Lights. Curtain up. Action.
The 2012 Edmonton Fringe Festival kicked off Thursday evening with its flamboyant madness and magic. With more than 215 different shows vying for an audience, this buffet of creative talent is almost overwhelming. If history is any indication, some shows will fly while others tumble.
Perhaps the most exciting news to emerge from St. Albert is the increased number of local companies strutting their plumage. Musical Mania (My Cleopatra) and BeerProv Productions (Live Free) are long-time staples of the Fringe.
But a blossoming of young thespians has upped first-time troupes to an additional four. They are: Moxie Crew (A Kiss Within A Kiss), No Tomatoes (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson), Three Form Collective (The Relationshits) and Vagabond Theatre (The Complete History of the World in 60 Minutes).
To assist theatregoers, St. Albert Gazette's team of gung-ho reviewers is dashing from show to show, separating the diamonds from glass sparklers.
Our mission is to follow the 40 shows with St. Albert, Morinville and Legal connections. And the choices are huge, ranging from cabarets, burlesque, clown shows, comedies and dramas to dance, improv, musical theatre, physical theatre and storytelling.
Below is our first batch of reviews.
A Bronte Burlesque
BYOV Venue 25
New City Legion
8130 Gateway Blvd.
Kudos to a new generation of thespians reassessing burlesque and recognizing the spoofery that made it such a dominant form of entertainment in past generations.
Through movies and television we've come to think of burlesque as a raunchy striptease. But its early roots starting 200 years ago parodied literary, dramatic and musical works. It was a caricature intended to joke, ridicule and elicit laughter.
A Bronte Burlesque definitely spoofs the three Brontë sisters – Charlotte (Andréa Jaworsky), Emily (Ellen Chorley) and Anne (Delia Barnett). It begins with Charlotte on her deathbed, dying from suspected tuberculosis. In her final moments, the ghosts of her sisters and brother Bramwell (Evan Hall) return to bring clarity to what later reveals itself as a dysfunctional family.
The 70-minute send-up becomes a series of opposing forces: A brother combating his sisters, love versus jealousy, truth pitted against lies, mind games alternating with reality and oblivion fighting celebrity.
It's a story that stretches more than a few notches above the usual risqué bump and grind. In fact it's a super pseudo-intellectual exercise – a dark, surreal epic that is delightfully heighted by a Harry Potter-like moving portrait of the quartet.
But as a burlesque it fails to deliver. Whether by design or evolution, the script lacks the lighthearted, ribald jokes so characteristic of this genre.
And while the actresses perform a striptease down to their lacy skivvies, they don't go far enough in titillating and teasing the audience. As a matter of fact, they all looked a bit awkward.
Perhaps it was opening night jitters. Perhaps it was the small stage that restricted their movements. Hopefully as the run progresses, the production's shine comes through.
– Anna Borowiecki
Southside Memorial Chapel
8310 104 St.
There are no eulogies, no drunken rendition of Danny Boy, no sorrowful notes of Amazing Grace at this wake. A Wake uses movement, music and voice to explore the rituals, facts and counterpoint of life and death.
Voice is used sparingly throughout the show, allowing each member of the audience to easily connect their own personal experience of death and dying to the production.
In its first year as a Fringe venue, the Southside Memorial Chapel was more than just a fitting setting or backdrop for this production about death, the show filled every bit of space in the small chapel.
Music is another essential piece of this production. A Wake is a multidisciplinary collaboration with local indie folk rock band Dead Red Pine who transfixed the audience with a melodic and emotionally-charged musical score. The five-piece band includes local École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d'Youville graduate Stephen Tchir.
Violins, mandolins, guitars, banjos and bass expertly move the audience through the experience, explanations and emotions around death and grieving.
With subject matter and a setting that could easily lend itself to overwrought emotion, the players skilfully convey the emotions and experiences of death with depth and meaning free of clichéd wailing and tears.
Though the show seems to lose some of its momentum towards the close, the production's varied perspectives on death outshine this subtle lag.
Edmonton's Mindhive Collective offers views of death from those who are dying, from those who are left behind, and most striking, from the body.
A Wake offers an original and thoughtful take on a subject that has been done to death.
– Nicole Starker
The Complete History of the World in 60 Minutes
9030 118 Ave.
Spending an hour learning about world history isn't exactly my idea of entertainment. However, the six-person cast of Vagabond Theatre's The Complete History of the World in 60 Minutes managed to up the fun factor with a humorous interpretation of world events.
The script aims to educate viewers on the events not taught in dry history books — like how Hitler created an online dating profile to find true love or how Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers constantly teased him about his small stature.
