I’m a big fan of Nappoholics Anonymous, which features twelve of Tony Nappo’s random thoughts. Since I aspire to be the Asian Tony Nappo, but don’t have anywhere near the same quality of random thoughts that he does, I figured I would offer twelve not-so-random suggestions for shows to see at the 2016 Toronto Fringe.
Keep in mind that I have not actually seen these shows, so I’ve based this (alphabetical) list primarily on the artists involved, whose work I think will be of particular interest to Intermission readers. Of course this is a wholly subjective exercise, these are just my opinions and there’s no accounting for taste. And whether you choose to see these or any of the 150 shows at this year’s Toronto Fringe, I just hope you get out a lot, to support the hundreds of artists taking part in the Fringe.
1 – BRIGHT LIGHTS
Written and directed by Kat Sandler. Starring Amy Lee, Heather Marie Annis, Chris Wilson, Peter Carlone, and Colin Munch.
This production feels like an “all-star Fringe team,” combining the talents of Kat Sandler (writer of Fringe hits Punch Up, Help Yourself, We Are the Bomb) with Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee (the women behind the clowns known as Morro and Jasp), as well as Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson (the men behind the comedy duo Peter n’ Chris), and Colin Munch (whose Toronto Fringe appearances include such hits as Sex T-Rex’s Callahan, Theatre Brouhaha’s Punch-Up, and Uncalled For’s Hypnogogic Logic). Bright Lights is a dark comedy about paranoia, trust, and the need to be believed, set in an alien experience support group.
2 – CAM BABY
Written by Jessica Moss. Directed by Charlotte Gowdy. Starring Karl Ang, Ashley Botting, Andrew Cameron, Brandon Coffey, Beau Dixon, Christine Horne.
Winner of the Fringe New Play Contest, Jessica Moss is already well known to Fringe audiences for her solo shows Modern Love and Polly, Polly. Now she returns with this ensemble play, developed while she was a Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellow at Juilliard. Moss has attracted a stellar team led by up-and-coming director Charlotte Gowd and a cast full of award-winning theatre artists including Canadian Comedy Award–winner Ashley Botting, Canadian Screen Award–winner Christine Horne, Dora Award–winner Beau Dixon, and more. Cam Baby starts with two people who secretly record girls who rent a room in their apartment and share the footage with their friends. It is a fast-paced comedy about the selves we create and the stories we consume.
Directed and choreographed by Robin Henderson, with sketches by Anders Yates and monologues by the Animals, who are Guy Bradford, Robin Henderson, Kat Letwin, Michael MacEachern, Simon McCamus, Allison Price, Vanessa Salazar, Kevin Vidal, Leighton Williams, Carol Zoccoli.
Full disclosure—I’m attached to this show as its executive producer. I saw the original Dance Animal production at 2010 Toronto Fringe and loved it, so I agreed to work on this brand new version with an incredible cast of local comedy performers joining the world’s only comedic dance tribe. The cast is wonderfully talented, versatile, and hilarious, and the show mixes musical theatre with sketch comedy and character monologues for the perfect Toronto summer cocktail. Come laugh and dance with the Tribe. (And P.S.: Carol, who is from Brazil, was Dance Capybara long before the High Park capybaras were a thing!!)
Written and directed by Andrew Seok. Starring Kyle Holt Brown, Millie Davis, Nickeshia Garrick, Jeff Madden, Hart Massey, Marisa McIntyre, Micah Richardson, Christopher Sawchyn, Andrew Seok, Amaka Umeh.
Writer and composer Andrew Seok has worked as a vocal coach, singer/songwriter, film/TV composer, and record producer for many well-known talents including Feist, Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida, Jully Black and Jeff Healey—but this is his first full musical. Echoes tells three stories of love, loss, and devastation inspired by war and its effect on families, relationships, and the destruction it causes within us all. Though separated by time and space, all three stories are forever connected. A stellar cast will be singing the show, including two of Canada’s finest musical theatre performers recently added, Jeff Madden (Jersey Boys, Forever Plaid, Shaw Festival) and Marisa McIntyre (Company, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia).
5 – THE FENCE
By Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston, and Suzy Wilde. Directed by Ann Merriam with tracks produced by Bram Gielen, choreography by Honey Frid and Danielle Devereaux.
From the team that brought Summerland to the Fringe last year, this song cycle draws on themes of self-discovery, creativity, love, acceptance, diversity, and young-adulthood, exploring the decade that follows high school graduation. It is performed by a diverse cast of over forty performers ranging in age from seventeen years and up. With a group of core creative artists coming from the incredible inspiring Wexford Collegiate Performing Arts program, this group and this production truly represents the bright future of Canadian musical theatre. The Fence is definitely one of the shows I’m most looking forward to.
6 – FOR THE RECORD
Written by Shari Hollett. Directed by Chris Earle. Starring Shari Hollett and Lucy Earle.
