TrudeauMania takes Fringe audiences on a roller coaster ride

Choreographer Kailley Roesler helping revive bygone era in new musical

TrudeauMania, written and directed by Daniel McLeod, composed by Brendan Steele, Daniel McLeod and Sebastian Hugeneck, and choreographed by Kailley Roesler. The show is presented as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival, Sept. 7-16 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St., Vancouver. Box office:

Trudeau senior, a motorcycle riding rock star, gives his son a run for his ministerial money in a new show at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

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The year is 1947 and a young Pierre, who is studying abroad, cruises through the streets of Paris on his Harley Davidson. The future prime minister is freewheeling – before family expectations and the October Crisis appear on the horizon.

Chock-full of satire, comedy and drama, the musical TrudeauMania explores Justin’s charismatic father Pierre, from his rapid rise to the prime minister’s chair, to his secret engagement to 21-year-old Margaret, to his darkest days in October 1970, when he invoked the War Measures Act in response to the FLQ crisis.

Trudeaumania was borne in early 1968 out of the excitement generated by Pierre during his campaign for the Liberal party leadership, and gained momentum towards Parliament Hill. Many Canadians, especially women, were dazzled by the relatively young prime minister, an energetic nonconformist who stole hearts on the eve of the Summer of Love.

Throughout the musical, Pierre is paid a visit from celebrities and politicians of the day, including Barbra Streisand, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Richard Nixon. Justin even makes an appearance later on in the show – prompting a pipeline joke.

The production features a four-piece band playing all original music, along with some creative choreography – the latter of which Capilano University musical theatre student Kailley Roesler can take credit for. In fact, the Lynn Valley resident has been dancing since she learned to walk and talk.

“I begged my mom to put me in my ballet lessons. I saw pointe shoes and I wanted to do it,” recalls Roesler, in between rehearsals for TrudeauMania.

During high school Roesler channelled her thespian talents and created a drama therapy group for students with special needs including Down syndrome and autism.

“I realized how therapeutic it could be and I saw students who were benefiting from it so well,” says Roesler. “It brought them out of their shells.”

Signing up for CapU’s musical theatre program was a natural step for Roesler, who is heading into her third year. Roesler says she’s looking forward to being involved with some female empowerment shows CapU is putting on in the coming months, including Sense and Sensibility and Nine to Five.

But first there’s the Fringe Festival, a theatrical feast that is spoken “so highly of” in Vancouver, says Roesler. After her partner was cast as Lennon in TrudeauMania, he told Roesler they were looking for a choreographer, but she couldn’t imagine it – at first but quickly realized: “An opportunity has come my way. I’m going to take it now and figure out how to do it later – and grow in that sense.”

Roesler is really stretching her choreographic muscles, helping a cast of nine revive a bygone – and electrifying – political era, through song and dance.

“The show is massive,” explains Roesler. “It’s got so much variety in music: hip hop, pop, musical theatre, folk music, country, rock – everything.”

The audience is taken on a musical roller coaster ride that plows through the peaks and valleys of Pierre’s life. Among the original songs is a hip-hop number, called “My Name is Trudeau,” which celebrates Pierre’s rise to power and popularity.  Meanwhile, “Just Watch Me” – a phrase coined by Pierre during the October Crisis – inspired a tune infused with a Johnny Cash/Elvis-esque flavour. In a more touching scene, choral music fills the room for Pierre’s funeral.

Helping to set the scene in this multimedia musical are moving projections of famous landmarks such as Parliament Hill dusted with snow. Vancouver references also figure prominently in the show, including how Margaret wanted to be married here and not in Ottawa. If fact, the famous first couple had a secret ceremony at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Lynn Valley.

Trudeaumania is a retelling of events from the 1970s, but with 2018 attitude courtesy of an open-minded cast.

“What’s interesting about the show is that we’re looking more at the dialogue and the characterization rather than their appearance,” explains Roesler. “Our Pierre and Margaret are both people of colour – which I love. When we were casting them it wasn’t about what they look like, it was about who they are, and their voices and their talent.”

From the moment Roesler met actor Adam Olgui, she says she saw the magnetic, rose-wearing prime minister.  

“He has the accent down. He has the characterization down … (and) the attitude,” describes Roesler.

Hours of practise goes in to make sure all the actors are in sync on stage – a responsibility Roesler thrives on.

“I really enjoy being in a leadership position and finding ways to teach everybody,” she explains. “I think a huge part of being a choreographer is not to create stellar dance moves but to create a whole dynamic for the entire group that makes everybody look good.”

After she graduates from Capilano University, Roesler wants to continue with choreography and directing.

“It’s something that really sparks a passion in my heart – I love it so, so much,” she says.


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