Stages: Sondheim & Schwartz takes place at the Inlet Theater in Port Moody on August 4, 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and August 7 at 3 p.m.
About 20 years ago, Mike Arseneault had the chance to go to the Liberty Grand in Toronto for World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius.
During the meeting, which was organized by The Globe and Mailthe New Brunswick native paid tribute to Stephen Sondheim, the musical genius behind shows such as West Side Story, Gypsy and Follies.
There, Arseneault met his hero and thanked him for writing the “soundtrack of my life”.
Now the Port Moody resident has created his own tribute to the master, who died last November.
Next month, Arseneault and his young Ioco Players will present an original musical revue featuring 20 Sondheim plays at the Inlet Theatre.
“I’m a Sondheim fan,” he told the News from the three cities. “It’s my little way of acknowledging what he has done for the theater.”
Arseneault said Sondheim is “a lot about the story that continues through song. He has some interesting characters. And he’s the most prolific and revered composer because of the breadth and depth of his work.”
However, he will not be the only musical theater composer recognized during the four performances of the Ioco Players.
After the intermission, Arseneault presents 13 tunes written by Stephen Schwartz, the composer behind shows such as Divine fate, wicked and The Prince of Egypt.
The songs from the second half “will be well known to many children because of their connection to the Disney movies,” he said.
Stages: Sondheim and Schwartz is the first major show for Ioco Players, which Arseneault created in 2020 after moving to Port Moody from Portland, Oregon, where he worked at Nike’s corporate headquarters in marketing.
A lifelong lover of community theater – having performed, produced or directed over 100 shows in Toronto and Oregon – Arseneault hosted a small-scale production last February at the Port Moody Legion; the exhausted production of love letters raised over $6,000 for 119 affiliate programs.
Since then, Ioco Players has also held private events with table readings of 12 angry jurors and Come back to 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
But Steps is on a much larger scale, Arseneault said, involving more cast and crew, a small orchestra (conducted by Kyle Lorenzana Fonacier) and help from other theater companies such as Stage 43 in Coquitlam.
Arseneault has also reached out to companies to help offset the high costs of semi-professional production. “It’s amazing how many people are stepping in. Everyone is contributing where they can.”
Retailers and businesses in Port Moody “are excited to see a new theater group in town and building community,” he said. “We form important relationships in the City of the Arts and we are inclusive.”
As for the talent of Stages, Arseneault hired Lindy Sisson as choreographer and auditioned 21 people, choosing seven to star:
- Connor Hogg, graduate of Capilano University’s musical theater program
- Ian Kowalski, a graduate of the Performing Arts program at O’Neill Collegiate and Vocational Institute and the Media Production program at Ryerson University (now called Toronto Metropolitan University)
- Kara McLachlan, a dancer
- Lannette New, the soprano of the a cappella jazz ensemble Reverve
- Harold Perdoma, vocalist of the Mount Royal Youth Choir/Edmonton Youth Choir
- Emily Saint, whose credits include Chicago, legally blonde and 13: The Musical at UBC
- Julia Walmsley, elementary school music teacher
Arseneault said afterwards StepsIoco Players is planning a radio play in late October or early November.
Tickets for Stages: Sondheim & Schwartz at the Inlet Theater (100 Newport Dr., Port Moody) are $35 via Eventbrite.ca.
Shows are August 4, 5, and 6 at 7 p.m. and August 7 at 3 p.m.
For more information, visit the Ioco Players Facebook or Instagram pages or email [email protected]
The News from the three cities is a media sponsor of the performances.