50 Reasons To Love Toronto: No. 12, Louise Pitre’s musical theatre renaissance
It takes a special kind of singer to inspire pathos with ABBA. That’s exactly what Louise Pitre did at the Royal Alex in 2000, when she poured herself into a spangled jumpsuit to play the lead in the mother of all jukebox musicals, Mamma Mia! Pitre was already famous here for cornering the market on tragic-yet-defiant women (Fantine in Les Misérables, Edith Piaf in Piaf), but the songs of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus launched her star into the stratosphere. After Toronto came Broadway and with it rave reviews for the feisty powerhouse belting out “The Winner Takes It All” night after night. A decade later, Pitre is training the spotlight on Toronto’s musical theatre performers, in a bid to both stem the exodus of talent to the United States and promote the Canadian canon. Along with fellow heavyweights such as Colm Wilkinson, Brent Carver and Adam Brazier, she created Theatre 20, an artist-run, grassroots, Soulpepper-like company for the triple-threat set. The group kicked things off in January with a workshop of Sisters, an English-language version of the smash-hit Québécois musical Les Belles-Soeurs—Pitre was in the lead as Germaine Lauzon, the Montreal housewife whose sudden good fortune inspires jealousy and contempt from her neighbours. This month, Pitre is joined by her co-founders for a one-night-only concert that celebrates Canadian musical composers Leslie Arden, David Warrack and Jonathan Monro. While Pitre is no longer singing ABBA, she has made herself into another kind of mama, a nurturer of a new generation of Canadian musical fans.