Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope takes centre stage

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The cast of new folk musical Marathon of Hope rehearse their lyrics ahead of opening night on Nov. 27.



It’s been more than seven years in the making, but the story of Terry Fox is set to make its Canada-wide debut on Theatre Sheridan’s musical stage.

Marathon of Hope, a new folk musical about the iconic journey of Terry Fox and his run across Canada to raise money for cancer research, will take the stage next week as the first production of Theatre Sheridan’s 2013/14 season. The musical is a first of its kind in Canada, and a way to revitalize Terry’s enduring legacy.

“A lot of people do know his story as far as what happened during the run,” said Martin Zwicker, Theatre Sheridan production manager. “The music allows us to relay to the audience what’s going on inside Terry…his motivation, his challenges, so then it’s not just a documentary on his run.”

Michael Rubinoff, the associate dean of performing arts at Sheridan, agreed.

“I think theatre is a very powerful medium, and this is a very significant, culturally significant, way to tell his story,” he said. “The music expresses an emotion that can’t otherwise be expressed through spoken words.”

The original script, music and lyrics were first developed in 2006, when Marathon of Hope had its first trial run in Sheridan’s studio theatre.

“At that time the response was really positive from everybody,” Zwicker said. “And it was always something that we said we should try to develop even further. But it took a lot of time over the last six years with Terry’s family, the Fox Foundation, to allow us to do it again, because they were very protective of Terry’s name, and the context of how the show would all come together.”

And when they got the green light this past summer, they were ready.

Sheridan grad John Connolly, 30, came up with the idea in 2004 during a Terry Fox Run. He composed the music and lyrics for the show while still a student, and decided on folk as it was one of the genres Fox himself listened to. Connolly graduated from the music theatre performance program in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2007 when Sheridan asked him to come back and do a workshop production of the show when things started to fall into place.

Connolly has since worked closely with musical director Michael Mulrooney, director and theatre practitioner Jim Betts, producer Michael Rubinoff, and the Fox family, to nurture Terry’s story.

“We have always believed that the most wonderful thing about this show is that it can continue to raise awareness about Terry’s goals.”

While it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication from those involved with production, Connolly said he is grateful that it took as long as it did, because it afforded him time to make it the best possible show it could be.

“Terry had always been a huge source of inspiration to me,” Connolly said. “I just couldn’t walk away from this project. It just felt to me that this had to happen, that this is a new way to tell Terry’s story, and that’s for me what it’s really all about; to share Terry’s story and his dream…It was all for the best, I’d say.”

The Fox family has been very involved in the production of Marathon of Hope, especially Darrell Fox, Terry’s younger brother, and Doug Alward, Terry’s best friend, who was with him on the road every step of the way. Alward was chosen to be a major player in the musical, and it’s through his perspective that the story is presented.

“The reason we’re telling the story through Terry’s best friend’s eyes is because we wanted to give a very personal glimpse into Terry’s life,” Connolly said. “We wanted to show the story for what it was, and when you bring it into that personal place, it’s two friends on the road and it gets pretty real. It’s easy to put yourself in their shoes.”

Rubinoff says that this resource was indispensable.

“I feel very privileged to have spent time with Doug [Alward] to talk about that, which is still a very moving and present event in his life, and always will be,” he said. “The emotion is still very much there, and when you have a group of young people telling that story, young people who are their age at the time, it was a very compelling moment to be part of that, and to watch history wash over them. It was quite profound.”

The production involves a 10-member cast of professional actors, including seven Sheridan graduates. Joining the former Sheridan theatre students for this production are Alex Furber, who headlined War Horse at Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, Paula Brancati, who starred in Degrassi: The Next Generation and had a recurring role in CBC’s Being Erica, and Loretta Bailey, who was an original cast member in the Canadian production of Les Mis.

Rubinoff considers Marathon of Hope a lot like a homecoming for the returning Sheridan graduates.

“It’s such a thrilling thing to come back to your alma mater and act in this great new musical, soak up this environment and perform on a stage that they probably thought they never would ever again,” he said. “So it’s a real thrill, and I think they’re going to have a good time.”

While current performing arts students will not be in the musical, students from the technical production for theatre and live events program will be very much involved. They will be in charge of building all the sets, costumes and props, including the prosthetic leg worn by the actor playing Terry.

Opening night is already sold out, and the Fox family will be in attendance. Rubinoff says he expects word-of-mouth to take care of the rest of the 11-day run, and beyond that, he sees a lot of potential for Marathon of Hope.

“I truly hope that this is a piece that will play in Toronto and across this country,” he said. “And I hope it’s a piece that every school child will come and visit and families will come and see. It’s a way to honour a very important part of our history and what I believe is our heritage. And I believe that ultimately it will help to promote his legacy, and his dream of one day finding a cure for cancer.”

“It’s such an incredible story, and it’s an honour to be a part of the team that’s bringing it to the stage,” Connolly added.

Marathon of Hope will run from Nov. 27 to Dec. 8. Visit the Theatre Sheridan website and their Facebook page for more information and box office details.