Global and Local Talent Converge to Create Theatre Calgary’s Beaches the Musical

By producing the international premiere of Beaches The Musical, Theatre Calgary is unofficially off, off, off Broadway

(L-R): Beaches writer Iris Rainer Dart, Theatre Calgary Artistic Director Stafford Arima and Beaches the Musical Producer Jennifer Maloney-Prezioso. Photo courtesy of Theatre Calgary.

Musicals have a long development period, and Beaches the Musical, which premieres at Theatre Calgary this month, is no different.

In 2007, Stafford Arima, now the artistic director of Theatre Calgary, was directing Ace at the Old Globe in New York City when he met Iris Rainer Dart, author of the book Beaches, while he was having breakfast with his agent. They were in a New York deli and as Dart was about to order “her usual breakfast” Arima recommended she be more adventurous and order the chocolate chip pancakes, instead. Dart found them delicious.

Later, Arima directed a reading of Dart’s play formerly called Schmutz which was renamed The People in the Picture.

Maybe it was the trust established by the successful recommendation that made Dart say yes when Arima asked, “Why don’t you do Beaches as a musical?”

At the time, Disney owned the movie rights, so to avoid complications and in the spirit of fresh creation, Dart decided to create the show with new original music. (That’s right, you won’t be hearing “Under the Boardwalk” or “Otto Titsling” at Theatre Calgary — but there will be one notable song you’ll recognize from the 1988 movie starring Bette Middler and Barbara Hershey.)

Dart began collaborating with an old playwright friend, Thom Thomas. Dart and Thomas wrote the book — the play, part of the musical — and Dart wrote the lyrics to the songs. Later, they joined with composer Mike Stoller for the music. Stoller has written Grammy Award-winning music and is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His credits with his writing partner Jerry Leiber include Stand by Me and several hits for Elvis including Jailhouse Rock and Hound Dog.

Sadly, in 2015, Thomas passed away.

Dart continued working on the musical, joining up with David Austin — the show is described as being developed in collaboration with Austin.

Arima recalls that he had told Dart, “If you ever need a home for Beaches, call me. We can build the show with the best Broadway designers.” And fortunately for Calgary audiences, Dart and producer Jennifer Maloney-Prezioso jumped at the invitation. “Theatre Calgary is perfect in every way for the pre-Broadway, pre-West End production,” Maloney-Prezioso says.

While there are many global talents involved, half the cast is Calgarian.

While Dart has been supported by her male co-writer, composer, and collaborator, she says producer Maloney-Prezioso is the one she has the deep sister friendship with.

Dart and Maloney-Prezioso met 15 years ago, but their friendship seems deeper. It’s like the 30-year friendship of Cee Cee and Bertie, the friends in Beaches itself, and the importance of friendship is central to the production.

“It’s a reminder of what friendship means, especially after COVID,” says Maloney-Prezioso of why she became involved in the production. “Theatre is the last place where we all live and tell a story, and this is a story about friendship — which we all want.”

Dart also notes the universal themes of the story. Women often come up to her, says Dart, and tell her, pointing to their friend, “She is my Beaches.”

The international premiere of Beaches: The Musical runs at Theatre Calgary from May 18 to June 16. For tickets and more information, visit theatrecalgary.com

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