REVIEWS

In tune: Reviews of 7 musicals at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival

From steampunk extravaganzas to 'sad-ass' folk songs, there's lots of music to be found at the Fest. Here's our take on seven of them.

From steampunk extravaganzas to 'sad-ass' folk songs, there's lots of music to be found at the Fest

Tara Streilein, Betty Asseiro and Sikhona Gwintsa in Journey to Kalcedon Island: A Steampunk Adventure at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. (Gio Navarro)

Whether it's Broadway hits or brand-new, made-in-Manitoba work you're looking for, there are plenty of options for musical theatre fans at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.

Here's our review crew's take on a few of them.

Journey to Kalcedon Island: A Steampunk Adventure

★★★★★ STARS

Every element of this original musical from Joseph Aragon is impeccably and professionally produced, but it is the message that distinguishes Journey to Kalcedon.

The simple, strong message of this steampunk extravaganza is that women and girls do extraordinary things, all the time.

Two orphan sisters receive and decode a message from a long-lost relative which sends them headlong into a series of dangerous adventures. The girls must employ every ounce of their courage and cleverness in order to vanquish their foes.

The cast features the brilliant Baroness and her abacus of doom, Aunt Sophie the pirate queen who offers her crew health care benefits and paid leave, and Eudora the quantum physicist who devotes her life to devising a time dilation machine. Journey shows a younger audience that women can do anything, and they can do it while singing and dancing in Victorian high heeled boots.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Willi Carlisle in There Ain't No More! at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. (Robin Farrin)

There Ain't No More!

★★★★★ STARS

Willi Carlisle is an absolute juggernaut on stage. Yet he doesn't lumber, he floats. One also gets the impression that if he fell into a box of musical instruments, a perfectly fledged folk song would come out.

With his sweet soulful voice, Willi takes us through a good old boy's experience of the Vietnam war, lost love, and his search for America's history in song.

The script itself is beautifully poetic, and Carlisle's delivery flashes between maudlin, comic and heart-rending at a moment's notice. The accolades it earned at last year's Orlando Fringe are well-deserved and one should consider booking tickets for this one early.

— Reviewed by John Sadoway

Big in Sudan: The (Mis)adventures of a Vagabond Musician

★★★ STARS

Dear cousin Mel,

Thanks for inviting me over the other night to see your travel slides. You've been to so many amazing places: Paris, Prague, Chad, Cambodia… The list goes on and on. Maybe a little too long?

And I had no idea it was going to be a sing-a-long! You have such a beautiful voice, but maybe you didn't need to do ALL of the verses from Toto's Africa? No matter, I hear you're going to do the whole evening again for Aunt Sophie, so you can change it up for her.

And you're thinking of turning your traveling misadventures into a Fringe show? That's a great idea! You are a lovely performer. My advice: get a strong director to cut some of the longer songs and edit the more meandering stories.

And thanks again — without you how would I know which bush to pee in while in Prague?

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

​★★★ STARS

An enthusiastic cast of young people, mostly kids and teens, zips through this 70-minute production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's hit musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The set is sparse — a couple of paintings and a rocking chair — and the costumes are mostly T-shirts. No big deal, since the performers bring the Bible story to life with positive energy, belting out one song after another.

Amber Landry is a standout as the spunky narrator and Dutchess Cayetano gets laughs as the seductive Mrs. Potiphar. Poor Joseph, played by Bryan Myskiw, gets a bit lost in the shuffle as the spotlight tries to shine on as many cast members as possible.

In this day and age, it's nice to see a bunch of fresh-faced youngsters exhorting us to believe in the power of truth.

— Reviewed by Kaj Hasselriis

A one human being, potentially comedic performance of LES MISERABLES

★★★ STARS

Can I use "catastrophe" as a compliment?

Alli Perlov is wearing a headset that's unnecessary and amplifies every deep breath. Her accompaniment cues sound like random recordings from a skipping CD. She forgets to change her title cards.

Yet I had as much fun at this show as any other this year. If ever there was an embodiment of "making up for it with effort," it's Perlov. From the moment she hands you your voting paddle as you enter the theatre (the voting doesn't really work either) you want to see her succeed because of her can-do, "whatever happens, it's okay" attitude.

"Let's Les this Miz!" she says after explaining she'll play 30 characters in "52 of only the very best minutes" from the three-hour musical. That pun, as much as anything, summarizes the wacky spirit of this show and, I'm not too proud to admit, why I liked it.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

TJ Dawe and Lindsay Robertson are your guides on a super depressing musical journey in A Sad-Ass Cabaret. (Submitted)

A Sad-Ass Cabaret

★★★ STARS

Pain and sadness do not a great musician make — but they sure don't hurt.

That's the message that shines through A Sad-Ass Cabaret, a musical journey through the tough life stories of luminaries Hank Williams, Judy Garland, Bessie Smith and Sufjan Stevens. While not a musical in the traditional sense, the music of these artists underlies everything in this sensitive production. 

Ably told by Fringe mainstay TJ Dawe, Sad-Ass recounts the most challenging moments of some of songwriting's greatest minds. Singing alongside Dawe is Lindsay Robertson, whose Norah Jones-esque croon is perfectly suited to depressing tunes.

The songs are great. The life stories are moving. But I couldn't help but feel like I was given a wonderfully sad mixtape... by a music fan overeager to explain each and every track.

Sometimes, sad songs might be best left to speak for themselves.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

Shwawawa Productions presents Hundred Shows Price of One at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. (Shwawawa Productions)

Hundred Shows Price of One!

​★★ STARS

"This is a bad show."

Those are the first words uttered by an actor in Hundred Shows Price of One! Unfortunately, it turns out to be prophetic.

There are plenty of good things in this original musical comedy. It's a fast-paced, multi-media production about a fictional musical theatre duo named Simon and Shyster who perform a medley of their plays. The Fringe veterans behind it, Devon Gillingham and Connor Wielgosz, have clearly done loads of work. There's pre-recorded video and audio, choreographed back-up dancers and expertly-designed posters for every single Simon and Shyster show.

The problem is that, when it comes to story, character development and even comedy, it doesn't deliver. Most of the jokes are groaners and the plot is almost non-existent. There's too little conflict to drive the play forward and the ending is a disappointing head-shaker.

Hundred Shows Price of One! just doesn't add up to one good show.

— Reviewed by Kaj Hasselriis

With files from Andrew Friesen, Michelle Palansky, John Sadoway, Kaj Hasselriis and Kelly Stifora

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