The Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival opens this Wednesday with a whopping 150 shows filling 27 venues, all at just $12 a ticket. Will any among them be the next Kim’s Convenience or The Drowsy Chaperone, two giant hits that started their life here? I have absolutely no fringing idea – as always your best bet is to hit up the beer tent and listen for the buzz. Here are some of the intriguing trends and themes that emerge after a flip through this year’s programme, however.
If you haven’t yet got your summer fill of Bill in High Park or up at the Stratford Festival, the Fringe has some unorthodox options on offer. Bard Fiction is billed as an “Elizabethan retelling of Pulp Fiction,” while Julius Caesar Project capitalizes on the hype of Orange is the New Black by resetting this Roman tragedy in a women’s prison. For those with more purist sensibilities, check out Fringe regulars Shakespeare Bash’d – this year doing Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Victory Café.
Now that Broadway has completely co-opted the old Fringe trick of turning unlikely source material into musicals, the Fringers are fighting back by following Broadway down the jukebox-musical route. I hear promising things about No One Needs to Know Shania, which stars Alexis Taylor as Canada’s Queen of Country and will take place at the Monarch Tavern. (Matthew Barber will lead the live band through the Twain back catalogue.) Meanwhile, Elvis and Dick is, thankfully, a musical about the King meeting Richard Nixon – and is packed with 15 classic tunes from Mr. Presley
School of rock
Theatrical lectures have been a trend of late, but the lecture-musical is an entirely new genre to me. Ken McNeilly’s The Common Ground: A Musical Dissertation is about kids with gay parents and sounds like a fitting show to extend the WorldPride ride. Likewise, Commencement: A Work of Fiction and Musical of Sorts takes an academic tack on academia – and actually takes place at the University of Toronto in a University College junior common room.
I’ll let you in on a secret: Most of the shows in off-site venues at the Toronto Fringe are put on by local professionals who have figured out this is an easy way to get into the festival without having to go through the lottery. (All other Fringe participants are chosen at random.) And so, you’ll find Tarragon Theatre playwright Rosa Laborde premiering her latest, True, at Citizenry café on Queen West, and innovative indie director Jacob Zimmer’s Small Wooden Shoe company holding its Summer Spectacular in Frankel Lambert Park. Fringe favourite Julia Lederer, meanwhile, is starring in a CanLit comedy called Chasing Margaret Flatwood directed by Andrew Lamb (My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding) at the Campbell House.
Plays that Sound Absolutely Terrible
You’re not really getting into the Fringe spirit if you only go see the polished and professional, however. It’s important to see at least one show with an awful title. One visiting from New York is called She’s Black, He’s Jewish, They’re Married, Oy Vey! Another contender show is Sperm Wars (written out in the Star Wars font, oy vey). But the former was praised by Joan Rivers and the latter brings with it four-star reviews in Edmonton, Victoria and Saskatoon – so never judge a Fringe play by its title.