Cabaret song and dance sheds light on the Israel-Palestine conflict, on stage at the Toronto Theatre Centre
Acting Up Stage Company has paired with Why Not Theatre to present Ballad of the Burning Star, a unique production from Theatre Ad Infinitum. The production is a drag cabaret performance about an unlikely topic: the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Yes, the subject matter is one of the bigger hot button topics of late, so putting song and dance, glitz and glam, mascara and high heels around that is a highly controversial move. Some may find this offensive. However, everyone should find this as something to talk about.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is one topic that is very hard to discuss without in some way taking a side. As my friend Karen and I took our seats, we noticed the Judaical symbols on the minimal set — the Star of David disco ball and chair. A musician, Pete Aves, played the drums while the audience filed in.
Nir Paldi is the star drag performer of the evening who aptly goes by the name of Star. She also takes up the persona of Israel, a child and central figure in a series of personal stories directly affected by the conflict. Joining Star on stage is her backing troupe of dancers and singers.
The stories being told are dark — suicide bombers on buses, children being shot in the street — and they’re all done in that over-the-top cabaret song and dance style. It’s uncomfortable to watch, and that’s the main reason why while watching the performance I wasn’t sure if I liked it. I could just watch the cabaret show as a whole, enjoy the razzle dazzle of it and not get sucked into the dark stories, but that ends up happening anyway. As the story’s progression gets darker and darker, Star breaks the tension by barking out rehearsal orders to her troupe to pull their act together and tighten their game.
That fourth wall breaker may do well to lessen the tension in the room, but my show guest Karen felt that it also took away from these stories as well. That in fact, the cabaret performance as a medium lessened the impact of the stories, which I believe is actually the point. The stories are from the perspective of someone who has lived through it, where the only thing left to do is find some modicum of joy in life and a reason to smile. In this situation, song and dance.
As for the show itself, it’s fun to watch in its sheer tongue-and-cheekness, and for being as hokey and over the top as it is. Paldi’s performance had the right amount of camp and humour to make Star’s character engaging throughout. A few members of her cabaret troupe stood out, including Orian Michaeli (who is also the choreographer) as Rebellious Rebecca and Amy Nostbakkan as Merciless Miriam with her powerful voice.
Pete Aves, the live musician, did fine work with the pieces that he did play, but we felt the inclusion of canned music over the speakers took away from what music he was able to contribute to the show.
Ballad of the Burning Star is one of those shows where I needed time to really think it over and here, the afternoon after seeing it, I’m still unsure of my final impressions. Neither Karen or I regret seeing this show and are both quite glad we did, even though we aren’t sure if we liked it. It’s a talking piece that requires plenty of reflection after the fact and for that alone, it’s worth seeing with a friend.
- Ballad of the Burning Star is playing at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St W) until May 24.
- Remaining performances are on Saturday, May 23 at 2 pm and 8 pm and Sunday, May 24 at 2 pm.
- Tickets are $49.99 and $35 for matinees. Special pricing for students, arts workers, and those under 30 is $19.99 for all performances. Group rate of 20% for groups of 10 or more.
- Tickets are available online or by phoning the box office at (416) 538 0988
- Audience advisory: Please note this performance uses profane language and audience participation
Photo of the cast provided by the company.