As fans of musicals, Disney movies and Liam Neeson (see our interview with the man himself), we were naturally extremely interested in the production of The Adventures of Tom Shadow, a not for children musical which first launched at the Bad Dog Theatre and is now coming to the Factory Theatre in Toronto. We are extremely excited about the fantastic talent involved and we spoke to three of them, director Peter Stevens and performers Lisa Gilroy and Natalie Metcalfe via email.
Here is an edited and condensed version of our discussion.
Brief Take: This show is called a “remount”, but will now have a new venue in the Factory Studio Theatre. Are you planning to incorporate new elements to make use of the new venue?
Peter Stevens: Actually, this show is bigger than a remount. There’s lots of new content. We were inspired to bring it to the Factory Theatre and did a rewrite to make the story bigger and better. The original was just under an hour and we wanted to push it over that mark. The cast and crew made a list together of our favourite moments from the original, we kept everything we loved and changed the ending which led to more changes. We’re excited to share this version with old and new fans of the show. We were pleasantly surprised by how much audiences enjoyed the music from the original so this version has more songs.
Natalie Metcalfe: Oh there are so many new elements. The premise is still the same but we’ve expanded the world. We’ve kept most of the jokes from the original but we’ve thrown them into new settings and some new characters. Also, we are using the FULL space at the Factory Theatre. We are constantly breaking the fourth wall and going into the audience. Our blocking consists of running, running and more running to make it into our places on time. It’s genuinely non-stop action. We’ve added so much! The show went from being a 50 minute sketch play with music to being a full-fledged musical. We’ve added so many new songs and expanded the script. We wanted to dive into the characters more – give them more time to breathe. And I think we succeeded in that!
BT: Do you think that with shows that are “created by the company,” and also star this same company, that it helps to work with people that you know and like?
PS: Chemistry is everything in comedy. It helps when performers enjoy each other’s taste in humour, timing, and imagination. At rehearsal, when anyone makes a suggestion, everyone stops and listens. Google any of the cast. All of these comedians are capable of carrying a show on their own. I mean, Christian (Smith) and Kevin (Vidal)’s just won Toronto Sketchfest. Their duo, Soul Decision, is a masterclass in chemistry.
I believe there’s something more primal happening in the audience when we watch a good comedy. As social animals, deep down were always looking for the vibe of the herd. Are people getting along or outcasted? There’s something about watching superfriends joke around that makes us deeply happy inside and believe in humanity again.
Does the cast of Tom Shadow like each other? Hell yes. Is it essential to have performers who like each other? No. I’ve worked with a few divas in the past. I’ve done shows with artists who I consider creative geniuses but are emotionally volatile -there’s a classic argument that incredible work is born from the struggle of taming the wild creative. But guess what? Turns out, great art doesn’t need divas! The cast of Tom Shadow loves each other and rehearsals are a joy. I can’t say enough good things about this group of people. I consider Mark Little one of the few comedic geniuses with whom I’ve worked and no one could be more humble.
Lisa Gilroy: 100%. It’s crucial to work with people that you love spending time with because through the enormous process of creating, writing and rehearsing a play we’re also taking naps on each others couches, feeding each other chips, driving each other around, sharing one bathroom for 10 hour rehearsals, agreeing, disagreeing, horsing around, hugging, kissing, and tripping each other. It’s very messy.
BT: Do you consider yourselves to be of different backgrounds, perhaps with some of the company more sketch-oriented and others more inclined towards standup and to improv? Does putting these elements together create a more dynamic show?
PS: The whole cast has a background in sketch and improv. Mark has also had success in stand up. We are definitely united in our love of huge silly choices that contrasts with heavy emotional realism. But the more I work with the cast, the more I see their own unique skills. It’s quite common at rehearsal for the cast to go off script and improvise a moment. We’re all on the look out for what’s more interesting, emotional, and funny.
What I’ve seen is: Mark (Little) has a staggering imagination for comedy and a deep appreciation for story structure. Natalie (Metcalfe) is so essential to encourage the show’s emotional grounding -it’s so valuable to have someone who excels at comedy and loves drama. Lisa has this incredible ability to see through the noise and articulate the best, simplest version of a joke or plot point. Christian is always eager to improvise in rehearsal because he finds great comedic moments so quickly through play. And Kevin finds his comedy through the character first so an audience’s eyes are glued to him because he’s always reacting, playing the comedy tune of big and small choices.
NM: I feel like most of us come from a sketch background. I mean, originally most of us come from a theatre background but I feel like our comedy careers are very sketch oriented. Mark with Picnic Face, Kevin with Second City, Christian with Soul Decision, Lisa with The Sketchersons and me with Second City Touring Company.
BT: What do you think are some of the musical inspirations? Are there all new original songs or perhaps takes on others?
PS: Disney, Disney, Disney was a huge influence on the music. This cast has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything Diz. They really bond over how classic Disney movies push a story along with fun songs. When we get together to work on a song there is a frenzy of discussion. It’s all over my head. Someone will shout, “let’s do it more like Fribby the Dog’s solo in Pups on Patrol!” another will counter, “I was thinking of it more like the Pastry Chef Gang from Egg Restaurant!” and I’m left thinking, I’ve never even heard of these Disney movies!!! I can’t keep up. As a musically inept Director, I’m trying to train them to simplify their song speak to three key expressions: More Elton John-y, Less Elton John-y or ah, this song is just Elton John-y enough.
Disney is huge. Sometimes I would come to rehearsal with a BRAND NEW SONG I wrote, sing it for the cast, and they would be like ‘oh cool, so it’s Chim Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins?’. We can’t stop Disney from seeping in. That’s when a great Musical Director like Jordan Armstrong comes in and helps us iron out the melody so it’s not blatant plagiarism.
BT: Do you think Liam Neeson’s character in Taken was a bad parent? Wouldn’t he have learned how to stop his daughter from being kidnapped?
PS: I think yes. It’s nice that he worked so hard to save her (with his particular set of skills) but it was also a bit controlling. A good parent would trust their daughter and give her the space she needs to gunfight her own way out of the criminal underworld.
LG: I mean, yes. But he’s HOT! So it’s fine.
NM: OH NO, I SHOULD’VE WATCHED THIS MOVIE!!
The Adventures of Tom Shadow plays at the Factory Theatre in Toronto from October 11th to 22nd. For more information click here