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DERRICK CHUA'S 2023 TO FRINGE PICKS

Welcome to the 2023 Toronto Fringe! Once again here are my Fringe Picks - the shows that I’m personally most looking forward to this year. Based on information provided in the Fringe Program and Website as of today, I’ve picked five or six shows each in five different categories that particularly stood out for me, so you can narrow down according to your interest: Musical, Solo Show, Comedy, Drama and Variety. As always, I emphasize that these are based on my totally subjective opinion informed by artists whose work I’ve seen or shows I’ve read about or the ever-important word of mouth. And if you see a show you love that’s not on this list, please let me know and spread the word! But whatever your preference, I hope you get out and see LOTS of the 100+ shows waiting for an audience to fill those seats. Happy Fringe!


MUSICALS


The Man With the Golden Heart (p. 24)

Andrew Seok has previously written Fringe musical hits Echoes and Unravelled, which would be enough to recommend whatever he writes next, but this production is particularly stacked with a remarkable cast of performers that have been on stages from Broadway, Stratford, Mirvish, etc. Bruce Dow, Charlotte Moore, Tess Benger, George Krissa, Scott Beaudin, Rachel Delduca, Rhoslynne Bugay, Andrew Seok, Tristan Hernandez and Sarah Horsman, along with Eunnie An, Timothy Ng, Lee-orr, Ted Powers, Annie Wang, with music direction by Jonathan Corkal-Astorga. The story revolves around a man born with a golden heart, who has the ability to help people who are hurt and struggling, but each time he does, he gives a part of his heart away. Full disclosure that I am a Consulting Producer on this show, helping when I can because I do love it.


Dancer (p. 56)

Winner of the Adams Prize for Musical Theatre, the story of Northern Dancer, the first Canadian horse to win the Kentucky Derby, written by Jim Betts and Marek Norman, is one of the most ambitious shows at this year’s Fringe. Directed & choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance Emmy nominee Stacey Tookey, this “part high-concept musical, part high-octane ballet” features a cast of 20, with Northern Dancer and other horses played by dancers, and a story told by historical characters with a cast led by Keanu Uchida as Dancer, with Sterling Jarvis, Daniel Kash, Barbara Barsky, Gene Gabriel, Sam Rosenthal, Louise Camilleri, Mark Cassius, Jonathan Cullen, Laura Larson, Emily Masurkevitch, Anna Marchisello, Keiran Bohay, Mia DiLena, Amanda Cleghorn, Madison Foley, Kiairah Hammond, Moses James, Shelby Patterson, Jude Richardson, Artem Tikhonenko.


An Incomplete List of All the Things I’m Going to Miss When the World is No Longer (p. 56)

Another large ensemble musical with over 20 artists in cast and production team, this queer pop fantasia is written and directed by Dante Green. Set against the sci-fi, futuristic backdrop of a global announcement of the exact time Earth, as we know it, will cease to exist, it follows a community of friends and lovers as they gather together for one last ferocious party before the end of the world. Starring Louise Camilleri, Nathan Farmer, Chris Tsujiuchi, Max Borowski, Elysia Cruz, Ryan MacDougall, Jay Mosher, Veronique Beaudet, Michelle Yu, and featuring Mara Turenne, Shaemus Swets, Evans Niog, Annika Tupper, Taj Crozier, Erine Palmaria, Tkaia Green, Honey Pham, Lara Angela Roda, Sid Malcolm.


Next are two musicals that are programmed as special presentations and only have FOUR performances each, so schedule and book them quickly.


Choir (p. 53)

Written by Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston, the duo behind Fringe favourites Blood Ties, One Small Step and collaborators on many others, with music direction by Jake Schindler, this semi-autobiographical musical comedy is set in the early 2000s, before American Idol and Glee, where a kid with a love of singing had only one place to turn… choir. Follow a group of talented young singers through a year of the ups and downs of their lives and their music as they head for the bright lights of the big choir competition in Sudbury.


