan.

Soulpepper's founding artistic director Albert Schultz intends to "plant a Canadian flag" in New York and build relationships that will see more Canadian content on and around Broadway.

"The power of this trip is five years from now when we can point to the stories and the work that came out of this investment," he explains. 

However, getting Canadian hits to the Big Apple hasn't always been a walk in Central Park. Here's a look at some prominent Canadian theatre productions that have broken through in New York in the past 30 years.

2017: Come From Away

A musical based on the events of September 11th 2001 where planes from all over the world descended on Gander, has been turned into a musical playing in California. 3:42

Set in Gander, N.L., Come From Away tells the story of stranded airline passengers after 9/11. It was written by Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein and won a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical.

2012: Jesus Christ Superstar

Stratford native Chilina Kennedy broke onto Broadway as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. (David Hou/Stratford Shakespeare Festival)

The Stratford Festival revival of the hit musical about the last days of Jesus ran on Broadway and starred a host of Canadians, including Paul Nolan as Jesus and Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene. 

2006: The Drowsy Chaperone

Actors Bob Martin and Beth Leavel in the Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone. (Joan Marcus/Associated Press)

Former Toronto Fringe Festival musical hit The Drowsy Chaperone found great success on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards. It follows a music theatre fan as his favourite musical comes to life.

2004: King Lear

Another Stratford Festival revival, King Lear made its way to Broadway, but stayed for just 33 performances with Christopher Plummer as lead.

1997: Barrymore

Presenter Susan Sarandon poses Christopher Plummer's Tony Award, after he was named best lead actor in a play for Barrymore in 1997. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Plummer won his second Tony Award for Barrymore, another Broadway triumph that started at the Stratford Festival. The lead in the two-person play became Plummer's signature theatre role in recent years, which he reprised for years following the Broadway performance. 

1998: Ragtime

A scene from the Broadway revival of Ragtime. (Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown/Associated Press)

Ragtime was the brainchild of Canadian theatre producer Garth Drabinsky. The show won four Tony Awards and enjoyed a two-year run. But the lavish production led to his downfall when Drabinsky was convicted of fraud and forgery.

1994: Show Boat

Drabinsky and his company Livent was also behind the revival of Show Boat, which premiered in Toronto before moving to Broadway for hundreds of performances. 

1993: Kiss of the Spider Woman: The Musical

Another Drabinsky production, Kiss of the Spider Woman, was born in Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and debuted in London's West End before moving to Broadway. Despite negative reviews, the show enjoyed a two-year run in New York.

1980: Billy Bishop Goes to War

Billy Bishop Goes to War also aired on CBC television in 2010. (Ben Mark Holzberg/Stada Films/Canadian Press)

Written by Nova Scotian John Gray in collaboration with actor Eric Peterson, Billy Bishop Goes to War tells the story of a Canadian First World War fighter pilot. It ran for two months on Broadway, aired on CBC televison, and continues to be performed on stages across Canada.

About the Author

Stephanie vanKampen


Stephanie vanKampen is a videojournalist with the CBC News Arts & Entertainment Unit in Toronto. Send story ideas to stephanie.vankampen