Compacting world history into a 60-minute performance couldn't have been easy, although the young cast managed to pull it off, injecting humour and excitement along the way.
The standout scene saw each cast member play their part as England's King Henry VIII or one of his six wives, while putting a 1500s twist on Chicago's Cell Block Tango. The witty lyrics, paired with a well-choreographed and unexpected dance sequence, left the audience wanting more (in a good way).
Narrator and Fringe rookie Hans Potter was the obvious standout, faking a British accent throughout and managing to regularly extract laughs from the audience. The Bellerose Composite High School alumnus was the glue holding the performance together.
A stop at Vagabond Theatre's second Fringe performance will no doubt leave you laughing and perhaps learning a thing or two about world history.
– Megan Sarrazin
Live Free or BeerProv
Fringe Cabaret Lounge at the Transalta Arts Barns
10330 – 84 Ave.
Audiences attending Live Free or Beerprov should be as prepared to laugh as the cast appears prepared to drink on stage.
The Beerprov group is a fantastic six-man improv troupe from St. Albert. In their fringe adventure they take to the stage for several rounds of improv games with the audience shouting out suggestions and the troupe putting them into their performance.
The games will be familiar to anyone who has watched Whose Line Is It Anyway and the cast does an admirable job. All six men are imaginative, funny and creative and get into the spirit of improvisational comedy.
During Thursday night's opening performance, Scott Pedrick in particular had a standout performance, bringing a very quick mind to a lot of situations.
For audiences, Beerprov will likely be different every time. The six-pack has all the talent and skill to put on a great performance, but whether they actually do will depend entirely on audience suggestions and the flow of the evening.
Like a good beer, which the fully-licensed venue has at the ready, Beerprov is certainly worth taking your time with.
– Ryan Tumilty
More Power to Your Knitting, Nell!
Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre
8426 – Gateway Blvd.
Melanie Gall's powerful voice, effervescent personality and charm all come across well in this Second World War drama about love, loss and knitting.
A former St. Albert resident, Gall brings her strong and powerful operatic voice to the show that tells the story of Knitting Nell. The young woman, whose actual name is Sadie, is a radio star of sorts. She encourages women on the home front to knit, knit, knit for the soldiers abroad.
The show splices radio reports from the war and advertisements into Nell's popular broadcast and the show overall captures the mood of America during the war, when everyone had to sacrifice.
While Sadie loves singing her part as Knitting Nell, she secretly hates knitting. The story reveals that landing the role was largely a happy accident and she has suffered through her knitting. This all changes when she meets and falls in love with a soldier on leave – suddenly Sadie is every bit the knitting superstar she portrays as Nell.
Gall passes out knitting supplies to some audience members in the opening scene of the play and interacts with the crowd throughout. Sadly, these little interludes with the audience take momentum out of the performance. Audience participation works best when the audience knows the answers or the answers don't really matter and neither is the case in this show.
Gall's strong performance really carries the show and she should keep doing the work, rather than involve an unprepared audience.
– Ryan Tumilty
BYOV Venue 35
10329 – 83 Ave.
Fiorello!, a forgotten Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning gem, seems perfectly timed to follow Mitt Romney's announcement of his vice-presidential running mate.
The musical brings to life a maverick Republican – Fiorello La Guardia – a two-decade congressman representing East Harlem who was also elected as New York's mayor on a platform of sweeping out corruption.
Steering away from a formulaic approach, the creators have seamlessly stitched together a series of powerful, stand-alone vignettes.
And director Kate Ryan, a St. Albert Children's Theatre alumna, finds the heart and soul in the big and small moments that define a man who believed in his country so much he pushed aside a thriving political career to fight in the First World War.
Comedian Donovan Workun in the title role is the perfect candidate. Not only does he fit Fiorello's stocky physical profile, he confronts the role of power with gusto.
Other outstanding performances include Kendra Connor as Marie, the woman who reins in her love for Fiorello, putting her energy into his campaigns. And it's a delight to hear Connor's crystal soprano voice soar in On the Side of Angels.
The romantic fireworks explode when Sheldon Elter as Floyd, an arresting Irish policeman falls in love with Dora, a striking picketer played by Kristi Hansen. At times this charismatic comedic duo comes close to upstaging the rest of the cast, but it's all part of the fun of a light-hearted musical.
Ryan keeps the pace moving briskly yet always allows breathing room for the gentler moments. With a tight script, snappy tunes, a smart-looking set and dynamic actors who play off each other's natural chemistry, you can't go wrong.
– Anna Borowiecki