Aubrey Dan Won't be Upstaged

Published: July 23rd 2010
in Culture » Stage

Aubrey Dan
Pic: Peter Lamb

It’s not hard to spot Aubrey Dan in the throng of theatre-goers converging on the ground floor of the cavernous Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.  The opening night of Miss Saigon also marks the launch of Dancap Productions’ inaugural Summer Broadway Series, and the luminous building is filled with patrons eagerly awaiting a night of breathtaking Broadway-style theatre. Clad in a black suit and his trademark fedora, Dan is standing alone between the bar and the translucent, pale- green staircase that extends up all five stories, warmly greeting each guest who ventures over. He has an unmistakable presence, and for someone who didn’t grow up around theatre, who never performed himself, Dan looks remarkably at home.


Six weeks earlier, I meet with Dan in his spacious Yonge Street office, right around the corner from the Toronto Centre for the Performing Art, where Jersey Boys is still playing after nearly two years. “I never thought I would get into theatre, because I don’t sing and I don’t dance,” he tells me. He joined his father’s pharmaceutical company Novopharm in the late ‘80s, and founded two of his own companies in 2002, but when a friend approached him for help with sponsorship for the Canadian Stage Company, he “caught the bug.”


But working in the not-for-profit sector began to feel constraining, and being a businessman by nature, Dan noticed a couple things. One was that Toronto lacked a steady supply of splashy, Broadway-style musicals that bring in the masses and demand top dollar. The other was that the city’s theatrical community could do with a little competition. “I saw that the Toronto market had a monopoly, and quite frankly, since the departure to Livent, there had been a huge vacuum created,” says Dan. “So my first need is I enjoy theatre, but it became a business opportunity.”


To that end, Dan searches out shows that have commercial viability, but that also “pull the heartstrings. My approach has been, what is the common touch with everybody? What resonates? If you look at every major Broadway show, there’s always a love story.”


He’s found success with sold-out presentations of The Drowsy Chaperone, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and a Canadian co-production of Anne of Green Gables. Even The Toxic Avenger, which closed early in January, received five Dora Award nominations the day we met (and ended up winning one for Outstanding Female Performance for Louise Pitre), so clearly, Dan has a knack for choosing hits.


He hopes to continue that wave with two shows this summer that launch Dancap’s inaugural Summer Broadway Series. A co-production between Dancap and the Pittsburgh CLO, Miss Saigon is the tragic, Madame Butterfly-esque love story between a young Vietnamese prostitute and an American solider who are torn apart during the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War. It has everything Dan talked about: dazzling production values (including that famous helicopter scene), a sweeping musical score and a love story. In August comes the Lincoln Centre production of South Pacific.


Related articles: (stage, aubrey dan, dancap, miss saigon, south pacific)

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