A true family affair, with husband-and-wife team Chris Earle and Shari Hollett teaming up once again. This time, they switch roles from their previous hit, Radio: 30, with him now directing and her writing and performing along with their daughter. Set in an actual record store, For the Record is a new site-specific comedy that explores the fraught relationship between mothers and daughters—both struggling for love, understanding, and the right to live life on their own terms. With a soundtrack of classic vinyl from the 60’s and 70’s, it’s a funny, heartfelt, and honest look at the most primal of human relationships, underscored by the most universal of human art forms: pop music.
7 – LIFE AFTER
Written by Britta Johnson. Directed by Robert McQueen. Starring Kate Blackburn, Tim Funnell, Janet Gigliotti, Kaylee Harwood, Alana Hibbert, Anika Johnson.
A recent graduate of University of Toronto’s music program, Britta Johnson is already known as one of Canada’s rising musical theatre writers, having written music for YPT’s recent Jacob Two-Two, Acting Up Stage’s Reframed, and Sheridan’s Brantwood, among others. Robert McQueen is one of Canada’s best musical theatre directors, having directed Acting Up Stage’s The Wild Party, The Light in the Piazza, Caroline or Change, and Stratford’s Man of La Mancha. The veteran cast is fantastic, with too many impressive credits to list here. This story of a sixteen-year-old girl’s attempt to navigate life after the loss of her father, and her search for the meaning of it all, should be one of this year’s strongest musicals.
8 – OUT
Written and performed by Greg Campbell. Directed by Clinton Walker.
Veteran performer Greg Campbell has acted on stages literally across Canada, including locally with VideoCabaret, Buddies in Bad Times, and much more. He now turns his hand to writing with this solo show about Glen, a seventeen-year-old, who comes out of the closet in Montreal in 1977, goes to New York City for Gay Pride Day, and, along the way, runs into a whole series of characters including Mary Poppins, Mary Hartman, singing homophobe Anita Bryant, some of the guys from the film The Boys In the Band, and the Indian from the Village People, all of which Campbell plays! In the hands of two lesser man, this description might terrify me, but with Walker and Campbell, rest assured you are in safe, fearless, inventive, wonderful hands.
Written and directed by Matt Bernard. Starring Warren Bain, Scott Garland, Sarite Harris, Michael Iliadis, Brittany Kay, David Kingsmill, Scott Emerson Moyle, Rylan O’Reilly, Rebecca Perry, Victor Pokinko, Nicholas Porteous, Marcel Stewart.
The show’s description (if you haven’t figured it out from the title): When a chainsaw-wielding maniac is added into Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, it turns Verona upside down. Find out who is (literally!) tearing our star-crossed lovers apart in this comedic horror mash-up. Sure this could go either way, but with the talent involved in writing and cast, I’m betting this will be a real crowd-pleaser.
10 – SILK BATH
Written by Bessie Cheng, Aaron Jan, and Gloria Mok. Directed by Aaron Jan. Starring Bessie Cheng, Dorcas Chiu, En Lai Mah, Amanda Zhou.
Silk Bath Collective is comprised of three young Chinese-Canadian theatre-makers who first met as members of fu-GEN Theatre’s 2014 Playwriting Unit, where I was impressed by their production Stuck. Silk Bath is their first show as a collective, and they have gathered a strong group of young Asian-Canadian artists for this ruthless, satirical, physical exploration of what it means to be accepted by a society after the citizenship paperwork is signed. Set under the lights of a live reality TV show taping, four immigrants battle it out for a place in their new home. Can we ever shed the label of outsider?
11 – THE UNENDING
The Unending is three short plays in three different locations. The Stronger, a monologue by August Strindberg, is adapted by Julie Tepperman. Play is by Samuel Beckett. What Doesn’t Kill You is a monologue by Julie Tepperman. The Undending is directed by Aaron Willis and features Mayko Nguyen, Julie Tepperman, Andy Trithardt, with Sheila Ingabire-Isaro. Convergence Theatre created the Toronto Fringe hits Autoshow and The Gladstone Variations, and has gone on to produce some of Toronto’s most innovative shows including Yichud (The Seclusion) and Passion Play. Their return to the Fringe is cause for excitement indeed, and with room for only fifty audience members each night, you’ll want to book this show immediately.
12 – WASTELAND
By Sex T-Rex. Directed by Alec Toller. Starring Josef Addleman, Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Kaitlin Morrow, Seann Murray.
Last year, their swashbuckling fantasy Swordplay: A Play of Swords was my favourite comedy at Toronto Fringe, and previously I had enjoyed their genre parodies Watch Out Wildkat! (Western) and Leviathan (sci-fi). So I’m quite looking forward to some post-apocalyptic mayhem in Wasteland, complete with lunatic fight scenes, rubber-burning car chases, and a soupçon of philosophical navel-gazing to bring nuclear Armageddon to life, live on stage.
The Toronto Fringe Festival is on from June 29 to July 10 in venues all across the city. For tickets or more information, click here