Tony-nominated Canadian producer creating new Montreal musical and a web series

TORONTO — As the theatre industry struggles to stay afloat during COVID-19, acclaimed Montreal-raised producer Adam Blanshay remains optimistic with several irons in the fire, including a homegrown project.

This week the founder and CEO of Adam Blanshay Productions was among the producers nominated for a best-musical Tony Award for "Moulin Rouge! The Musical," which got 14 nods in total.

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Broadway is still dark after shutting down in March due to the pandemic, and theatres around the world, including in Toronto and London, where Blanshay is based, have for the most part also had to keep their doors closed since spring.

Blanshay says the online Tonys broadcast set for later this year will be "an opportunity to bring a lot of joy" amid "the hardship and negativity and further closures."

The producer is also creating a musical theatre web series called "The Theatre Channel," with stage stars performing classics at The Theatre Cafe in the heart of London's West End.

And he's developing a brand-new Canadian musical he plans to launch at a yet-to-be-determined date in Montreal.

The former Just For Laughs Theatricals CEO says he can't reveal the name or details of the new musical but promises it's "very exciting."

"Theatres will resume full occupancy. It's a matter of time," Blanshay said Thursday in a phone interview after the Tony nominations were announced.

"People need uplifting content, people need challenging content, people need to laugh, as always. And we're just looking towards 2021, 2022 and beyond. At the same time, I have completely and utterly turned my business onto itself."

"Moulin Rouge! The Musical" got the second-highest amount of Tony nominations Thursday, behind a show with another Canadian connection — "Jagged Little Pill," featuring the music of Ottawa-born singer Alanis Morissette.

"I'm as excited as can be under the circumstances," said Blanshay.

"Jagged Little Pill" got 15 nominations, including best musical, a category in which Toronto impresario David Mirvish was named. Mirvish was also named in the best-musical nomination for "Tina — The Tina Turner Musical."

This isn't the first Tonys foray for Blanshay, who has been involved in more than 60 productions.

In 2015, for instance, he also got nominations for two of his Broadway plays — "Wolf Hall, Parts One & Two" and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." Both were co-produced by Just For Laughs Theatricals.

The Adam Blanshay Productions website says the company has received six Tony Awards, seven Olivier Awards, and one Helpmann Award for theatre in Australia.

"Moulin Rouge! The Musical" is based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film and premiered in Boston in 2018 before hitting Broadway in June 2019. Blanshay got involved after hearing about the show from lead producer Carmen Pavlovic in Sydney, Australia, where he worked on a production of "Matilda The Musical."

Seeing it for the first time in Boston was "sensory overload," he said, noting the Tony-nominated choreography from Sonya Tayeh creates "the same frenetic, brilliant energy that Baz Luhrmann had with his editing." The show also has many hits that bring down the house, he added.

"By the end people are just completely beside themselves," said Blanshay.

A U.S. tour of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" is planned, as are London and Australian productions, but all have been postponed during the pandemic.

Meantime, Blanshay plans to release 10, 30-minute episodes of "The Theatre Channel" on its website (https://www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel/). The first episode launched Oct. 2 and a second, Halloween-themed episode will launch Oct. 30. Viewers can watch by buying tickets on the site.

"It's quite controversial, but we're being asked to retrain, rethink our business model by the U.K. government, and that's what I've been doing — for better or worse," said Blanshay, referring to the government-backed CyberFirst career campaign, which included a recently pulled advertisement that suggested a ballet dancer should retrain in cyber security.

"But it's pleasure to be employing artists and creatives to create work right now, and to see people showing up to work with massive smiles on their faces every day and being able to create."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.

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