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My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Heart of Steel - A Steel Plant Musical Comedy high-kicks into the Next Stage Festival

by Drew Rowsome -

Wesley J Colford is back in town to help kick off the Next Stage Festival with a big musical, Heart of Steel - A Steel Plant Musical Comedy. Colford is familiar from his hilarious contribution to Circle Jerk, the two-hander First Time Last Time, and romping in The Temptation of Genesis and Other Stories, but Heart of Steel is an ambitious undertaking for even this renaissance man of the theatre. A singing and dancing extravaganza telling the tale of when the women of Cape Breton were recruited into the steel plan during World War II, Colford has concocted a musical with a heart of steel.

Drew Rowsome: A big musical! I didn’t have the good fortune to see Best of Fringe winner The Wakowski Brothers. Have you been hungering to get back to a musical?

Wesley J Colford: Musical theatre is a big part of my creative life and roots (I'm a graduate of the Musical Theatre performance program at Sheridan College) and while my career has lead me in many diverse and equally exciting paths, it's always a joy to get to work on a musical. It is certainly full of challenges, but the rewards are many, especially with a cast as amazing and inspiring as we are privileged to have on our team.

It is a huge cast (21!) which is always the sticking point with mounting a musical? How is Aim For The Tangent managing to fund this production?

We are operating under a Equity Festival Agreement which essentially means that all the members of the team recognize that we have certain limitations ($15 tickets don't go very far to pay a 21 person cast) but that we all believe in the project and are willing to put forward our time in the hopes of making some small profit at the end which we will all split equally. Even with this, however, funding a musical of this size is no small endeavour. It wouldn't be possible without the tremendous production support that the Next Stage Festival provides. We have also done our share of fundraising, at the moment we are in the final days of out crowd-sourcing campaign which can be found here: https://fwyc.ca/campaigns/heart-steel-nstf

Toronto is full of young triple-threat performers hungry for work: how did you choose the cast?

We held auditions in early November and were very quickly overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of talent we were faced with. It was an open call and we saw as many people as we could. Originally, we had figured we could do this pared down version of the script with 15 actors but when it came time to make the tough calls, we couldn't resist adding a few more of our favourites. It's ridiculous how much talent there is in this city. We could have cast the show three times over with people who were just as talented. It's a sad reality of the industry, but an embarrassment of riches in terms of our cast. We have veterans of Shaw, Stratford, Soulpepper, Mirvish and more in supporting roles, not to mention some of the brightest up-and-comers who we are delighted to show off.

What does director Luke Brown bring to this production?

Luke has a very fine eye for detail. He cares so much and is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. He's also a Nova Scotia boy (from the bustling metropolis of Bible Hill) so he understands the hearts of the characters. His presence has injected a very fresh approach which is backed up by his experience directing major musicals at Hart House (such as The Wedding Singer and Jesus Christ Superstar).

What did you learn from the very successful run at the Highland Arts Theatre to apply to this version?

I originally wrote (and directed) the show for the theatre I run in Cape Breton, Highland Arts Theatre (now in its second year). It was a very unique experience because it was a show written for the community about a part of their history that everyone was connected to but didn't necessarily appreciate. After each show, we would have 80-year-old women who actually worked in the steel plant during World War II staying to talk to us - it was a very humbling experience. The audience response was tremendous - after opening night the entire run sold out and we had to extend, but I still wasn't sure how the show would fare in a Toronto setting. Adding a new creative team has done wonders for injecting new ideas into the production and have done a lot of changes to the script which I think ultimately is going to make for a much tighter show. Ultimately, there's something very universal about this story of war and women - it's about family and fighting against the status quo, and I think that's something everyone can connect to.

What other shows in the festival are you hoping to see and why?

I saw 3 Men in a Boat in Fringe two years ago and loved it then. I am very excited to see it again now that they've spent two years touring it across Canada (and India). I'm a big fan of Nicholas Billon, so Agamemnon is a must-see (plus they have an equally stacked cast). Rebecca Perry is sure to delight with From Judy to Bette, I'm really excited for Rob Kempson's new play Mockingbird . . . I actually don't think there's one show I'm not eagerly looking forward to. It really is an amazing line up. I can't remember a Next Stage with so many shows I'm excited about. It's a tremendous honour to be included with such fine talent.

Is there anything of particular appeal for the boys in Heart of Steel?

I feel like we really have our bases covered in this show: on one hand, you've got a battalion of buxom beauties in overalls and suspenders which you get to watch singing, dancing, and making steel. On the other hand, you have a legion of strapping muscular lads also making steel and going off to war (in kilts) . . . There's something for everyone and always plenty to look at. We have a ridiculously beautiful cast. Seriously. I know all musicals are full of good looking people, but wow. It's a very romantic era and very flattering in a hearty, Canadian way. Joking aside, I think it's something everyone can connect to and feel pride about. It's not particularly a story for women or men. It's just a good story.

Full interview at drewrowsome.blogspot.com

Heart of Steel - A Steel Plant Musical Comedy runs Thurs, Jan 7 to Sun, Jan 17 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St as part of the Next Stage Festival running Wed, Jan 6 to Sun, Jan 17. fringetoronto.com

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