Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fringing In Toronto - Theatre Reviews

Toronto Fringe Festival - Toronto, ON

Fringe Theatre Festivals can always be so hit or miss, but maybe between researching the paper reviews and heeding to word of mouth (from the streets and facebook updates), I managed to see 11 shows, none of which that sucked. At worst they were mediocre and mildly entertaining, but usually a terrific performer made up for it.

At best, I managed to see 5 of the 7 Best of Fringe picks, who all get a remount at Canstage's Berkeley Street Theatre from this Wednesday July 15th through Saturday July 25th, so if you're in Toronto, you can still catch some of my faves (and some of the shows will move on through the Fringe Theatre circuit). And the good ones were GOOD! I've listed the shows starting from the Best. (I also had Mini Reviews on my twitter site)

Morro and Jasp Do Puberty - Tarragon Theatre Extraspace - ***** (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Created by Heather Marie Annis, Byron Laviolette and Amy Lee, Directed by Byron Laviolette

Will Remount at Best Of Fringe at the Berkeley Street Theatre July 22-25

As You Puppet - Palmerston Library Theatre - ***** (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
"As You Like It" Written by William Shakespeare, Adapted by Jane McClelland and Mike Petersen, Directed by Ken MacDougall and Tom McHale

Will Remount at Best Of Fringe at the Berkeley Street Theatre July 23-25

Just East of Broadway - George Ignatieff Theatre - **** (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Music by Nicholas Hune-Brown and Daniel Lee, Book by Nicholas Hune-Brown and Ben King, Directed by Lorna Wright

My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding - Bread & Circus - **** (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Written by David Hein & Irene Carl, Songs by David Hein, Directed by Andrew Lamb

Will Remount at Best Of Fringe at the Berkeley Street Theatre July 15-17

Candida - Burning Passions Theatre at Innis Town Hall - **** (out of 5 stars) Original posted review
Written by George Bernard Shaw, Directed by Laurel Smith

Head First - by Femmes Des Feu - Theatre Passe Muraille Mainstage - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Choreographed by Holly Treddenick and Sabrina Pringle

Will Remount at Best Of Fringe at the Berkeley Street Theatre July 23-25

Hipcheck The Musical - Robert Gill Theatre - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Book by Shelley M. Hobbs, Music by Rob Torr, Lyrics by Shelley M. Hobbs and Rob Torr, Directed by Rob Torr

Will Remount at Best Of Fringe at the Berkeley Street Theatre July 17, 18, 22

Moving Along - Tarragon Theatre Mainspace - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Written by Chris Craddock

Like Father, Like Son? Sorry - Factory Theatre Mainspace - *** (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Written by Chris Gibbs

Nebraska The Musical - Theatre Passe Murraille Mainstage - *** (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Music and lyrics by Kevin McGarry, Neil Mackay, & Daniel Abrahamson, Book by Kevin McGarry, Directed by Adam Brazier

Lysistrata - Eyewitness Theatre UK - Theatre Passe Murraille Mainstage - *** (out of 5 stars) (Twitter MiniReview)
Written and directed by Peter McGarry

My two faves were Morro and Jasp Do Puberty and As You Puppet. Both are simply brilliant. And both take a childlike innocence to look at adult things.

In Morro and Jasp Do Puberty, Fringe faves Morro and Jasp, two girl clowns created by Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, usually do shows for kids. But now they've grown up and hit those pesky teen years in a show clearly for adults. The now teenage clowns must deal with periods, hormones, boys, the school dance, breasts, pads, and more periods. No subject is off-limits and the hilarity is off the charts, yet Annis and Lee manage to keep it emotionally grounded while they spin some sharp observations on the most common time of life. It's so well written and so well performed that I think EVERY girl and boy who is going through puberty or have passed it, should see this show.

As You Puppet is an adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like It written and performed by Jane McClelland and Mike Petersen. With puppets. Actually, not puppets. The whole show is performed with stuffed toys. Cute plush toys.

Orlando is now played by an adorable teddy bear. Rosalind is also a teddy bear. Celia is a pink cat, Duke Senior a giraffe, Charles is played by an Orangutan, and so on. And McClelland and Petersen manipulate the puppets so well, and voice the characters so perfectly, that not only do they make the Shakespearean verses understandable, the fluffy toys become fully realized live characters who act better than some real life actors I've seen.

Utterly adorable and incredibly witty and charming and one of the most easily understandable and enjoyable Shakespeare shows I've seen. And definitely for people and puppets of all ages.

(l-r, Andrea Lui, Darrel Gamotin, Jay Davis, Gene Abella, and Lana Carillo)

Just East of Broadway is a completely silly and ridiculous new musical about a has-been star who is coaxed into heading to China to revive his career, while in reality, it's his manipulate wife who is trying to kill him off. He's sent off to a backwards small town to star in a musical the Mid-level Official has concocted as a way to put their town on the map, while she sends her personal assistant to follow suit as a hired assassin pretending to be a costume designer. Yes, it's wacky but it's very funny in all the silliness. While they could amp up some of the political bite and sharpen the plentiful satire the concept calls for (Broadway? China? Industrialization? Communism and Capitalism? Fish out of water? Small towns attempt to grow? Mid-Level Officials? It could be endless, but this show stops far too short of the bite it could have taken).

