*Image by Golden Legacy Design*
Toronto Fringe 2019
Al Green Theatre
Let me be frank: This show is good. Like REALLY good. Like I made a blog specifically so I can start to reviews to talk about how good this show is.
This does not feel like a fringe show. From the start to the end, this product feels professional, polished and poignant in a way that I have rarely seen on stage, and almost never seen in Fringe. I daresay this could be the finest Fringe show I have seen in years and I adored it.
Allison Wither and Laura Piccinin have made something truly special. It’s a smooth, effective musical that cobbles together a bunch of unoriginal and overdone tropes, mixes in a heavy influence of NEXT TO NORMAL and thrown it in a blender until it’s somehow made something instantly familiar and yet startlingly new.
I’m going to stop being nice for a while because I could do that all day and everyone just wants reviewers to be mean. So I’m going to try that.
Spoilers ahead. So be warned.
Now this show has a HEAVY influence of NEXT TO NORMAL to the point where I don’t think you can avoid it. The songs all seem somehow reminiscent of other works, yet still manage to have their own unique patter. After seeing this show, I feel like I will forever be able to pick out an Allison Withers song as they all share a very particular style and tone. This isn’t a bad thing as the songs are all beautiful, and the show itself is well assembled. With lesser songs this would drive me crazy. As it is, it’s noticeable, but not a detraction.
So this show is apologetically gunning for your heartstrings. It places a heavy focus on the brother/sister relationship which ultimately is the show’s strength. The relationships between Clara (Allison Wither) and Andrew (Daniel Karp) are beautiful and natural, and their songs reflect the sibling relationship in a fantastically real and impactful way. In addition, the excellent relationship songs between Clara and Emily (Laura Piccinin) add a much needed sense of levity, especially in “Flirting 101” which was pure glee. Sadly less successful is the relationship between the parents and their dying child, with “I’m Right” standing out as the one song that feels unfinished and confused. Compared to the beautiful, albeit sometimes predictable style of the rest of the show, this is the one song that disappointed. Luckily it was only this one song that bothered me, and I hope that they can work with it in future iterations.
My biggest problem with the show lies in the ending. It’s a show about cancer so I don’t think I’m spoiling too much here, but there are spoilers ahead so be warned.
While Jada Rifkin and Ben Skipper are undoubtedly talented, they’re given very little to do until the final 20 minutes of the show and by that point their characters feel more like an afterthought. The same problem occurs with the teacher character who’s shining moment also happens way too late in the script. I wish that their shining moments happened earlier in the show so that the main catharsis in the script would focus on the family more than suddenly shifting attention to the friend circle. However, to lose this part of the show would arguably lose the hilarious duet of “Noticing You” which would be a tragedy. I hope future incarnations can either incorporate these three roles in a more engaging way from the beginning or find a way to pair them down.
The show manages to balance humour and sorrow in such a deft and effective way that there was no dry eye in the house. At several points throughout the show I myself had to dab out a tear or two.
Ultimately if it feels like I’m being hard on this show, it is because this is no ordinary show. I fully predict that this show will go on to do amazing things and achieve incredible success. It’s familiar and accessible, but charming and unique in a wholly unexpected way.
If you love musical theatre, go and see this before it gets huge. Because I highly suspect that it will. It may already be sold out, so seriously- don’t wait.
GO. NOW. DO!