On its surface, the plot for the new musical Rain on the Parade from composer Garry Williams and playwright Evan Brown is pretty straightforward, as it follows the survivors of a theatre fire as they attempt to remount a mysterious, potentially-cursed play. But as Brown says, it is so much more.
It really challenges what you expect when you come to see a musical and will subvert people’s expectations. – Dan Bray
“It’s a pretty outrageous dark comedy, and we keep the laughs running throughout it,” says Brown. “But I do continually in the show try to come around to the importance and sometimes the threat of legacy and what stories we pass down from one generation to the next and what we end up doing with them; what they represent.”
Acknowledging he is careful not to give away too much about the show’s plot during our interview, Brown says while it does have a straightforward story, it is “a great play for people who like to be constantly surprised.”
“There is a fun spectacle of it,” producer and cast member Dan Bray adds. “It really challenges what you expect when you come to see a musical and will subvert people’s expectations.”
Conceived during the pandemic, Brown goes on to say that the inspiration for Rain on the Parade came during the height of COVID restrictions that shuttered most businesses.
“We had churches shut down, movie theatres, live theatres, live performances; a lot of the things that we collectively come together to do, we couldn’t anymore. And what did that mean?” he says. “So, I conceived of the show with this idea of almost like what happens in Hamlet if everything stops, what do the characters in Hamlet do with each other and say to each other in that world?”
“What I love about it is it starts quite Hamlet-forward and then really challenges the audience’s expectations,” adds Bray. “But the ultimate message is one of community, and it has this cathartic release at the end of the show that I think Nova Scotians are really going to connect with, especially this month.”
With a show filled with metaphors, it is unsurprising to know the musical’s title is no different.
“Human history is the parade going through the years, and the banners, floats, and baton twirlers represent all the stories we are continually telling and retelling through the years,” says Brown. “And the rain represents the dangers or impediments to the human march of history, with climate change being a perfect example.”
Not initially intended to be a musical, it wasn’t until halfway through the second draft that Brown pivoted away from a straight play.
“I realized that the show was so absurd and potentially challenging that I had to decide if we make it less absurd or do we make it more absurd. And if so, how do we do that?” Brown says. “That is when we decided to make it a musical.”
“I know Garry [composer Garry Williams] was sometimes talking too about how there are a lot of very dark and difficult themes within the show and how being able to tell those stories through song can help bring a bit of lightness to deal with these dark things and to help make it a bit more transformative,” says producer and cast member Colleen MacIsaac.
While Villians Theatre has billed the upcoming run as a “workshop production,” that doesn’t mean audiences will see anything less than a full-scale show.
“The music and the text are still relatively fresh, which is why we’re calling it a workshop production,” says MacIssac. “But when people come, they can very much still expect to see a full-blown musical. It has all the technical bells and whistles, and it’s a fully staged production, but we hope to continue its life afterwards, either under the Villains Theatre banner or see where else it can go.”
That full-scale production includes a cast of seven, two video performers, and a band.
“It’s a big production for an independent theatre company like ours with no operating funding,” says MacIssac. “But we are excited to offer this fantasy escapist world where it is about something very different but still relevant to what’s happening in people’s daily lives. It is pretty fantastic.”
“I think its themes are relevant, and these characters are really charming and likable, and people will be invested in what happens to them,” concludes Brown.
The Villains Theatre presents Rain on the Parade on Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage (1593 Argyle St, Halifax) from June 21-25. Visit villainstheatre.com for tickets and information.