But, what the show lacks in bite, the cast fills with endless heart, especially the lovely Lana Carillo (Funny Business) as Mei Ling, the main Chinese girl at odds with actor Rex Maverick (an amusing Jay Davis). Gene Abella (as the Mid-Level Official), Darrel Gamotin (as Tai Lee, the lovelorn guy) and Andrea Lui (as Sui Fung, the naive girl) are wonderfully buoyant and charming. But the handsome Graham Losee almost steals the show as Ryan/Allan, the PA turned Assassin/ Costume Designer who just really wants to dance. Not only does Losee dance well (hilariously fitted into the show) but his dacne skills enhance his physical comedic chops and his over-the-top performance (and I mean that in the best sense).

While the poster and the name of the musical itself would lead you to believe that My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding is a kitschy low-brow musical, the no frills folksy bare boned musical is absolutely charming and strangely compelling. The show, narrated by writer David Hein based on his real life mom and her lesbian Jewish-Wiccan wedding, brings along his real life wife (and co-writer) Irene Carl for the ride as he tells the tale of his parents divorce, his mom's coming out, meeting his future wife, the introductory meeting of future wife with his mom and her lesbian lover at Hooters, and ultimately, the titled wedding. The show zips along at Fringe musical speed but the story has such surprising depth, that I thought Hein could stretch out the show longer, fill in some of the story gaps, add some more songs, and turn this into a full fledged length musical if he wanted to.

He also lucks out with a great cast including Lisa Horner (above, second from left, Shaw's Wonderful Town) as his mother and Kyle Orzech (above left) as his younger self, young David (introduced in a hilarious way). Orzech, who also plays various other characters (including a Hooters girl) has a spunky zest and stage presence that is truly promising, while Horner gives the show some nice dramatic weight. Hein (above centre) himself as the narrator has a un-diva stage charm that works well to guide the show.

Head First, by Femmes Des Feu, is an aerialist/dance show by an all-female team. Think Spice Girls meets Cirque du Soleil. The first and third sections were pretty cool, especially when the girls would climb fabrics hung from the ceiling and then twist themselves around before they would drop straight to the ground. A middle section with a single flamenco dancer felt more seemed to come out of nowhere though. It's as if someone in the cast knew how to do it so they thought they would just shove it into the show. Still, some pretty amazing stuff and the muscles on the women were kinda scary.

While the posters and the title of the show Hipcheck The Musical would suggest a cheeky slapstick (waih waih) comedy, the show ended up being far too earnest for its own good. Sweet, but more hilarity might have kept the show moving. The show stayed alive because of some really nice songs, and a cast full of beautiful voices. Particularly Jennifer Simser (as Erica, the lonely single mother), Lizzie Kurtz (as lesbian stay-at-home-mom), Daniela Lama (as the lipstick lesbian part of the couple), Shannon Taylor (as Erica's daughter Lucy), and Ryan Kelly (as Coach William).

Moving Along is Chris Craddock's newest show. His last show Bash'd ending up winning accolades and got its own Off-Broadway stop in New York after winning over the Fringe circuit. He also previously wrote Boygroove, a tear inducing laughfest musical that spoofs boy bands you didn't even think had more to be spoofed (and as much as I love Altar Boyz, is far funnier than the religious slanted version).

Now Chris has his own solo show that riffs stories about everything from his youth to... well... I can't remember because it was so fast and furious and A.D.D.'d, aided by a brilliant (pun intended) electric chair-looking contraption, with light switches that changes the lighting. It was a great solo show that was well conceived and extraordinarily performed, but in the end, I realized I just tend not to appreciate solo shows and I found myself respecting it all more than loving it.

Like Father, Like Son? Sorry is another solo show from another Chris and another Fringe fest fave. This time comedian Chris Gibbs riffs on being a new father and everything it entails, including the pressures of affecting his son's life with his every decision. It's cute with some amusing, if unfocused rants but overall, nothing a 4 camera sitcom hasn't un-mined yet.

Nebraska The Musical, co-written by its handsome star Kevin McGarry has some terrific songs and McGarry looks pretty good with his shirt off, but the real story of a killer couple in Nebraska in the olden days is already cliched and terribly uninteresting. Luckily Geoffrey Tyler, who plays all the roles except for the killer couple, saves the show with beautiful characterizations and a lovely voice all while strumming his guitar as the musical accompaniment.

Lysistrata is the greek mythical tale of Lysistrata who gathers the women of Athens and go on strike from sex with their men in order to stop the war they find themselves in. It's rife with hilarity all with a darker point, and they mine some laughs, and go into a darker route in the second half, but somehow the whole show seems at the brink of brilliancy but never quite hits it. The shifts from absurdity to horror to silly comedy are abrupt but the cast of 4 women manage to balance it all as nicely as they can.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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