Killing Time: A Game Show Musical (p. 56)

Dora nominated In the Outstanding New Musical category for its 2022 run at Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse and a hit at Hamilton Fringe, this musical comedy by Margot Greve and Ben Kopp tells the story of Sloane Sherman, the charismatic and problematic game show host who is murdered during a live taping of the show, and the detective who has to interrogate the five mysterious suspects present and solve the case. No cast listed yet, but I understand most from the previous production will be reprising their roles.


Finally I’m including one more that intrigues me but will also definitely not be for all, and warn that it’s certainly for adults 18+, with strong language, graphic violence and mature content.


Caezus (p. 53)

Nam Nguyen has previously written Fringe hit A Perfect Bowl of Pho, so why not go from that to an industrial hip-hop adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, co-created with electronic techno-composer Chernilo (Maksym Chupov-Ryabtsev). Julius Caesar is your favourite rapper, and he's out to become God too. Will you be hypnotized by the drums and bass, or take arms against tyranny? No cast listed yet, but it’s directed by Lexi Xaymaca with music director Michael Henley-Dunba.


SOLO SHOWS


Emo Majok: African Aussie (p. 51)

Australia’s Got Talent Finalist Emo Majok survived refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, before being sponsored to move to Australia, and experiencing the humour and heartaches of culture clash that continues to this day. He now makes a career telling jokes on stages around the world, and this show around his life journey was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and will surely be one to see in Toronto. I would also encourage you to support Fringe international and touring artists in general, who have had an especially difficult time with rising costs.


Absolute Magic with Keith Brown (p. 26)

Following the success of last year’s At the Table, Keith Brown returns with this show just winning Critic’s Choice Award for Best Magic Show at Orlando Fringe. This family-friendly magic and storytelling show is the latest from a world-class magician, inspirational speaker and VIP entertainer, so prepare to be absolutely magically engaged and entertained.


The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery (p. 32)

If “A pun-filled puppet murder mystery about a family of crows’ isn’t enough to sell you, let me assure you from personal experience that this show will be well worth your time. Adam Proulx has previously wowed Fringe audiences with Baker’s Dozen: and director Byron Laviolette is the director of the Morro and Jasp shows, and if that’s not enough, Family Crow has also been lauded wherever it has played: Best Original Script at Orlando Fringe, Best New Play at London Fringe, etc.


Kyra de Magica (p. 37)

I’m not at all familiar with writer and performer Kyra Tang, who reconnected to Toronto from Hong Kong less than a year ago, but multi-talented director Derek Kwan is well familiar to Toronto theatre-goers, Artistic Director of Common Boots Theatre and actor, singer, and theatre creator working at the intersection of theatre, music and movement. So I look forward to this made-in-Hong Kong, adapted to Canada production about a 16-year old satirical phoney magician newly immigrated to Toronto from Hong Kong, and how she liberates herself from her ‘tiger mom’ using the power of magic while navigating her new environment.


No One Special (p. 62)

Julie Kim may claim to be “no one special”, but don’t believe that for a second. While this is her first hour-long solo show outside the stand-up comedy genre, she has headlined and performed in comedy festivals around the world including Just For Laughs, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and a 40-theatre North American tour with Ronny Chieng (Crazy Rich Asians, The Daily Show). This Kim may be something special indeed.


One Night Only (p. 37)

Writer and performer Nicholas Eddie has quickly made an impression since graduating from theatre school, as a stand-out ensemble member in Dora nominated shows A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Italian Mime Suicide, and not simply because he stands 6’9” tall. He’ll be even harder to miss in this solo work directed by Sepehr Reybod that boldly looks at the potential perils of mental illness, as he dances, frolics and downward dogs the existential dread away following a distressing call from the RCMP.


COMEDIES


Blake & Clay’s Gay Agenda (p. 27)

After the success of last year’s Gay For Pay, Blake & Clay are back with an essential seminar that will finally take the guesswork out of the gay experience… the ceremonial unveiling of the new Gay Agenda! With the core team of Daniel Krolik (performer & co-writer), Jonathan Wilson (performer) and Curtis Campbell (co-writer & director) all returning, I look forward to comedy lightning striking twice.


