Have you ever been excited to start a new project only to realize you might have bitten off more than you can chew?
Thom Allison, the Canadian actor and singer directing You Can’t Stop the Beat, an homage to musical theatre opening under the Festival Theatre canopy in Stratford on Sunday, knows the feeling.
The directing gig, a first for Allison, was a thrilling opportunity until, just for a moment, perhaps, he was staring down more than a century of Broadway history, trying to figure out exactly where his cabaret was going to begin.
“I was like, ‘oh my God, what do I do?’” Allison said Friday, a slight chuckle punctuating his memory. “I kind of had writer’s block for about two months.”
Pages and pages of notes later, the show eventually started to come together. People Will Say We’re in Love, Luck Be A Lady, Don’t Rain On My Parade, one by one Allison began to lock in his choices, organizing them into themes he believes will resonate during a show meant to reintroduce theatre-starved audiences to the time-tested power of musicals.
“Musicals have always been there to add to joy, assuage your sorrow, to blow you up, to make you feel like there’s hope, to connect you with friends,” Allison said. “I hope (the cabaret) is for the audience so satisfying, as if you’ve had a whole evening of music but it’s like you’ve seen all the musicals you love in one 90-minute show.”
You Can’t Stop the Beat is the second cabaret to launch the Stratford Festival’s new season, following Why We Tell The Story, which opened Tuesday.
Allison made his debut in Stratford in 1992 as a young member of a Romeo and Juliet cast that included current Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino. He later enjoyed a four-year stint with the company between 2002 and 2005, and has since branched out into television. Fans of the sci-fi series Killjoys will recognize Allison for his role as Pree, which earned him a Canadian Screen Award last year for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
But Allison is no stranger to cabarets, a format he’s been working with throughout his career. Most recently he associate directed Up Close and Musical, the virtual cabaret series the Stratford Festival produced earlier in the pandemic.
“Cabaret has this wonderful kind of informal quality,” Allison said. “There’s an invitation for more intimacy, which is what I love about cabaret. I didn’t have this in mind but when I came to the end of putting (You Can’t Stop the Beat) together, I realized this is exactly the show people need to see. They’re going to get so many songs that they love from musicals … but they also get fun stories by the cast.”
Songs in the show are arranged by music director Laura Burton. The cast includes Evangelia Kambites, Mark Uhre, Alana Hibbert and Gabrielle Jones.
In the end, Allison said he wrote the show he wanted to see.
“It’s fun and fresh and it’s joyful,” he said. “There’s some touching moments as well, of course. We also want that in our musicals, right? It is totally a pure celebration of what musical theatre is.”
IF YOU GO
What: You Can’t Stop the Beat, curated and directed by Thom Allison, featuring Evangelia Kambites, Mark Uhre, Alana Hibbert, and Gabrielle Jones.
When: Until July 31. Opening Sunday.
Where: Festival Theatre canopy, 55 Queen St., Stratford.