Inspired by Tony Nappo’s weekly Nappoholics Anonymous, I offer 12 not-so-random suggestions for shows to see at the upcoming 30th Anniversary Toronto Fringe, July 4-15, 2018. I do note that these are shows I have not actually seen, so these recommendations are primarily based on the artists involved, the show description and my entirely subjective opinions.
You may also notice that there are quite a few musicals on the list, which is because of my admitted bias and passion for musical theatre, and because there are a record number of musicals at this year’s Fringe, with over 20 to choose from. But whether you see any of these or others of the 155 shows playing this year, please just get out, see a lot of shows and support the hundreds of artists taking part in this year’s Fringe who truly deserve your encouragement. Shows are listed in alphabetical order.
TallBoyz II Men is a multi-award winning sketch troupe made up of Tim Blair, Vance Banzo, Franco Nguyen and Guled Abdi, a diverse group of comedians being diverse diversely, who measure in at 25’2” (collectively). They’ve been on a roll lately, winning “Producer’s Pick” at Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival and “Best Newcomer” at Montreal Sketchfest last year, followed up by “Best of Fest” this year. This show promises to be packed with hilarity, silliness and an array of sketches that explore television, race, dance and a baby dunking a basketball.
2 – Anywhere
This is a new play from Michael Ross Albert, known to Fringers for Karenin’s Anne and For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard, one of two plays that he has authored in this year’s Fringe (the other being an older play making its Toronto debut, The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome). Directed by Unit 102’s Artistic Director David Lafontaine and starring two stalwarts of Toronto’s indie theatre community Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Cass Van Wyck, this thriller starts with a young businesswoman returning to her AirBnB to find that her host has been waiting up for her. Then what started as a cordial relationship between strangers begins to steadily escalate into a tense and unnerving battle for control.
3 – Compulsion
Scott White has composed music for some of Toronto Fringe’s most memorable musicals, including Top Gun! The Musical, Sleepless, Bosco & Jones, and The Giant’s Garden. He’s actually doing double-duty this year, music directing Ashley With A “Y”. But here in Compulsion, he has written both the music and the text, recruiting Viv Moore for movement direction and staging. This is a dark fast-paced musical roller coaster of a ride that asks, “What happens when life’s decisions take you to the edge?” He’s composed 12 original songs which will be performed by a three piece band, along with Matthew Bradley, Kate Madden, Dale Miller, Michelle Nash, Sara Stahmer and Kristi Woods.
This is an intriguing collaboration between two well-known Toronto companies: The Howland Company—better known for its theatrical productions like Punk Rock, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons and 52 Pick-Up—and Bad Dog Theatre Company which has been specializing in unscripted comedy for 35 years. This is a spontaneous farce created by Ruth Goodwin and Liz Johnston, directed by Paolo Santalucia, taking place over the same window of time in adjoining rooms of the same house with a variety of “entrances and exits”, performed by Ghazal Azarbad, Conor Bradbury, Nigel Downer, Dylan Evans, Ruth Goodwin, Liz Johnston and Connor Low, as well as occasional guest performances by Colin Mochrie.
5 – Featherweight
A dead guy with a questionable history online, a suicidal god of judgment and her overworked butler walk into a bar… Perennial Fringe favourite Theatre Brouhaha (Help Yourself, Punch Up, We Are The Bomb) returns to the Paddock Tavern with the first adult production by Shakey-Shake and Friends playwright and Brouhaha co-founder Tom McGee, with co-founder Kat Sandler acting as producer and dramaturge. Performed by Michael Musi, Amanda Cordner and Kat Letwin—upon dying, Jeff awakes in a bar full of ancient gods that will weigh his browser history against a feather to determine if he was a good person or if he will face damnation. What effect does our online life have on others? Will Jeff’s browser history damn him? Would yours damn you?
6 – First Dates
Written by Wes Berger with songs by Aaron Berger, this is a show about the humour and heartache inherent in the search for connection, with moving stories about the broken-hearted many, the open-hearted few and our search for connection in these fragile times. Different couples, different generations, different results. It’s got a terrific ensemble cast led by David Fox, recent recipient of the Silver Ticket Award for his remarkable body of work, his unwavering commitment to new Canadian work and his mentorship of younger artists, all of which are evidenced here. He is joined by Allegra Fulton, Breanna Dillon, Marisa McIntryre, Ron Lea, Aaron Berger, Simon Bennett and Ronak Singh.