Fertility Slippers (p. 33)

This dramedy from recent Humber grad Ece Aydin, a 1.5 generation immigrant daughter now raising a daughter of her own, sees a Turkish-Canadian mother and daughter reflect on their past, navigate the present and, after an unexpected medical diagnosis, contemplate an uncertain future. Told with humour, heart, and a little Turkish coffee, it features Aida Keykhaii and Parnian Pourzahed, with direction by Christopher Legacy


Inside (p. 35)

A new (written and directed by) Sky Gilbert play is always cause for interest, and they have chosen to put this one in the “Comedy” category of the Fringe, so I’m going with that, even if the description may not sound particularly humorous. But it’s a second show with performer Jonathan Wilson who is definitely worth watching any multiple shows, here paired with “Canadian sex symbol Ryan Russell”, in a show that confronts issues of masculinity and vulnerability - raising questions that are central to the lives of all men - gay, straight, bi, or ‘whatever’?


James and Jamesy: Easy as Pie (p. 35)

Canadian Comedy Award-winning duo James and Jamesy are certainly no strangers to Fringers. Made up of Aaron Malkin, Alastair Knowles and director David MacMurray Smith, previous hits have included 2 For Tea, In The Dark and O Christmas Tea. Here two clowns attempt to perform a classic comedy routine: getting a pie in the face. They fail, and are left to figure out why they can’t complete this simple task. Their subsequent journey leads them to explore the complexities of trauma, the fallibility of memory, and the role that love plays in the healing process.


Ms. Titaverse (p. 37)

The Tita Collective are back with a new show, which is always cause for celebration and definite recommendation for any Fringe fans. This time it’s Ms. Titaverse, inspired by the pageant culture so celebrated in the Philippine community to this day. Writer / performers Ann Paula Bautista, Belinda Corpuz, Ellie Posadas, Alia Rasul and Maricris Rivera take a more personal journey centering around their experiences as Filipina Canadians, exploring the growing pains, the joy and the complexity involved with coming of age between two identities in this latest musical comedy revue.


They Go Low, We Go Laugh (p. 39)

Montreal-based They Go Low, We Go Laugh is collaborating with Bad Dog Theatre to present this stand-up and sketch comedy show consisting of an all-African immigrant line-up of talent, who explore themes such as diaspora, grief, and home through their own comedic lenses. Individually the writer / creators are Guled Abdi, Sara Meleika, Portia Karegeya and Mbissine Deme. Expect lots of laughs, thought-provoking social commentary, and a celebration of people of colour.


DRAMAS


Dead End (p. 43)

Michael Posner is an award winning writer known for biographies on Mordecai Richler and Anne Murray, as well as the Leonard Cohen Untold Stories series, and as a senior writer with the Globe and Mail for 16 years, but he has also written plays Factcheck and Damages which both played at Toronto Fringe. This latest is a dark comic mystery set in a once-grand property in the English countryside, directed by Briane Nasimok, starring Fringe fave Chris Gibbs, along with Cara Hunter and Julian Ford.


Good Old Days (p. 43)

Another familiar name to Fringe audiences is Michael Ross Albert, writer of Anywhere and The Huns which have both been Patron’s Picks and Best of Fringe. This latest about a young women and her former roommate trying to repair their fractured relationship is described as a surreal, philosophical, darkly comedic adventure about the world we live in. It’s directed by Dora Award winner Jill Harper, and stars Cass Van Wyck and Brianna Wright.


Hermaphroditus (p. 46)

The Greek pantheon is enacting anti-trans legislation that puts all gender-non-conforming deities and mortals at risk. Will Greek Goddex Hermaphroditus, who embodies both feminine and masculine qualities and eschews the gender binary, be able to set things right for all the trans people living under Zeus’ regime? Filled with poetry, burlesque and drag, it features an all-queer cast and production team led by trans playwright and actor Rosalind Goodwin who stars in the titular role, along with Titus Androgynous, Jan Jennings and Troy Emery Twigg, and is directed by Cole Alvis.


