Markham Theatre’s current season comes to a close in mid-May with one last weekend of great entertainment.
On May 12, Ray on My Mind closes the theatre’s current season. This high-energy celebration of Ray Charles’ life and music is a blend of concert and theatre. Master pianist/vocalist, Kenny Brawner plays Ray and leads his 11-piece orchestra and three female vocalists, performing the legend’s popular hits like What’d I Say?, I Got A Woman, Mess Around, Georgia on My Mind, Baby It’s Cold Outside, and many more.
“The lead in this is just amazing,” Lariviere says. “This is above and beyond what you see in cover shows in most regional theatres.”
This tribute morphs into theatre when interwoven with the music and monologues depicting how gospel, blues, jazz, and country influenced Ray’s style, while also reflecting on American social history, his epic battle with drugs, and his triumphant return home.
“When it comes to tribute shows, we always try to bring something extra,” Lariviere says. “This show is more of a complete theatrical production. It’s quite different.”
The weekend wraps up on May 13 with Sweet Soul Music, a tribute to Soul music of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
With the announcement of the next season due on May 29, it’s a good time to look back on the season that just passed and consider what was learned and what Markham can look forward to.
“After the pandemic, people were looking for fun,” says General Manager Eric Lariviere. “I’m glad we’ve been able to offer them that and more.”
Trying to bring something extra to the Markham audience is definitely on Lariviere’s mind.
With next season’s announcement only weeks away, this past season’s successes help inform choices for the year to come.
“I don’t have a single favourite show,” says Lariviere, “but our Simply Series stands out to me as when we engaged our audience like never before.”
The Simply Series was a group of performances featuring some of Canada’s most iconic performers and voices in the intimate concert setting of The Markham Theatre. As part of the evening, the artists were interviewed about their work and inspiration. The shows are slated to be streamed online via the theatre’s website in the coming weeks.
“Very soon our audience will be able to enjoy the full performances online for free,” explains Lariviere. “The shows were something new, something familiar, and something special rolled into one. These shows were highlighted going all the way back to our reopening in early 2022.”
“I think we told stories well this season,” adds Business Manager Scott Hill. “We brought in performances with strong stories to convey like ‘No Woman’s Land’ and Red Sky’s Underwater Panther.”
“Red Sky’s show was definitely important,” continues Lariviere, “it told the story of Canada’s indigenous cultures in an incredibly brilliant and powerful way.”
To say programming this past season was challenging is an understatement. In the wake of the pandemic, Lariviere and his staff not only weren’t sure what shows would work but they also didn’t know how much of their audience was even left.
“At the beginning, we had lost a lot of audience,” Lariviere explains. “As we hit 2023 though, most of them had started to return. Some though, will likely never come back because they’ve shifted their priorities. As a result, we’ve adjusted our marketing to focus on those who are back in their seats. And actually, ticket sales have been pretty strong.”
“Throughout the year I still had audience members coming up to me and say that this was their first show back since the pandemic and how much it meant for them to have art back in their lives,” adds Hill. “It is a great reminder that what we do really does have a positive effect on people.”
“It’s just been a good year,” says Lariviere. “People wanted to come out and enjoy themselves. They’re looking for comfort food onstage. This has certainly had an effect on what we’re doing next year. You’ll see.”
“It was refreshing to see that our returning audience was open to new content,” adds Hill, “and that they want to dive deeper into the stories behind the artists that they know.”
Visit markhamtheatre.ca for more information.