Perk up, pianist! (Hagen Does Theatre) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Pianist 1Sarah Hagen, a touring concert pianist, has played all over the world: tiny towns in rural BC, cottage country in Ontario, vast auditoriums in Europe, Carnegie Hall — and now, the Tarragon Solo Room.

In her hour-long Perk up, pianist!, she blends music and storytelling to revisit the places, situations and encounters which have shaped her into the artist and the woman she has become. How much has she changed over the 30 years she’s been obsessed with her instrument, and what does that mean for the next 30?

Hagen (pronounced like the ice cream bar) plays exactly as beautifully as you’d hope, choosing exceptionally difficult pieces and showcasing a range that covers 400 years of classical music, right into the modern era. When she plays, a serenity and a confidence wash over her — that’s what decades of practice will do for you — and aided by some very careful lighting cues, you’ll be totally taken in.

PianistAs a storyteller, Hagen has an unusual stage presence: charming in a low-key kind of way, like a friend leaning across a bar table to whisper something important. She’s got a lot of funny and touching moments packed into her hour-long show, but I thought that some of the material chosen, and some of the decisions around how to stage and handle the material, didn’t always flatter her stage persona. Perhaps a few hours with an experienced director would have paid dividends?

Like all one-handers, this is a very personal show: your reaction will depend almost entirely upon how charming and engaging you find Hagen, and how high your tolerance is for classical music. But the hinky thing about this show is that those two elements are unitary: the piano is intrinsic to Hagen, and the music she plays on her instruments is as important a part of her — and her message — as anything else she puts on that stage.

At times the show can get a little gimmicky, but there are belly laughs and sympathetic cringes to carry you through the worst of it. Hagen is giving you an invitation into a world you might not have known existed. If it sounds like a good time, take her up on it.


  • Perk up, pianist! plays at the Tarragon Theatre Solo Room. (30 Bridgman Ave)
  • All tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased 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.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible through an alternate route. Please arrive early and speak with the House Manager.


  • Friday July 1st, 03:00 pm
  • Saturday July 2nd, 10:15 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 03:15 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 08:15 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 05:15 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 06:15 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 12:30 pm

Photograph of Sarah Hagen by Dusty Hagerüd.

One thought on “Perk up, pianist! (Hagen Does Theatre) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review”

  1. From the ridiculous to the sublime, Sarah Hagen’s ‘Perk up Pianist’ a one woman show, entirely self written, directed and delivered, invites us into her 30 year long journey of her love, obsession and very personal love affair with the piano.

    This very poignant performance draws you into the real life experience of a classical touring pianist and her own very personal bittersweet story.

    The music, beautifully crafted and almost entirely original; brought me to the brink of tears and laughter several times over in this just under one hour performance.

    Ms. Hagen is captivating and delightfully funny from the campy sets to her brilliantly crafted piano pieces; as she illustrates the high and lows in her journey from Carnegie Hall and rural town Canada to a recent encounter with a piano mover.

    Filled with so many juxta-positioned light on dark moments, you are compelled to look at your own vulnerability through her eyes.

    This story will definitely draw you in like a moth to the flame – or perhaps I should say bumble bee to sweetest nectar.

    You will not be disappointed.

    Be sure to check it out at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival.

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