A show to take down the house: Burning Bluebeard is back!

Six clowns looking standing around looking.

Burning Bluebeard at The Roxy on Gateway. Photo credit Nanc Price.

It sure doesn’t sound very Christmas-y: a play about a man who murders his wives, a theatre fire that killed over 600 people, and six performers trapped in a never-ending cycle of performing the same show over and over again, hoping that one time it will end differently.

This is Burning Bluebeard, which is back at The Roxy on Gateway as part of Theatre Network’s Roxy Performance Series December 12 – 23. Having had its Edmonton debut almost a year after the fire at the Roxy, Burning Bluebeard is back for its third and probably final year.

Director Dave Horak says this show is different, but perfect, for the holiday season given its strangely delightful mixture of death, clown, terror, and hopefulness. “I have mixed feelings about Christmas and the holidays. Personally, I get a little sad around this time, as I’m sure a lot of people do, so I’m always looking for something that’s a little different…The show is about looking back at this historical fire, but the theme of the story is also that there’s always hope for the future and something to look forward to. There’s something about that hopefulness that’s been great to jump back into every year.”

“One of the themes I think is really prevalent is the performer’s desire to do something really great. When they were performing this show in 1903, this Christmas pantomime, it was probably pretty bad. It wasn’t a very good show, this version of Mr. Bluebeard. I think the performers probably knew it. One thing we talked about with the cast is the perpetual hopefulness of the performer. For example, when you’re in a show and it’s not great, but you still put everything on the line. You think “God, I hope people like the show. I hope it doesn’t suck.” Those shows are even kind of harder. Most people don’t try to make a bad show. Everyone is trying to do their best possible work – I don’t know people who try to do bad theatre. It just kind of sometimes happens.”

A box with a leg reaching out of it.

Burning Bluebeard at The Roxy on Gateway. Photo credit Nanc Price.

Dave says the show has been a hit with audiences over the years, turning into somewhat of a cult hit. “We have people come two or three times in a run and people who’ve seen it a couple times each year. There’s a little bit of like, ‘You won’t believe what this show is about. It’s about a fire that killed 600 kids!’ ”

This year almost the entire original Edmonton cast (Braydon Dowler-Coltman, Vincent Forcier, Amber Lewis, John Ullyatt & Stephanie Wolfe) returns, with the exception of the fairy queen, who will be played by Brooke Leifso. Being a pantomime, each performer has a number where they shine – my favourite from the original performance being John Ullyatt’s Amy Winehouse cover.

Dave says the pantomime format really allows the individual performers to shine. Having originally been written for The Ruffians, Dave said Edmonton Actors Theatre worked with playwright Jay Torrence to make changes that allowed the local cast to shine. “When I was looking at the script, I realized we can’t do certain things because we don’t have those people. So, I changed things with the playwright’s permission to suit the performers… When Richelle Thoreson [who originated the fairy queen role in Edmonton] couldn’t come back this year, I looked at it as an opportunity to find someone different. Brooke isn’t a ballerina, she moves differently. We sat down and talked and I said I want to take the way you move and insert that into the show. I think that’s awesome to find someone who is differently abled and brings a whole different vibe to it. It’s exciting and it challenges everyone else who’s done it for a couple years to adjust their performances.”

Burning Bluebeard plays at The Roxy on Gateway December 12 – 23. Previews are December 12 and 13, with opening night being December 14. Tickets are $18 – $22 through Theatre Network’s website. Tickets on Tuesday, December 19 are two-for-one.

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