Happy – What You Need To Be is a love note to vaudeville. Real-life couple Jessica Di Giacomo and Daniel Torchinsky rattle through about six classic and original sketches complete with songs, dances, props and puns, interwoven with anecdotes and stories from their own relationship. But when I say this Toronto Fringe Festival show rattles, I mean it.
I love vaudeville and music hall, and the warmth which pours off of Di Giacomo and Torchinsky betrays a similar fondness: they’ve obviously studied and worked on this for ages. And that’s why this show didn’t work for me.
Vaudeville is wacky: it turns upon high-energy, anything-could-happen, don’t-look-away zaniness. Even when the jokes aren’t very funny, hitting that vibe and level of energy excuses most sins. But here, the material is so careful, so rehearsed, and so well-preserved that the show just never got going. More worryingly, even if it did, the breaks between sketches — some of which are longer than the sketches themselves — have a way of hauling the whole thing back to earth, destroying whatever vibe the performers created.
Do we really need a costume change between every skit? Di Giacomo’s wardrobe is most fetching, but the characters are so samey and the lulls so long that this seems highly questionable. And the cheesy music is sweet, but the fact that I’ve used the word “cheesy” should communicate plenty.
There’s just something off, or missing, or absent in this production: that zaniness, that energy, that gelling. The performers have obvious chemistry, but I’m not sure vaudeville is the best vehicle for it. The real litmus test is whether this show is preferable to watching the exact same sketches on YouTube — and by this metric, I’m afraid Sid Caesar runs circles around them.
- Happy – What You Need To Be is playing until July 11th at the St. Vladimir Institute. (620 Spadina Ave.)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
Photograph of Daniel Torchinsky and Jessica Di Giacomo by Daniel Torchinsky.