Archive | July, 2019

2019 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 3

9 Jul

Three Men on a Bike

For anyone who may have questioned whether this follow-up to the smash hit Three Men in a Boat could possibly match the original, rest assured, lightning has indeed struck twice for the veteran creative team of playwright Mark Brownell and director Sue Miner.

This hilarious victorian travelogue, based on the novel by palindromically-named author Jerome K Jerome, reunites foppish and foolhardy friends Jay (Matt Pilipiak), George (Victor Pokinko), and Harris (David DiFrancesco) as they plan for a cross-country bicycle tour of Germany. Naturally, little goes as planned and not even their resolute English optimism can save them from an abundance of bothersome misadventure.

Brownell and Miner work hand in hand to deliver a taught and charming production replete with visual flair, fourth-wall breaking, and sharp and witty dialogue. The trio of performers are superb and practically work as a single unit – each delivering distinct but perfectly complementary performances.

 

The Huns

Playwright Michael Ross Albert has been producing excellent work for some time now, but caught the attention of many a Fringe-goer last year with his taught and thrilling two-hander Anywhere. He returns to the festival with some equally dark, but more darkly comedic fare with The Huns, in which three disparate office workers (Jamie Cavanagh, Breanna Dillon and Cass Van Wyck) attempt to brief their international co-workers about the theft of five corporate laptops via conference call.

It starts innocently enough as a comedy of errors bolstered by malfunctioning technology, office politics, and clashing personalities, but Albert artfully redirects it into more intriguing territory, eventually peeling back the personal costs that today’s increasingly pervasive live-to-work culture exacts on the human psyche.

Director Marie Farsi impressively manages to transform “three people at a table” into a lively and dynamic affair, and stage manager Aidan Hammond deserves a special shout out for nailing the natural rhythm of what must be dozens of pre-recorded dialogue-based sound cues (designed by Andy Trithardt), without ever betraying the artifice of it.

The three performers each deliver sharp and highly-honed performances, but it’s hard not to single out Breanna Dillon for nailing THAT high-strung kool-aid drinking co-worker we’ve all encountered at some point in our lives.

 

Horseface

Full Disclosure: this reviewer is creatively involved in an upcoming production in which Alex Dallas will be appearing. Like all of our Fringe Picks, we have chosen to make note of her show based solely on the strength of the work.

Veteran performer and life-long feminist Alex Dallas is in the enviable position to be old enough to have experienced several societal sea changes first-hand – most notably the #MeToo movement – but also the unenviable position to possess the perspective of how much work is still to be done when it comes to the safety, equality, and respect of women. She channels both these thoughts in her compelling and no-holds-barred one person show, Horseface (if you’re wondering about the title, it’s in reference to Donald Trump’s less-than-diplomatic comment on Stormy Daniels’ appearance).

Her text is replete with personal experiences and anecdotes, some of which are cheeky and amusing (a wholly inappropriate birthday present given to her on her 60th birthday is a standout) but more often than not, are unseemly and sometimes downright harrowing. Tidbits about her early family life and her parents’ marriage effectively tie the issues of past and present together, and recollections of her time working the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival reinforce the unsavoury realities of show business that have recently come to public light.

As a performer, Dallas is a dynamic powerhouse; her pleasant and polite English disposition is the yin to her steely gaze and eruptive passion yang. She manages to spin the serious subject matter into an hour of entertaining theatre while never diminishing its importance.

Hannah Gadsby may have gotten the Netflix special first, but Dallas possesses no less of an effective and creative voice, and she ought to be heard.

 

Unbridled Futurism

This delightfully off-the wall cosmic and comedic musical is perhaps most aptly described as a live multimedia concept album. Written and performed by Nick Di Gaetano (backed by a real spitfire of a band), the show centres around the odyssey of an astronaut from an alternate earth trying against all odds to return home to his wife and cat – all while battling an evil racoon overlord through multiple bizzarro dimensions. The psychedelic narrative is interspersed with funky and delightfully DIY video clips and a plethora of impressive songs that invite comparisons to both 70s prog rock and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Di Gaetano is a natural performer who doesn’t need to over-emote to grab your attention; his gruff-voiced and silver body suit-donning protagonist channels Tom Waits and Wolfman Jack, and his quick wit rewards the audience with some dry gems of jokes.

It’s a quirky and imaginative blast of fun from an equally unique artist.

2019 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 2

8 Jul

Boy Falls from the Sky: Jake Epstein Live at the Supermarket

If the title of this Kensington Market situated site-specific show leads you to believe that it’s little more than a string of musical theatre tunes skillfully performed by one of Canada’s most illustrious musical theatre talents – boy are you wrong.

