These days it is in vogue to declare that "X" is the new "Y", as in "Orange is the new Black". The Toronto Fringe Festival has jumped on the band wagon with their mini winter Fringe festival called the Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF), whose motto is "January is the new July". Although this festival has been held for the last 7 years, this is the first time we've been aware of it and we ended up seeing two excellent shows, "Killer Business The Musical" and "A Misfortune"–both musicals but each of a very different vein.
Unlike the summer Fringe Festival which selects its shows by lottery, the NSTF uses a jury of industry experts to pick what it considers are the 10 best shows. These shows can be comedies, dramas, musicals or dance and maybe be new or revised works. The main criteria is that all applicants must have participated previously in a Canadian Fringe Festival. Because they are selected by jury, the collection of shows at the NSTF should have of higher quality than the summer Fringe, whose offerings can be hit or miss. If the two musicals which we saw are any indication, this is definitely the case.
We watch all of Stella's movements and interactions before she collapses and dies during a performance of her show "Lucky in Love". Then in one of the most inspired songs of the show called "That's What I Saw", each cast and crew member recalls some suspicious activity performed by one of the others. During each recollection, the previous seemingly innocent interaction with Stella is reenacted, but this time with a much more sinister feel, as perceived by the witness. It was impressive how many times Stella recreated her "death scene", falling each time in the exact same position.
Although the performances and singing qualities were a bit uneven throughout the cast, in general they were very good and the songs and staging were stellar. The show is fast-paced and hilarious. Hopefully it will play again some time, since I would love to watch it a second time.
hort story of the same name, written in 1886 by Russian writer Anton Chekhov. The story explores themes of fidelity, desire and indecision as married Sofya tries to decide whether to run off with her enamorous suitor Ivan, with whom she has spent a flirtatious summer, or stay with her staid, passionless husband Andrey and their child. In the musical, these relationships are contrasted with the volatile, lusty marriage of Masha and Pavel, when the five friends gather for a social evening.
One of the highlights was a song where the various characters toast each other's company. Pavel and Masha's toasts to each other were amazing to watch, as they quickly move through a range of emotions, all in song. The toasts start with feigned politeness before dissolving to vicious cattiness, as each accuses the other of infidelity, which then leads to arousal as they are turned on by the other's passion. Their in-your-face attraction and desire for each other serves as a great counterpoint to the quiet, urgent love that the brooding Ivan exudes, and the repressed emotions of Sofya, who tries desperately to deny her feelings and stay within the acceptable social mores of a faithful married woman.
We were so impressed by the quality of these two Fringe shows, which could both easily make it in mainstream theatres. Can't wait for next year.