7 – The Last Party
Steven Gallagher has written Fringe & Next Stage hits Stealing Sam, Craplicker and Memorial, but this is the first musical he has written for the Fringe, collaborating with award-winning composer Nicky Phillips. They’ve got one of Canada’s finest musical theatre directors in Tracey Flye (Once, We Will Rock You, War Horse). The cast is led by Jersey Boys star (Toronto, Broadway and the Clint Eastwood directed film) Michael Lomenda, alongside the wonderful Jessica Sherman and Jeremy Legat, in this touching and funny new musical about making the most of your life with whatever time you have left.
About as close to a “guaranteed hit” as you can have for a new show, Morro and Jasp are synonymous with the best of the Fringe. For their 10th show at Toronto Fringe the perennial favourite clown sisters are growing up as Jasp gets engaged! For better or worse, the sisters have to negotiate how and what their relationship will look like now that there is a third person in the mix. Can they even survive this new chapter of life without the person who has always been by their side? Can they still be Morro and Jasp? So much change, but what is staying the same is the team behind the clowns—Heather Marie Annis, Amy Lee and Byron Laviolette.
9 – One Small Step
When their annual musical is cancelled, a group of students set out to put up a show of their own – but in order to get funding, they have to make it about something Canadian. And what could be more Canadian than a musical about Chris Hadfield? This backstage musical comedy is written by Dora-nominated writers Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston with music direction by Suzy Wilde and features a cast of over 20 emerging artists, including Kelsey Verzotti, Greg Solomon, Georgia Bennett with members of the award-winning Wexford Gleeks. If you enjoyed previous hits Summerland, The Fence and True North Mix Tape, book your tickets for this one now.
Winner of the 2018 Paul O’Sullivan Prize for Musical Theatre, Polly Peel written by Kevin Wong and Julie Tepperman, directed by Aaron Willis with musical direction by Adam Sakiyama, and explores a family grappling with death through the eyes and imagination of a biology-obsessed eleven-year-old girl played by Fun Home and Matilda star Hannah Levinson. She is joined by Jessica Sherman, Faly Mevamanana, Troy Adams, Richard Lee, Donna Garner, Ben Page and Alan Cui. An early incarnation of this piece was presented in 2016 as part of Musical Stage Company’s Reframed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, so this should be a fascinating look at its continuing development.
11 – We The Men
This latest from SoulO Theatre (The Clergy Project) started with co-creator and director Tracey Erin Smith in 2017 taking 54 women on the Soulomobile storytelling bus to the Women’s March on Washington, and her need to check in on how men are doing since the evolutionary movement. Based on REAL conversations with REAL men exploring the backlash towards the #metoo movement while sharing a few of their own #metoo stories, the story brings together 10 “men” for a weekend of beers, bonfires, confessions and a few tears. They are played by Barbara Aufgang, Savannah Binder, Rachel Brophy, Samantha Brown, Mercy Cherian, Jacquie Dawe, Sunday Muse, Sundance Nagrial, Nicole Nwokolo, Silvi Santoso.
This play by Anishinaabe playwright Frances Koncan was the winner of the 2018 Fringe New Play Contest. Koncan also directs this production, starring Joelle Peters, Haley Vincent and Elizabeth Whitbread in a play about women in the year eighteen hundred and something something, women whose names do not line the pages of our history books, women whose achievements and contributions are lost to time and to the patriarchy, the women of the fur Trade. This is a story of three women, Cecilia (British), Eugenia (Ojibwe) and Marie-Angelique (Métis), during the time of Louis Riel—a tale of rebellion, facial hair and the search for identity at the apex of three cultures clashing, at one of the most iconic moments of Canadian history.
And finally, if baker’s can do 13 to a dozen, I figure so can I. Because I wanted to highlight one final show.
13 – Ashley With A “Y”
I started off noting that I have not seen any of the shows on this list before. Well, this is NOT the exception, but it is unique in that once seen, it will never be seen again. Not your typical improv show, nor your typical musical or cabaret fare, here Second City alumna and Canadian Comedy Award winner Ashley Botting improvises a brand new performance at every show. Joined at the piano by virtuoso Scott White, every song and every moment of every show is completely made up on the spot. Conversations with the audience will inspire original songs that will never be heard again. I might cringe with fear at the thought of a solo improvised musical in anyone else’s hands, instead I’m shivering with anticipation knowing that it’s in White and Botting’s.
The Toronto Fringe runs from July 4-July 15 in theatres and venues across the city. For tickets and more information click here.