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Fall theatre preview: Puppets, painters, politics and pop

A scene from Ronnie Burkett's "Penny Plain"

Ian Jackson/EPIC Photography

From puppet shows about the impending apocalypse to investigations of Israeli-Palestinian politics, this fall's theatre season is not short on edgy or provocative fare. But there's also plenty hitting the country's stages (and concert arenas) for more populist playgoers – whether a new musical based on a Hollywood hit or the Cirque du Soleil's resurrection of a certain moonwalking king of pop.

Red Canadian Stage in Toronto, Nov. 19 to Dec. 17.

John Logan's Tony-winning drama about visual artist Mark Rothko gets its Canadian premiere under the direction of a particularly visually gifted director, Siminovitch Prize winner Kim Collier. What makes one really want to see Red, however, is that Jim Mezon – the Shaw Festival company member known for his intense performance style – is cast as the abstract expressionist in question. It's hard to think of an actor on the planet better suited than Mezon to follow Alfred Molina in the fiery role. Toronto gets this production first, before it heads to the Vancouver Playhouse and Citadel Theatre in the new year.

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Grumpy Old Men: The Musical Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, Oct. 13 to Nov. 5.

The 1993 comedy that reunited Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in their dotage is the latest Hollywood movie to be transformed into a stage musical. As for whether it will share the success of The Producers or the infamy of Carrie: The Musical, Winnipeggers get first dibs on finding out. One of the most expensive shows the Manitoba Theatre Centre has ever produced, this Broadway-bound (according to its New York producers) production stars Tony-winning John Rubinstein ( Children of a Lesser God) and aging Baywatch babe Susan Anton.

Michael Jackson: THE IMMORTAL World Tour On tour: Montreal; Ottawa; Hamilton; London, Ont.; Toronto; Winnipeg; Saskatoon; Edmonton and Vancouver, starting Oct. 2.

This is it? Hardly. The Michael Jackson juggernaut continues on after his death with this new Cirque du Soleil arena tour, which, they say, will be unlike anything Guy Laliberté's circus company has ever done before. Cirque has an impressive track record of making razzle-dazzle spectaculars out of pop songbooks (see: The Beatles LOVE and Viva Elvis in Las Vegas) and Jackson's music is as popular as ever, so anticipation is high.

Penny Plain Citadel Theatre in Edmonton (until Oct. 9), Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary (Oct. 18 to Nov. 6) and Vancouver East Cultural Centre (Nov. 17 to Dec. 17).

Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett's latest concerns a blind woman named Penny waiting for the world to end from global warming and financial collapse. The (inanimate) cast of 35 joining Burkett on his Western Canadian tour includes fundamentalist survivalists, a serial killer and a grown-up Pinocchio. Sounds like a return to peculiar form for the world-famous string-puller whose fans include the creators of War Horse.

The Poster Infinitheatre in Montreal, Nov. 17 to Dec. 4.

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Palestinian printer Abou Salem makes a steady living creating posters of the many martyrs who die in the ongoing Middle East conflict, but one day he finds he must make one for his only son. This politically potent play by Philippe Ducros, artistic director of Espace Libre, won a Quebec theatre critics' award in 2009 and now gets its English-language debut in a translation by Shelley Tepperman. A guest production by Teesri Duniya Theatre at Montreal's independent infinitheatre company.

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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