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‘Sousatzka’ Premieres in Toronto Before Heading To Broadway With a Lead from New Jersey

By Caitlin Leonard, Contributing Writer, February 21, 2017

The tradition of trying out musicals in regional settings prior to opening on Broadway has a long history. Typical “tryout” cities have included Boston, New Haven, Washington, D.C., Chicago and L.A., but Toronto? Yes, there’s actually an old tradition of musicals trying out in Canada going back to the original production of Camelot in 1960 with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and native-son, Robert Goulet.  More recent productions have included Ragtime (1998) and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2011).  And now within a few days the world premiere of Sousatzka will be the latest to carry on this tradition. The new musical opens for previews on February 25, with an official opening on March 23, and is scheduled to run through April 9, 2017.

This pre-Broadway production marks the first stage adaptation of this classic story, based on the work of Welsh novelist Bernice Rubens, and the 1988 British film (Madame Sousatzka) that starred Shirley MacLaine. With a book by Craig Lucas, and music and lyrics by the writing team Richard Maltby, Jr and David Shire (Closer Than Ever, Big, and Baby),  the musical features a talented cast of Tony-winning and nominated actors and actresses, headed by Victoria Clark in the title role, who gained notoriety winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2005 for her performance in The Light in the Piazza.

Victoria Clark; courtesy of production

Victoria Clark; courtesy of production

Also featured in the cast is Judy Kaye, who debuted on Broadway in the 1970’s as the replacement for Rizzo in the original production of Grease and later winning Tonys for her work in Phantom of the Opera and Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Tony-nominated actress Montego Glover, of Memphis fame.

Overseeing the production with directorial duties is Adrian Noble, formerly the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with choreography by ten-time Tony Award nominee Graciela Daniele.

This adaptation of the story, set in 1980’s London, England, presents young gifted piano student, Themba, a South African refugee, who becomes torn between his piano teacher, Madame Sousatzka, and her ambition, and his mother Xholiswa’s enduring love. Madame Sousatzka attempts to achieve a sense of greatness and mend the sadness of missed opportunities in her own life through her student, creating a timeless story which also explores themes of culture and racism.

Jordan Barrow, in the role of Themba, a Broadway newcomer, is very excited about this opportunity and experience. A graduate of the University of Michigan (BFA in Musical Theatre), he recalls his early beginnings in his home state of New Jersey. “My mom put me into a day camp of sorts. They were doing Charlie Brown and I got cast as Charlie Brown, and I thought maybe this is an outlet for me. And then I did school plays, school choruses, and then realized I could maybe sing. I was around eight or nine.”

Jordan Barrow; courtesy of the production.

Jordan Barrow; courtesy of the production

After working post-graduation in mostly off-Broadway productions, Barrow was both surprised and thrilled to be able to create a starring role on Broadway: “I auditioned in October of 2015 for a reading of a new musical that was untitled. They gave me four pages of the script, and it was really under wraps at that point. I thought it went well but I don’t often get attached to auditions, so I just let it go. And they called me a month later. At that point I had no idea who was involved at all until about three days before I got here to Toronto.”

Barrow continued to reveal that when rehearsals began, the calibre of the cast and crew came as a complete surprise: “I knew I was playing a lead role but I didn’t know who I was playing opposite. To know that there were Tony winners, and everyone involved had Broadway credits galore, it was intimidating, but also really comforting.”

Initiating a brand new character on stage has been both a challenge and an adventure for Barrow so far: “I definitely have seen the movie, but this is so different, in that he is a South African character in the musical. The story is based on the novel but in many ways it’s a new musical. There are nuances of the book, but on the whole the character is pretty original, so we had to do a lot as actors.”

“We’ve been in workshops and rehearsals for a long time and most recently in December for about ten weeks. The show moves very quickly, which is not commonly seen in new shows, but this is a very forward moving musical.” À la Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Barrow has been preparing for the pianist role with daily practice and lessons: “I’m in piano lessons pretty daily. I have to look like I’m really doing it correctly, but it’s miming the playing, so I learn all of the rhythms and timing. You might say ‘Wow you look like you’re really doing it.’ He laughs, “But if you actually heard me play you might say, ‘Oh that’s not that good.’”

He explains why this opportunity is the role of a lifetime for him in these early stages of his career: “It’s pretty surreal because people ask ‘What is your dream role?’ My dream role is to create a role, and to do that at this scope and this scale is really special. I feel very honoured that I can bring this character to life. It’s super daunting but also really exciting.”

Barrow adds, “My family will be there for opening night from New Jersey. To be in something of this scale and so much in the forefront, it’s something that no one in my life has really seen me do.”

When asked to describe this new musical before it is revealed to the world, he thoughtfully replies: “I would say, ‘artists finding themselves.’ They’re finding themselves from learning from other people through empathy, and listening to each other’s struggles. It’s about finding who you are, whether you’re an 18 year old or a middle-aged woman. That’s a really interesting story line to see on the stage.”

Barrow will be part of the cast in New York City this fall, when after its Toronto run the production is set to debut on Broadway. He adds, “This will be my Broadway debut but also my professional lead role debut. This is very big for me.”

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Sousatzka runs from February 25 — April 9, 2017 at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. For more information about the production and for tickets click here.


Cover: Victoria Clark and Jordan Barrow in a scene from ‘Sousatzka’ at a press event in Toronto; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.


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