Toronto holds the reputation of being the third-largest English-speaking theatre city in the world, after London and New York. And as with those two theatre giants, it would be a crying shame to visit the city and not sample some of the theatrical treats we have on offer.
In honour of Mother’s Day, I’m going to give you the inside scoop on a few shows that are fun for the whole family.
The Railway Children
The biggest news of the spring is The Railway Children, which began previews just this week. It is based on the novel by E. Nesbit, and tells the story of three children growing up in Edwardian England who are torn from their privileged life in London when their father is falsely imprisoned for espionage. The family moves to a small cottage in Yorkshire just by the railroad tracks, and the children have to adjust to their new circumstances. They quickly fall in love with the trains that pass by their home, particularly an engine they name the ‘Green Dragon’, and they tumble into all sorts of railway adventures.
The Toronto production will be the show’s North American premiere, and it is receiving lavish treatment. It is staged in the Roundhouse Theatre, which was purpose-built for the production and is absolutely state-of-the-art, but also temporary, as it is essentially a large tent.
The Roundhouse Theatre was built over existing railway tracks in Roundhouse Park to accommodate the main feature of the set, which is an actual vintage steam engine. Victoria, as the locomotive is called, was in use on the London and South Western line in the UK from 1893 to 1945 and is now part of the British National Rail Museum. All 50-odd tons of her was shipped by sea, road and rail more than 3,000 miles to appear in this production.
And next weekend, the 14th and 15th of May, the producers of the show are holding a free open house, where the public will be invited to come in and walk on the stage, see Victoria the steam engine up close, take a ride on a miniature steam train, and visit the rest of Roundhouse Park. The open house runs both days from 9:30am to 12:30pm.
Billy Elliot the Musical
Billy Elliot the Musical is playing at the Canon Theatre. Based on the hit movie, with music by Elton John, it is the story of a young boy growing up in a tough mining town who discovers that while he has no talent for boxing, he does have a passion for dance.
This show won ten Tony Awards on Broadway, and has been getting rave reviews from just about everyone since it opened in Toronto. The show is recommended for children ages eight and up, and it’s a great chance for kids to see some exceptionally talented people their own age up on stage.
The Lion King
The Lion King is back in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre for a two-month run. This is another musical based on a movie, a Disney cartoon in this case, but the imaginative staging is just breathtaking. It is totally worth the ticket price to see the way the animals are brought to life with a combination of actors and puppets. Additional songs with African themes lend a little more depth to the story and score. And it is truly a show for all ages. When I saw it, there was a point where I and the seven-year-old sitting beside me had exactly the same expression of wonder on our faces. This show is recommended for ages 5 and up.