Daughters of Feminists (Stonefox) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Barbara Johnston

I’ll preface this review by saying I’m a huge fan of the work of the musical writing team of Barbara Johnston, Anika Johnson, and Suzy Wilde which is why I was interested in seeing them perform in their cabaret Daughters of Feminists, playing at the quirky nautical themed bar, The Boat, in Kensington Market as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was the best showcase for their talents.

The show is a multi-generational family affair which also features comedian and songwriter Nancy White (who also happens to be Suzy Wilde’s mother) as well as composer/lyricist Bob Johnston (Barbara’s dad). Despite the title, feminism is only touched on superficially but the celebration of strong women does serve as a theme throughout the evening.

Unfortunately, that loose theme is the only structure holding together a show that I found scattershot, under-rehearsed, and generally lacking in focus. While a cabaret doesn’t need to be tightly scripted and there’s room for spontaneity, I think the format works best when the performers keep a sharp focus. Writing some short, pithy material would have kept the performers from delivering long, rambling monologues between numbers.

When putting together a cabaret I believe it’s important to ask yourself; are you up there doing this because it’s fun for you or are you also actively taking the audience into consideration?

Everybody on stage for Daughters of Feminists is obviously having a good time up there, and that’s great, but I also think it’s important to invite the audience in, especially when you’re charging admission, and I thought that too often this show leaned toward the self-indulgent.

The show feels a bit like a private jam session for a close group of friends and family. Between-song banter largely consists of narratives from the group members’ past, and their friends and family onstage would often interject as if it were a dinner table conversation. I thought it was kind of cute at first but it became less and less interesting as the show went on.

I also found the featured material hit-and-miss. A song by Nancy White about actors touring to regional theatres is one long in-joke that I’m pretty sure only people working in the industry would really get.

However, there were also a handful of truly stellar performances. Barbara Johnston performs a beautiful number from the musical Anne & Gilbert (which her father and Nancy White co-wrote) and the group performs an interesting bluegrass cover of No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” and an stunningly original a cappella arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time.”

Ultimately, those few gems weren’t enough to salvage the show for me and I’d recommend skipping this one and seeing their new musical The Fence instead.

Details

  • Daughters of Feminists plays at The Boat. (158 Augusta Ave.)
  • Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
  • Content Warnings: Sexual Content, Mature Language, Audience Participation.

Performances

  • Thursday June 30th, 08:00 pm
  • Friday July 1st, 07:00 pm
  • Saturday July 2nd, 08:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 08:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 08:00 pm
  • Thursday July 7th, 08:00 pm

Photo of Barbara Johnston by John Bregar

4 thoughts on “Daughters of Feminists (Stonefox) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review”

  1. Hi Wayne. I want to begin by saying that I truly appreciate your support you have given to Johnson, Johnston and Wilde. I also would like to add that after your reading your review of Daughters of Feminists, though I was sorry you didn’t have a better time, I did not that there were many valid points you raised. In our defence (and perhaps this is no defence) all of us were being pulled in many directions leading up to opening, working on the Fence and Life After, and though we had many music rehearsals for our cabaret, we had not yet solidified all of the dialogue and had not yet totally worked out what would be said. Admittedly, this is my first time hosting a cabaret part of the reason for doing this show in the first place was to learn how to host and by hosting you learn on your feet what works and what doesn’t. Your points were taken and by night two the show was very different than night one – the night you came to. Now I know that you are very busy, but I would love to invite you back to see the show one more time before the end of the run. We have some fabulous guests next week, and I am a very happy with the clarity and focus the show has found since opening. (We try to work fast!) So if you would like to join us again, we would love to have you. Not even to review or anything, just to watch the show.

    Thanks for the notes!
    Barbara Johnston

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Thanks so much for taking the feedback in the spirit in which it was intended. I have every confidence that someone with your talents would be able to adapt and make changes on the fly and I’m glad to hear you’ve done so.

      Thanks also for the generous offer to come back to see you again. I’m off seeing a bunch of other Fringe shows in the next few days (including the Fence and Life After, both of which I’m very much looking forward to seeing) but I’ll be in touch if I’m able to take you up on your offer. Break a leg for the rest of your run(s).

      Best regards,

      Wayne Leung

  2. I got to see this one tonight, and I was impressed by the collection of performers they’d managed to assemble: the show seems to have tightened up, and while the throughlines are a little wobbly, if you come expecting a music-oriented cabaret — songs with jokes, as opposed to something more structured — you’ll have a great evening.

  3. I am not paid to be a critic but that doesn’t stop me. I attended the last night of the show’s run and have to say that I thouroughly enjoyed it. The banter was light, the numbers were tight and judging by the house enthusiasm it was a successful night! It didn’t come across to me that i was left out of any inside jokes. I am glad that I didn’t sit on the fence and miss this show. Oh and speaking of sitting on the pickets, I was at the opening night for The Fence and really enjoyed the production as did my 15 year old son and his friends.

    Congratulations to the ladies and to the gents that accompanied the Daughters on stage.

    Ana Bojin

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