Yes, there is indeed all of the above, but more so than that, it’s a touching, earnest, and  biographically-driven rumination on the nature of success, fame, and what it means when you reach for your dreams, catch them, and find out they may not be what you imagined.

Epstein – who has trod countless Broadway stages and is immortalized as one of the stars of Degrassi: The Next Generation (yes, he knows Drake; please stop asking) – isn’t trying to embellish his life like some grand classic narrative complete with fall from grace and eventual redemption; he is obviously aware of his good fortune and accomplishments, but is honest about the less glamorous associated costs and consequences, and is able to communicate as much using memorable anecdotes plucked from his young but dense career.

Fortunately for the audience, he is a charismatic showman, a natural storyteller, and an inherently likable person, and weaves the serious themes into an hour of pitch-perfect entertainment – including plenty of recognizable and cleverly curated Broadway standards. Musical Director Daniel Abrahamson provides nearly continuous backing on the keyboard, an element which never pulls focus but provides highly effective underscoring of Epstein’s narrative.

Reader beware: the entire run of Boy is already sold out so best to keep your ears to the ground for a remount or extension. And if you are fortunate enough to have one of the coveted tickets, arrive early to be treated to a fantastic pre-show featuring Epstein backed by his old highschool jam band (their ska-inspired mashup of ‘Trouble’ from The Music Man and ‘It’s the Hard-Knock Life’ from Annie is worth the price of admission alone).

 

Honourable Mention: Tales of a Cocktail

Although billed as a 1920s speakeasy-themed reimagining of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, Tales of a Cocktail’s sparse and largely wordless narrative plays a distant second fiddle to the real star of this production: dance.

It’s an hour of high-octane flapper-inspired contemporary jazz choreographed by Adam Martino, Alayna Kellet, and Leah Cameron, performed by a top-notch cast of eight dancers and one singer to a bumpin’ soundtrack that blends vintage tunes and modern-day hits. Even audiences members will feel out of breath just watching this spectacle of a show.

2019 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 1

5 Jul

Here is our first pick of the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival!

Death Ray Cabaret

Musical comedy, when done poorly, is a real slog; but when done well – like really well – is sublime. Fortunately Death Ray Cabaret falls firmly in the latter category. It’s a hot 50 minutes of expertly crafted tunes, artfully clever lyrics, short and delightfully dorky bits, and self-deprecating banter.

With Death Ray Cabaret, performers and real-life couple Kevin Matviw and Jordan Armstrong aren’t trying to reinvent the musical comedy wheel, but there are several notable choices and elements to their songs and performance that elevate them above similar acts.

In terms of charisma and stage presence, they offer a polished but relaxed presentation that eliminates any sense of barrier between them and the audience. One can likely give director Shari Hollett credit for helping them to walk that ostensibly effortless but difficult-to-achieve fine line. Similarly, the relationship between Matviw and Armstrong is always tangible and is the basis for some of their material but is never treated with artifice or manufactured conflict for the sake of cheap laughs. Larger moments of physical comedy and theatricality are used sparingly and are saved for just the right occasions, giving them even greater impact.

The songs and short sketches are clearly the work of two outside-the-box creative minds; their material ranges from relatable issues, such as adult anxiety and childhood fears, to some very “shower thought”-esque material, such as a ballad from the perspective of the third and lesser known Apollo 11 astronaut, two cowboys with a tense relationship, and a take on a Halloween classic that had this reviewer guffawing embarrassingly loudly (my apologies to the lady sitting in front of me).

Equally impressive were their two improvised songs, especially one based on a contribution of “material” from the audience (no spoilers here).

This charming and hilarious revue is an early highlight of this year’s festival.

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: The Huns

4 Jul

Your name: Michael Ross Albert

Your production: The Huns

Your role: Playwright

Tell me about your show.

The morning after a break-in at a hip, downtown tech company, three feuding co-workers assemble for a conference call to discuss the burglary. The civilized meeting devolves into a brutal and barbaric battle for survival. The play is about our generation’s relationship to work, and to one another.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I’d go to The Great Jagmeet Singh-Along, where audience members join the NDP party leader around an actual campfire and sing songs together, in harmony. This show’s got way better buzz than the Conservative leader’s aptly titled, Scheer Terror.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

I definitely want to see: Emotional Labour by Jess Beaulieu and Luis Fernandes; Jake Epstein’s autobiographical one man show, Boy Falls from the Sky; Comedy Records presents Jay and Eytan; Pump! starring the mega-cool Cat and the Queen; The Commandment by Phil Rickaby; An Utterly Stupid and Indefensible Thing by Sock Monkey Collective; I, Malvolio which stars Justin Otto; and so many more than I’ll be able to see.

