IN DREAMS is the latest musical to land in Toronto and definitely one that caught my attention. At first glance, I noticed this storyline was created by David West Read (writer, and playwright of Schitt’s Creek, & Juliet). That was enough to catapult this production to the forefront of my mind. But I was curious about how the show would flow as a whole with songs by Roy Orbison. The country-rock legend had many hits and more than I realized when I saw this musical that celebrates life.

The storyline of IN DREAMS tells the story of Kenna (Lena Hall) who is at a critical point in her life. She feels the need to reconnect with her old friends of the band, “Heartbreak Radio” before moving on to her next chapter in life. “She’s someone who wants to feel a little fire from her past before saying goodbye but she also keeps her motivations a secret,” said Lena Hall, who plays the leading role.

The story takes place in the desert of New Mexico where Kenna finds a little Mexican restaurant that not only serves tacos and margaritas but also offers memorial services to honour the dead.

When old friends, and new, gather in the restaurant for Kenna’s going away party it is the party to end all parties. Past memories surface and like many reunions of its kind, it’s full of great memories, laughter, and  “remember when?” moments. Life has evolved naturally but the connections they had will always feel like home.

In between the familiar songs, the audience can expect to laugh a lot. The production seems to always know how to pull the audience out of a potentially sad moment and inject just the right amount of humour to keep the story moving.

Hall tells us the audience will also be touched in unexpected ways emotionally. “There’s a lot of things people will see on stage that they might reflect on themselves. I hope that people leave the theatre wanting to call people they love and tell them that they love them. They might feel the urge to connect with lost friends that they had a really deep connection with or family members they maybe don’t talk to too often. The show itself really takes into perspective how precious our time on earth is and to hold those who you hold dear to you just a little closer.”

In Dreams - Mirvish

Full company In Dreams. Photo by Pamela Raith

The entire cast is incredible. Hall’s lead role of Kenna felt like it was made for her. And it was. “I feel very lucky because this character has been kind of written around me and they’ve really taken into account who I am as a performer and who I am as a person. As well as my stories and my experiences. The script is extremely well written by David West Read and he did such a beautiful job writing three-dimensional female characters which you don’t find that often especially as a female lead.” said Hall. So, a lot of what you see on stage directly comes from Hall herself.

The all-star West End cast in this Toronto engagement also includes Oliver Tompsett as drummer Ramsey, Manuel Pacific as restaurant owner Oscar, Sian Reese-Williams and Noël Sullivan as married couple lyricist Jane and guitarist Donovan, Broadway legend Alma Cuervo as Oscar’s grandmother Ana Sofia, Richard Trinder as widower George, Leon Craig as Tom, head chef of the restaurant, Hannah Ducharme as Bianca and the production’s Dance Captain as well as the 1st cover for Kenna and Jane, Mark Peachey as Officer Lee and Resident Director as well as 1st cover for Ramsey, Donovan and George, and Fabiola Ocasio in the ensemble as well as 1st cover for Nicole and Bianca.

Also, joining the cast is local artist Nasim Ramirez as Oscar’s long-time girlfriend Nicole, Ache Hernandez in the ensemble and 1st cover for Oscar and Tom, and Susan Dunstan as 1st cover for Ana Sofia.

I admitted to Hall that I’ve never really put much thought into Roy Orbison’s songs. Like many of you, I recognize them when I hear them. But wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to download them but I do love how this production has worked them in. Dare I say that the songs are even more enjoyable in this context? But I wanted to know what were her favourite Orbison’s tunes.

Crying is my favourite,” said Hall. “But when I was a little girl I remember my parents listening to the Travelling Wilburys a lot and Handle Me With Care was like, ‘I know this song, how do I know this song?!’ So, that was really cool. And Anything You Want,  is a favourite, of course.”

Full company In Dreams. Photo by Pamela Raith (3).jpg

Full company In Dreams. Photo by Pamela Raith

Hall is no stranger to the theatre stage. Born into a family in the arts she tells us she began in dance. She started in ballet since her father had his own company and her mother was a Prima Ballerina. “I studied ballet for a very long time and performed professionally for a while. But at 12 I burnt out from ballet and I knew it wasn’t quite my passion. I did musical theatre because my sister was doing it and I really loved that.”

When she was 17, Hall went to an open call for the musical CATS in San Francisco and immediately went on tour at the age of 18. Then went to Broadway when she was 19. She’s been in productions including Kinky Boots on Broadway and won the Tony Award for her performance as Yitzhak in the 2014 revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Her other Broadway credits include Cats, 42nd Street, Dracula, the Musical and Tarzan, the Musical. She’s also been in numerous films including Sex and the City (2018) and The Graduates (2008) and has appeared on All My Children, HBO’s Girls, and Amazon Prime’s Good Girls Revolt.

With all her incredible acting skills what draws her back to this amazing piece of live theatre?

“Theatre in general and just being on stage with a live audience can’t be replicated on TV or film,” said Hall “But being on stage and getting feedback from the audience, there’s some kind of symbiosis that happens between you and the audience that energizes me and helps me energize the audience. There’s an interesting catharsis that happens when performing live for an audience.

It’s extremely special and should not be taken for granted in our lives. It can touch people in a way that TV/film can’t because you’re there. Being in a theatre and the smells of a theatre is a more tactile experience. Watching something unfold live right before your eyes and be immersed in shouldn’t be taken for granted especially now. With AI and virtual reality, people are being pulled into this computerized space. I don’t think that can replicate what you can experience in a live theatre especially because you are with other people. There’s something to be said about 2000 people sitting together in a theatre and feeling something at the same time.”

IN DREAMS is an unexpected feel-good story with incredible casting. It’s about new beginnings and ends but it’s also about what you do in between that matters. And it will leave you with that perfect vibe of feeling warm and cozy in these fall months.

IN DREAMS is now on stage at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto until November 12, 2023. For more information visit mirvish.com

Be sure to also check out our write-up on SIX THE MUSICAL as well currently on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until February 11, 2014.