About 20 years ago, Mike Arseneault had the chance to go to Liberty Grand in Toronto for World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius.
At the gathering, which was hosted by The Globe and Mail, the New Brunswick native caught an homage to Stephen Sondheim, the musical theatre genius behind such shows as West Side Story, Gypsy and Follies.
There, Arseneault met his hero and thanked him for writing the "soundtrack of my life."
Now, the Port Moody resident has created his own tribute to the master, who died last November.
Next month, Arseneault and his fledging Ioco Players will present an original musical revue to showcase 20 of Sondheim’s pieces in the Inlet Theatre.
"I’m a big Sondheim fan," he told the Tri-City News. "This is my small way of recognizing what’s he's done for theatre."
Arseneault said Sondheim is "very much about the story continuing through song. He has interesting characters. And he’s the most prolific and revered composer because of the breadth and depth of his work."
Still, he won't be the only musical theatre composer recognized at the Ioco Players' four performances.
After the intermission, Arseneault features 13 tunes penned by Stephen Schwartz, the composer behind such shows as Godspell, Wicked and The Prince of Egypt.
Songs from the second half "will be well known by many children because of their connection to Disney films," he said.
Stages: Sondheim & Schwartz is the first big show for Ioco Players, which Arseneault established in 2020 after moving to Port Moody from Portland, Ore., where he worked at the Nike headquarters in marketing.
A longtime community theatre lover — having performed in, produced or directed more than 100 shows in Toronto and Oregon — Arseneault hosted a small-scale production last February at the Port Moody Legion; the sold-out production of Love Letters brought in more than $6,000 for legion branch 119.
Since then, Ioco Players has also held private events with table readings of 12 Angry Jurors and Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
But Stages is on much bigger scale, Arseneault said, involving more cast and crew, a small orchestra (under Kyle Lorenzana Fonacier) and assistance from other theatre companies such as Stage 43 in Coquitlam.
Arseneault also reached out to businesses to help offset the high costs of the semi-professional production. "It’s amazing how many people are stepping up. Everybody is contributing where they can."
Port Moody retailers and companies "are happy to see a new theatre group in town and build community," he said. "We are forming important relationships in the City of the Arts and being inclusive."
As for the talent in Stages, Arseneault hired Lindy Sisson as choreographer and auditioned 21 people, choosing seven for the spotlight:
- Connor Hogg, a graduate of Capilano University’s musical theatre program
- Ian Kowalski, a graduate of the performing arts program at O’Neill Collegiate and Vocational Institute and the media production program at Ryerson University (now called Toronto Metropolitan University)
- Kara McLachlan, a musical theatre performer and dancer
- Lannette New, the soprano in the jazz a cappella ensemble Reverve
- Harold Perdoma, a singer with the Mount Royal Youth Choir/Edmonton Youth Choir
- Emily Saint, whose credits include Chicago, Legally Blonde and 13: The Musical at UBC
- Julia Walmsley, an elementary school music teacher
Arseneault said after Stages, Ioco Players plans a radio play in late October or early November.
Tickets to Stages: Sondheim & Schwartz at the Inlet Theatre (100 Newport Dr., Port Moody) are $35 via Eventbrite.ca.
The shows are Aug. 4, 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 7 at 3 p.m.
For more information, go to Ioco Players’ Facebook or Instagram pages or email email@example.com.
The Tri-City News is a media sponsor of the performances.