2015 Fringe Picks: Part 2

5 Jul

More reviews of wonderful offerings to check out at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival!

The Orchid and the Crow

Credit: Andrew Wuttke

Credit: Andrew Wuttke

Those who have been regular attendees of the Toronto Fringe will undoubtedly light up at the mention of the three little words “Die Roten Punkte”. This Australia-based faux brother-sister comedy punk rock duo are Fringe legends – not only in Toronto, but around the world. One half of DRP is musician and performer Daniel Tobias who has abandoned his wig, makeup, and German accent to present a wry, touching, and song-laden story of his unusual upbringing as a member of a bacon-eating, Christmas-celebrating family of atheistic Jews, and of his own personal battle with cancer. It’s far from navel gazing though; interspersed with the personal details are astute satirical elements, like a catchy song about Yahweh’s peculiar obsession with foreskins.

Tobias’s diverse and artfully composed music (co-written by Clare Bartholomew) is a highlight, with expertly produced backing tracks setting his work apart from the myriad of two and three piece combos that so frequently adorn Fringe stages. Another highlight: Tobias’ fearlessness and generosity as a performer. Although one should not expect it to be a regular part of the show, a wonderfully spontaneous moment occurred at the performance this reviewer attended in which the scientific merit of an analogy about the Brontosaurus was challenged by a member of the audience; rather than dismissing it, Tobias embraced the opportunity for an aside to the scripted show and made comedic hay.

Smart and entertaining stuff.

 

In Case We Disappear

Credit: Nancy Ribeiro

Credit: Nancy Ribeiro

Vanessa Smyth’s gentle one-woman show is a wonderful hybrid of song, story-telling, spoken word, and poetry. The work as a whole is structured as a series of short first-person pieces, each beautifully intimate and thoughtful, and often bittersweet. A simple bed-side table and lamp both set the mood and allude to the work’s origin as a bedtime game she and her brother used to play.

Smyth almost literally invites the audience into her mind and her heart, sharing stories of love that was and love that might have been; even comparatively funny bits like her staccato take on the experience of being a server at a sports bar end with unexpected aplomb. Smyth uses a microphone to artfully enhance the feeling of intimacy in the appropriately cozy Tarragon Extra Space, her sing-song voice becoming almost as much a character as she herself.

A soothing and magical little piece from an utterly charming artist.

 

Summerland

work14-oriThis is almost certainly the largest show in the history of the Toronto Fringe – and a mammoth production in any context. Written by Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnson, and Suzy Wilde, and featuring a cast of one hundred – yes, one hundred – truly talented young performers (many from the Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts) Summerland is a musical that stands heads and shoulders above all other offerings in terms of scale and ambition. Set in a real high school (Harbord Collegiate in this case), it opens with echoes of the Breakfast Club; a collection of divergent high school archetypes – all in trouble for various infractions – get sent away together to a special camp for alternative discipline. It is when their bus crashes on the way up to the camp that things take an unexpectedly magical turn.

Summerland’s music is bang-on, mixing Broadway ballads with epic rock opera (the use of atypical instruments like the electric organ is particularly effective). While the writing and dialogue could be more sophisticated at times, there are some very solid one-liners, and the youth-empowered story as a whole is imaginative and well-constructed. It’s very much like the musical version of a quality YA novel.

The cast is ripe with talent; there is something truly magical about hearing a chorus of 100 of young and finely tuned voices singing in perfect harmony. While there are too many to mention by name, Mercedes Morris in the part of ‘Queen Raven’, demonstrated particularly notable dramatic and vocal prowess. Director Ann Merriam and Choreographer Honey Frid also deserve special recognition for their powerful and dynamic staging – no doubt an intricate challenge that they made look deceptively easy.

One quick word of advice that many at the performance this reviewer attended did not heed: Arrive early and feel free to wander the halls before lining up to enter the auditorium; the performers are milling about in true site-specific fashion, and you can catch some great little scenes that set the mood before the main show begins.

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