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Personal Demon Hunter

3 Jul

Your name: Velvet Duke

Your production: Personal Demon Hunter

Your role: Writer / Director / Producer / Performer

Tell me about your show.

Personal Demon Hunter is my first solo comedy production. It is an exploration and confrontation of anxiety through song, storytelling, stand up and improvised comedy. Plus plenty of opportunities for good-natured audience interaction.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

Trudeau; Sorry in a sari or: Never Apologize for Great Hair

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

I’m digging the solo artists this year, like: The Commandment, Drink of Choice, Monica vs The Internet, and Congratulations. Also the other musicals, like Omen and Fuckboys.

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Unbridled Futurism

3 Jul

Your name: Nick Di Gaetano

Your production: Unbridled Futurism – A Sci-Fi Comedy Rock Show

Your role: EVERYTHING. I wrote it (with my wife Teddy Ivanova who is also the Stage Manager and Voice of Mission Control), wrote the music, worked on the arrangements, made the props, edited the videos, organized the rehearsals, filled out the forms, coordinated the band and designers, made myself sick, had a panic attack, thought about quitting, resolved to do the show.

Tell me about your show.

It’s a wacky adventure through the multiverse with music and video and strange characters and genocidal raccoons who use iPhones. Eat Trash Do Murder.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I’d see Andrew Scheer’s show cuz it would be about how different he is from Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau but he would just end up showing everyone how bereft of personality and ideas he is. He would officially call the show “I Love Canada” (or some other totally pablum thing) but all the people who saw it and the critics would call it “Scheer-denfreude”. It would be an awful show but people would be killing themselves laughing and then he wouldn’t understand what makes it so funny and the harder he tried, the worse it would get, and the more people would laugh and buy tickets. A real “Springtime for Hitler” kind of thing.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

I’m gonna check out Anesti Danelis “Six Frets Under” (I remade a hip-hop track for him this year and I think his tunes are great), Death Ray Cabaret (I met Jordan and Kevin in Edinburgh last year and we’ve been pals since and they write super funny tunes) and Alli Harris’ “High School High” (I know Alli from Ottawa and she is a bona fide star and amazing singer and very funny). Basically I just see things that have comedy and music in them but ARE NOT musicals (sorry to musical theatre people – I just can’t stand that stuff).

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Three Men on a Bike

3 Jul

Your name: Mark Brownell

Your production: Three Men on a Bike

Your role: Playwright

Tell me about your show.

Being the further adventures of three Victorian gentlemen caught up in the Great European Bicycling Craze! Join Jay, George and Harris as they tour to the continent on their new velocipedic machines. Witness THRILLS and SPILLS! (since “the brake” hasn’t quite been perfected yet.)

Based on the further writings of Victorian author Jerome K. Jerome, THREE MEN ON A BIKE is the sequel to Pea Green’s wildly successful Three Men in a Boat (NNNNN – NOW Magazine).

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I would totally go to see “Suddenly Scheer!” – a one-person BYOV starring Andrew Scheer as an ultra-conservative party leader who wakes up one morning to discover that he has magically transformed into a radical trans activist. Only one problem: Will Doug Ford approve? (60 minutes. Audience Warning: Gun shots and strobe light.)

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

We love work adapted from classical sources so we are looking forward to Molly Bloom at the Helen Gardiner.

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Death Ray Cabaret

3 Jul

Your name: Kevin Matviw

Your production: Death Ray Cabaret

Your role: Writer/Performer

Tell me about your show.

After performing to sold out crowds at the Edinburgh Fringe, real-life couple and Second City veterans Jordan Armstrong (One Night Only/Dora Award Nominee) and Kevin Matviw (JFL42, Sunday Night Live) are bringing the dark and delightful music of Death Ray Cabaret home for their Toronto Fringe debut.

“Death Ray Cabaret were a DELIGHT. Our bellies hurt from laughing” – Comedy Central UK

Our music explores everything from true stories about being adopted, to an audience inspired R&B song. Plus, our relationship allows us to playfully mess with each other on stage. Jordan has an entire song that disses me, but there’s affection there… I think.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I’d see Trudeau’s ‘Abs on a Hot Tin Roof’. It’s a play where he works out for 60 minutes.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

We really want to see the musical comedy show “Six Frets Under” by Anesti Danelis and the cosmic weirdness of “Unbridled Futurism” by Nick Di Gaetano.