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Calgary composer Joe Slabe celebrates 15 years at Forte Musical Theatre Guild with Buy Me a Drink, Joe

 Allison Lynch, Stephen Ingram, Jason Lemmon and Joe Slabe star in Buy Me a Drink, Joe at CSpace Studio Theatre in Calgary through May 5. Allison Lynch, Stephen Ingram, Jason Lemmon and Joe Slabe star in Buy Me a Drink, Joe at CSpace Studio Theatre in Calgary through May 5.

Joe Slabe fell in love with an art form that involves singing your feelings, but it took him 15 years to get around to singing his.

Slabe, the musical master behind Calgary's Forte Musical Guild, has been creating memorable mini-musicals for a decade and a half but has never really veered into the autobiographical, in shows such as the annual holiday hit Naughty But Nice, the award-winning Jeremy de Bergerac, the hilarious Austentatious, or Touch Me: Songs for a Disconnected Age, Maria Rasputin Presents, Twisted, Lest We Forget, Crime Does Not Pay, The Paper Bag Princess and But This is My Day Job.

Overall, there have been 29 separate productions that have won 25 local, provincial and international awards – including the American Musical Prize at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Now, Slabe has created Buy Me a Drink Joe, a revue of tunes that are mostly about him, and enlisted a talented trio that includes Allison Lynch, Stephen Ingram and Jason Lemmon to help him perform them at the studio theatre in CSpace.

“The show was always intended to be a celebration of 15 years of Forte shows, comprised of songs I’ve written,” Slabe said, in an email reply to some questions from CTV News. “At first, it was going to be a review along the lines of Side by Side by Sondheim. But the director I was working with wasn’t really that interested in staging another musical revue and felt like the show needed a story.

“So, as I dug into my back catalogue, I started to realize that a lot of my songs are intensely personal," he added, "but distanced from my own experience by virtue of being sung by a character instead of the actual people and events they’re based on.”

It turned out the more he shared those personal songs with the cast, the more personal they wanted the show to be.

“It was a little intimidating,” he said, “and I was worried that people might not be that interested, but the sessions kind of evolved into 'Story Time with Joe' where I would relate things that actually happened and they thought it was fascinating.”

Hilights and lowlights

Looking back on 15 years of making musicals, Slabe says there are definitely a few highlights – and one global lowlight.

“I’m really lucky since I feel like there’s been a lot of highlights over the years but, if I had to pick one, I’d say it was being in rehearsals for Jeremy de Bergerac here in Calgary and knowing that it was really special," Slabe says.

"It was the first time I didn’t worry or care what anyone thought about my writing because I knew, in my bones, that it was good," he adds. "That it went on to win a bunch of awards at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (under the title Crossing Swords) was incredibly validating to me as an artist. 

“The lowlight was having to cancel shows and move everything online during COVID-19. I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish with our online work but theatre will always be about the connection between performer and audience and it was devastating to lose that connection for so long.”

As far as the future goes, Slabe says there will be more musicals coming from Forte.

“Forte is co-producing a brand new holiday show with Lunchbox Theatre this December and I’ve started writing a pretty ambitious new musical. It’s in the very early stages but I’m in discussions with another theatre company here in town in hopes of partnering on that too.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll always be working on something,” he adds. “Musical theatre writers never really retire.”

Buy Me a Drink, Joe runs at CSpace Studio Theatre through May 5. For tickets, go here. Top Stories

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