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Musical incubator at Theatre Aquarius announces first cohort of productions

The National Centre for New Musicals will provide mentorship and consultation to the Canadian composers, lyricists, book writers and theatre artists behind five new musical works.

The National Centre for New Musicals (NCNM) at Theatre Aquarius has announced the first cohort of five productions that have been selected for mentorship from some of Canada's most successful theatre leaders.

A request for submissions in the fall attracted 260 applications, which was double the expected number. That led to an expansion of the initiative before the curtain has even risen on its work.

A team of 24 arts professionals hailing from every province and territory and representing a variety of backgrounds and artistic disciplines, read and graded all the submissions. 

Following the initial round, 25 pieces advanced for further consideration by an advisory committee, led by co-chairs Michael Rubinoff and Lily Ling. Rubinoff is an Olivier Award-winning and Tony-nominated producer who conceived Come From Away, the longest-running Canadian musical in Broadway history. Ling is a music director who has worked on Broadway productions of Hamilton, Hell’s Kitchen, How to Dance in Ohio and Moulin Rouge.

The committee also includes Theatre Aquarius artistic director Mary Francis Moore, who directed the world premiere of MAGGIE and the upcoming world premiere of Tom Wilson’s Beautiful Scars, along with Sean Mayes, Broadway conductor of Hadestown and MJ: The Musical.

The initial thinking was that NCNM would choose two to three pieces to develop, says Moore.

“With the volume of applications and calibre of talent we’ve seen, we are delighted to announce that we’ve expanded that to five works, four in the development phase and one in the incubation phase.”

NCNM, the formation of which was announced in June, supports projects at various stages in the development continuum – from early-stage concepts to previously workshopped or showcased work. The Incite Foundation for the Arts has invested $500,000 into the initiative. 

“The inaugural NCNM group of artists is comprised of exciting musical theatre writers championing a diverse and compelling collection of stories,” said Rubinoff, who was the founder and producing artistic director of the Canadian Music Theatre Project at Sheridan College, which incubated 28 musicals during its 10-year run.

“I am eagerly looking forward to the NCNM playing a significant role in developing these new works and launching them to stages at home and around the world, bringing these unique and powerful narratives to life.”

Mayes says he and Ling have been energized by the works submitted to the NCNM.

“It has given us great encouragement that so much new musical theatre work is happening in Canada, particularly with numerous voices and from varying perspectives within our community and country. We look forward to supporting these projects in their next stage."

The chosen pieces are:

The Pryce Academy (In development)
A group of idealistic students put on a musical to expose the founder of their private school, Thurgood Pryce, who made his fortune with sugar plantations in the 1800s.
Book, music and lyrics by Mazin Elsadig and Philip McKee, additional music by Juan Ayala and Jennifer Ayala

Out (In development)
A coming-of-age drama-comedy that weaves together the stories of three queer Asian kids in their mid-20s.
Book by Kalos Chu, music by Ian Chan, lyrics by JuHye Mun

The 7 Fires (In development)
Inspired by the Anishinaabe 7 Fire prophecy, seven strangers meet in the woods where they receive dreams from their ancestors; a story of reconnecting, prophecy and resurgence.
Book by Dillan Chiblow, music by Landon Doak, lyrics by Landon Doak with Dillan Chilbow

Clown Riot (In development)
Clown Riot is a rock opera based upon the true Toronto story of a travelling circus, a crew of local firefighters, and an 11-year-old boy caught between two worlds.
Story by Christo Graham and Tyrone Savage, music and lyrics by Christo Graham

Limerick Gaolbreak (In incubation)
Inspired by the true story of a 19th-century prison escape in Ireland, Limerick Gaolbreak is the true-ish story of nine women who hatch a plan to sing their way to freedom.
Book by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson, music by Mike Ross, lyrics by Sarah Wilson

Full show descriptions and bios for each team are available here