Stage rite: Canadian musicians jump to writing theatrical shows

There are a number of musicals in development with a Canadian musician taking a key role behind the scenes.

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Steven Page, right, works with Antoni Cimolino on music for the Stratford Festival's As You Like It in 2005.Page, formerly of the Barenaked Ladies, is working on his eighth project with the theatre company. (PATTI GOWER / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

Leaping into musical theatre wasn’t the most obvious step for Alan Doyle’s career, but when an offer to write songs for a stage adaptation of The Grand Seduction landed in his lap he was instantly intrigued.

The former Great Big Sea singer was asked to pen lyrics for a musical based on the 2013 Don McKellar film, itself a remake of the French-Canadian hit La Grande SeductionDoyle felt navigating around an already established story based in Newfoundland and Labrador would be entirely new territory.

“What a fun thing to do,” he says of the collaborative songwriting sessions that he likened to performing improvisational theatre.

“Mary comes out. What does she sing? It needs to be something about the groceries.”

Five songs have now been written and Doyle says a workshop version of the play is expected to debut at the Charlottetown Festival, which runs every May to October in Prince Edward Island.

It’s just one of several musicals in development with a Canadian musician taking a key role behind the scenes.

While many singer-songwriters have lent their talents to playhouses in the past — including former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page and Dave Bidini of Rheostatics — there’s a renaissance of theatrical ambitions afoot.

Page is currently developing his eighth project with the Stratford Festival, a musical tentatively called Here’s What It Takes that focuses on the turbulent friendship between two musicians whose career paths diverge.

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