Maggie Chun's First Love & Last Wedding (p. 49)

Written by Helen Ho, this is the Winner of the 2023 Toronto Fringe New Play Contest, as well as the University of Toronto Spotlight Playwriting Competition. In the hamlet of Windser, Ontario (yes, with an E), young bride-to-be Maggie Chun has a chance encounter with her middle school crush and is forced to confront past decisions and face hard truths.A love letter to coming of age comedies, home sweet home, and the heartache of self-discovery, it’s directed by Julia Edda Pape and features Jobina Sitoh, Julia Rapai, Isaac Kuk, Katerina Hatzinakos, Ethan Magnus & Barb Scheffler.


Morning After (p. 50)

In the immediate aftermath of sexual assault, She grapples with feelings of loss, grief, hope and joy. Through music and movement, this follows the lives of several women as they navigate the inconsistency of healing and dare to live for tomorrow. This hyper-theatrical production features performances by eight emerging performers: Michelle Blight, Jewell Bowry, Julia DeMola, Alexandra Fiallos, Naomi Kaplan, Marissa Monk, Sofia Ontiveros and Heeyun Park. Written and directed by Katarina Fiallos with original music by Olivia Neary-Hatton & Hanna Mulak.


Paz (p. 51)

Being from the Philippines myself, with a Filipina nanny as a child, I'm very interested in this piece by Alicia Payne about a child going missing after her Filipina nanny is fired, and her mother confronting the former nanny in a park. Exploring issues surrounding nannies and live-in caregivers, particularly those who have left their homes to work in foreign lands, this workshop production is directed by Joy Castro, and features Stephanie Belding and Christine Cortes.


VARIETY


Curious K Explores the Paleozic (p. 56)

Inspired by their appearance on Canada’s Got Talent this past season, husband & wife creative team and Fringe veterans Kenton Blythe and Lise Cormier present a musical journey through the six period of the Paleozoic Era complete with catchy songs, wild dance numbers, bright colours and a singing robot. Performed by Blythe with Jada Rifkin and Brianna Love, this show is geared for ages 11+ and part of Teen Fringe.


The Fourth R: reduce, reuse, recycle, REVOLUTIONIZE (p. 59)

This theatrical multi-media dance show from company Dance Fachin fuses climate science, various dance styles and video projections together to explore the effects of climate change on our societies while promoting change through dance. This show has already been performed across Canada and is on its way to Edinburgh this summer, so catch current cast Emma Bartolomucci, Derek Souvannavong and Abigail Hanson while you can.


Frankenstein(esque) (p. 43)

Fringe wouldn’t be complete without at least one puppet, so this year’s suggestion is the 6 foot tall puppet who will be playing the Creature in this fresh take on Frankenstein. Directed by Nicole Wilson, it is devised by and starring Graeme Black Robinson, Steph Crothers, Julian Murphy, Michelle Gram and John Daniel, five artists with a loose understanding of Mary Shelley’s original novel, along with conflicting views on parenting and art.


The Life Between Us (p. 64)

This one is from the Kidsfest section, suggested for kids 7 and older. Real-life father and daughter Faisal Butt and Sloane Eveleigh are no strangers to the Fringe, with comedian and actor Faisal performing and/or working at Fringe for many years, and 8-year old Sloane being a part of it since she was born with her mother Fringe Executive Director Lucy. Through storytelling, jokes and matching track suits, they engage with the audience to decide the biggest question of all: Who knows best? Adults or Kids? Knowing both, I wouldn’t bet against Sloane…


The Will of a Woman (p. 25)

Playwright Steven Elliott Jackson is well known to Fringe audiences from his works including The Garden of Alla and The Seat Next to the King. This Fringe he is working with director Shan Fernando, who asked Jackson to create a piece specifically to be performed at historic Spadina Museum, so this is based on the true story of Elizabeth Bethune Campbell who in the 1920s discovered that her mother's trust had fallen victim to money fraud and faces the challenge of standing up for her rights, becoming the first woman to defend herself before the Privy Council in England. Warning - seating is limited to 25 per performance, so this will sell out very quickly.





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