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review

Zorana Sadiq performs 'Mixtape' herself in an accessibly intellectual manner.Aleksandar Antonijevic /Crow's Theatre

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  • Title: MixTape
  • Written and performed by: Zorana Sadiq
  • Director: Chris Abraham
  • Company: Crow’s Theatre
  • Venue: Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: To November 28, 2021

MixTape, a beautifully written one-person play by classical singer and actor Zorana Sadiq, now having its world premiere at Crow’s Theatre, may be an entirely new piece of theatre, but it has the feel of a compilation as its title suggests.

It unspools live in front of an audience like a succession of snippets of solo shows, stitched together into a whole that aims to share something about an individual personality – without divulging too much directly.

There are times when Sadiq, who performs the show herself in an accessibly intellectual manner, offers up Oliver Sacks-style dissections of how sound and music register in the brain.

There are others when she manipulates her own voice in creative ways reminiscent of the celebrated showman Rick Miller – imitating, for instance, the sound of an entire orchestra tuning up through noises made with her mouth. (The sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne helps with the illusion by looping them.)

MixTape can also seem in sections like a fresh update of the Canadian hit 2 Pianos 4 Hands, one that focuses on the operatic aspirations of a Canadian singer of Pakistani descent torn between the drive to achieve a certain standard of technical perfection and the desire to find her own voice as an artist. (Or, as Sadiq puts it at one point, a desire to “make the sound of who I was.”)

Her show also regularly angles, less satisfyingly, toward the realm of personal memoir, exploring the unhappiness of her family, whose sound and fury, she says, shaped her even in the womb.

For the most part, MixTape is an enjoyable and engaging montage of mini-monologues and musical moments. Immediately upon her arrival on stage, Sadiq forms an unaffected and genuine connection with the audience – like that of a charismatic frontwoman, rather than an actor.

Early on, she describes and performs little excerpts of the music her parents listened to when she was a child – Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond were two favourites – and how the only female voice that really seeped into her ears at that time was Barbra Streisand in her 1978 duet with Diamond on You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.

Her reference points as she enters her teen years will particularly resonate with younger Gen X-ers and older X-ennials; she liked George Michael, loved Kate Bush and describes the universally adored Prince on the cover of the Purple Rain album as looking like “Byron on a motorcycle.”

Sadiq has a knack for a lovely turn of phrase. I was taken by the way she described the bass line in an orchestration of a Sondheim song she sang in school – the deep, resonant, rhythmic notes nudging her along like “maternal killer whales” to the emotional climax.

Sadiq has to do a lot in this show all by herself; she’s out on a bare stage with only a boom box, Arun Srinivasan’s idiosyncratic lighting and an unusual and uncomfortable-looking little bench designed by Julie Fox to rest on.Aleksandar Antonijevic /Crow's Theatre

Likewise, her apercus about how technology has transformed music are clever and original. She notes, for instance, that what she misses about the old mixtapes you’d record on cassettes is that today’s equivalent, the digital playlist, has made the time between songs standardized.

Gone is that human element of longer or shorter pauses between songs – choices made purposefully to give time for the listener to recover from an anthem, or keep the party moving along quickly.

Sadiq, a first-time playwright, has to do a lot in this show all by herself; she’s out on a bare stage with only a boom box, Arun Srinivasan’s idiosyncratic lighting and an unusual and uncomfortable-looking little bench designed by Julie Fox to rest on.

What she doesn’t have to lean on is much of a dramatic structure; the mixtape is a model or a defining metaphor in this production directed by Crow’s artistic director Chris Abraham.

This seems to be a choice, but what starts off giddy and the illustration of a madly-off-in-all-directions personality begins to lose some of its energy about halfway through.

There is context missing from Sadiq’s family history that makes that aspect of her show puzzling or enigmatic. The singer and actor’s mother is a vivid recurring presence, but ultimately indistinctly drawn; the playwright seems aware of this – noting her reticence to air dirty laundry in public. But the emotional climax, though it helps make the show’s overall case that listening is love, lands as unearned as a consequence.

MixTape ultimately ends up feeling more like a digital playlist, which can have as many songs as you like of any length, rather than a real analog mixtape, which requires mathematical precision to not end with the hissing of tape on one side or another. My advice as the show continues on its journey would be to keep pruning and reconsidering the selection of stories until it is focused and fierce and can fit on a C90.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage.

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