As the lead pandemic guard, Alex Mustakas has been more reliable than most.
Every time we’ve spoken since COVID shut down live entertainment in March 2020, the Chief Executive Officer of Drayton Entertainment has kept his ear open, always cautious, never hasty, cautiously planning the future of his seven-theater empire one tentative reopening after another as new variants wreaked havoc in the performing arts.
The 2022 season, which began May 25 and ends next month, has been the test run, with some reduced-capacity performances, some requiring proof of vaccination and — so as not to jeopardize cast members — a lack of large-ensemble musicals and comedy , on which Drayton built its name.
“Let’s think of this as a cautious reopening with a lot of flexibility in capacity choices,” Mustakas said in March.
“We won’t bring everyone back, but the appetite is there.”
Eight months later, after audiences had flocked to musicals like Mamma Mia! and The Sound Of Music, the company’s 2023 season – which begins April 5 and runs through next December – is touted as a return to pre-pandemic heights, with scaled-up productions that reflect the confidence Mustakas has in audiences Has.
“I’m not worried about shutdowns,” he says, adding that Drayton will follow provincial guidelines on masking.
“2022 went better than I had imagined. We have ‘Mamma Mia!’ completely sold out. and “The Sound of Music” is about to sell out. You can tell people want to leave their homes.”
In practice, that means a rebound from the reduced slate of 15 productions in 2022 to a full slate of 20 — if you include Legally Blonde (February 15-26), Drayton’s first student-only production, thanks to his new Jugend Academy – and the welcome restaging of abandoned 2020 productions like Kinky Boots, which were scathingly canceled during previews.
If there’s one unofficial highlight, it’s the Broadway hit Beautiful: The Carole King Story, directed by Stratford Festival graduate Chilina Kennedy, who has played the title role on Broadway in more than 1,200 performances.
“It’s a bit of a coup,” Mustakas says of the critically acclaimed musical, which chronicles the life of legendary singer-songwriter King.
“It’s the first fully-produced Canadian production.”
It’ll have plenty of competition from a stretching list of musicals covering everything from Evita, Fiddler On The Roof and The Prom to Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Sh-Boom : Life Could Be a Dream”, “Rock of Ages”, “The Crooner”, “Fiddler on the Loose”, “Wizard of Oz: The Panto”, “Peter Pan: The Panto”, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor “. Dreamcoat” and “Bittergirl: The Musical”.
Singing and dancing not your thing?
There is also drama (“A Few Good Men”, “Mary’s Wedding”, “American Son”) and comedy (“The New Canadian Curling Club”, “Perfect Wedding”).
“It’s a versatile playbill that will appeal to the ages of five to 95,” predicts Mustakas, always the optimist.
“It’s a good mix of popular titles – we want to bring people back to the theatre. We hope things will normalize even more by April or May.”
It’s a far cry from the early days of the pandemic, when all seven theaters had their lights out and Mustakas was confined to flushing toilets to avoid sanitation problems.
“I was on a standing committee on arts and culture in the House of Commons and then walked around to see if the water was still running,” Mustakas says, laughing.
“If only you knew the glamorous life of an artistic director.”
Tickets for the upcoming season go on sale December 1st for Drayton members, December 9th for subscribers and December 14th for the general public by phone, in person and at select box offices.
Call 519-621-8000, toll free 1-855-372-9866 or visit www.draytonentertainment.com