Major contender arrives on Canuck legit scene

TORONTO — A new theater player in town looks like he has the cash and the nerve to stick around a while.

Aubrey Dan, the 42-year-old Toronto-born president of Dancap Prods., is the first serious contender to hit the city’s legit scene in the past decade. Bankrolled via his family’s pharmaceutical business Novopharm, his simply stated goal is to get “more theatrical product on the scene, more synergy, to make Toronto a better destination.”

Ever since Garth Drabinsky was shown the door at Livent in 1998 and the empire soon crumbled behind him, Toronto has been virtually a one-producer town ruled by Mirvish Prods. The company either owns or operates the three major venues in town (the Royal Alexandra, Princess of Wales and Canon theaters). With rare exceptions, if a touring company or a sit-down version of a Broadway hit comes to Toronto, Mirvish has been behind it.

Dan doesn’t see himself as an adversary or rival. “The Mirvishes have welcomed us to Toronto, and we have a good deal of respect for them,” he says.

In 2002, Novopharm spun off some of its considerable profits into a company called Dancap Equity, which soon got involved with CanStage, the city’s largest not-for-profit theater.

From 2004 to ’06, Dancap joined CanStage in funding “Urinetown,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” and “Hair.” None of the three did particularly well at the box office, but Dan looked at it as “my education in the theater business.”

“The critical thing to the pharmaceutical business was the pipeline,” he says. “Coming on new properties first and locking up exclusivity. All those things belong to the theater business.”

After this year’s “Hair,” Dan decided to go it alone and took CanStage’s production manager, Paul Shaw, to be his managing director.

Dan and Shaw are hoping to offer “up to three productions a year” in Toronto, but don’t intend to challenge the Mirvishes for their 40,000-plus subscribers.

“We’re not married to real estate,” says Dan. “We’re married to opportunities. We’re not doing shows on any set timetable.”

That flexibility also applies to venues. Dan admits he’d be willing to use one of the Mirvish properties if it were available, or another suitable downtown location such as the Elgin/Winter Garden Theater complex.

“We’re actively engaged in discussions with various New York producers,” Dan says. “We’re prepared to make significant investment in all our productions.”

Dan, one of the above-the-line producers of “The Wedding Singer,” intends to announce his first title in November; local media have speculated that it might be the Tony-winning musical “Jersey Boys.”

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