It’s fair to say 2017 is starting off pretty well for Daniel Fong.
This week is the Edmonton première of Catalyst Theatre’s latest work, Fortune Falls, in which Daniel plays Everet, the lead character. This production follows a successful world première of the play in Calgary last October.
Daniel, who graduated from Grant MacEwan in 2012, got the chance to audition for Fortune Falls after securing another part in Alberta Theatre Projects’ season, who produced Fortune Falls’ world première. “All I knew when I was first auditioning was that I was auditioning for Catalyst. I was so happy and excited to be able to audition… I was familiar with Catalyst’s work before I auditioned – I had seen Nevermore a few years ago and it absolutely blew me away.”
With music and lyrics by Jonathan Christenson and a book by Jonathan and Beth Graham, Fortune Falls is a synthpop musical about a young, optimistic security guard keeping watch over the Mercy Chocolate Factory that sustained the town of Fortune Falls for generations. That factory has suddenly closed, leaving one last employee, Everet, a security guard. During his shifts guarding the factory, Everet uncovers the secrets that shut it down.
Daniel elaborates, “For me, playing Everet, the show is about dreams and what it means to be a dreamer and to confront the realities of what it means to set such high expectations. What happens if those dreams fail, or if they succeed? And what is the cost to be a dreamer, or an explorer, an adventurer, or any kind of person seeking out something for themselves?”
“Everet is a ray of sunshine. He has an amazing outlook on life and the people around him. He cares so deeply about everything in his life, including his mother, the town, the factory and his desire to work there. As the story goes along, you see him go on the journey of getting the job of his dreams, getting to work at the factory and then realising that this dream might not have been exactly what he thought it was.”
Daniel says Fortune Falls has a particular resonance in Alberta’s economy today, “The Mercy Chocolate Factory really is the heart and the lifeblood of the town. Everyone works there or is related to someone who works there. It’s been the supplier of their livelihood for generations and generations. Every child – not just Everet, but every child who grows up in Fortune Falls – dreams of working at this factory. It’s where their parents have worked and where they want to work. It’s the pinnacle of their desires…. There are major themes that can relate to the struggles that people are going through today, specifically around what can happen when a town or a city builds its identity around the single factory or type of business and what happens if that factory or business closes or fails.”
Daniel is joined onstage by four other cast members (Shannon Blanchet, Braydon Dowler-Coltman, Graham Mothersill, and Jamie Tognazzini) who play a variety of characters – from narrators to Everet’s family to previous factory employees to animals. The cast has been together since the initial run in Calgary last fall, but Daniel says starting rehearsals in Edmonton has been a whole new adventure for the team. “We had our initial production in Calgary that was such a blast. When we got up to Edmonton, we got significant changes to the story – reimaginings of the story and where our story and our message needed to go. It was quite a huge shift, so this last week has been learning almost entirely a new play for us….We had a great show in Calgary, we could have come up to Edmonton and done the exact same show and it would have been amazing, but Jonathan is not one to settle for anything. I think we’re all looking forward to stepping into this new story and sharing it with Edmonton.”
In typical Catalyst Theatre style, Daniel says the show’s music has Catalyst’s trademark catchiness. “It has a whimsical, almost music-box style. There are some outstanding numbers that just get in your head and have you dancing. It’s music that I would listen to as a musical, but also in my car to dance to or sing along with. It’s such a fun show and the music, in particular, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in other musicals before. It’s very unique and boundary-pushing.”
As part of the run in Calgary, Alberta Theatre Projects recorded one of Daniel’s favourite songs from Fortune Falls, “Just Like Charlie Bucket”: