On Alice’s sixteenth birthday, her father Frank, a celebrity self-help guru, dies in a car crash on the way to her celebration. Alice tries to navigate her life and find some meaning in it by questioning and exploring her complicated relationship with him, and the family, friends and acquaintances that surround her. Life After, from the Life After Collective, is a beautiful new musical making its stage debut at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.
Despite being about love and loss, do not think that this is a heavy-going ninety minutes. Award winning composer, lyricist and music director Britta Johnson has written a musical that is really funny and frank; you know, in the same way that actual life is.
From lights up, we are submerged into Alice’s world; her current life, beginning at her father’s wake, is interspersed with flashbacks that blend into each other, each scene and song moving seamlessly to the next with no pause for applause until the final lights out.
Whilst Tim Funnell’s Frank is a charming guy who I would take life advice from any day, it is the supporting cast members who I found the most interesting. Johnson has created such distinct characters in the women that populate Alice’s life and help her negotiate her grief in different ways, whilst they too share their own losses. It is a wonderfully supportive and attentive cast led by Anika Johnson (writer Britta’s sister) as Alice, who very purely and earnestly captures the teen coming-of-age and breaks your heart as she does it.
Alana Hibbert and Janet Gigliotti act as pillars of strength for Alice in the roles of mother and teacher, despite having their own struggles. The cast is complimented by her vegan sister Kate (Kaylee Harwood) and friend Hannah (Kate Blackburn), who are both very charming and very funny.
Johnson’s music is at its most beautiful when the cast is singing in harmony. She layers themes and ideas, bringing them back throughout the piece, and the sound fills every part of the theatre. She has also written amazingly lexical and funny material for Hannah, who seems to cram more words into music than I ever thought was possible!
Life After is sincere, stylish and honest. No moment ever felt forced or contrived because the libretto was so natural and real, but still incredibly poetic (despite the character Alice claiming that she is ‘not a poet’), which helped each moment bleed into the next, and resonate with each audience member.
When you (I) watch and listen to theatre and/or music that is so real and close to home as Life After, your (my) natural instinct is to try and distract yourself so as to avoid hearing truths that might hit too hard for you to respectfully handle them in a public space. But the music and writing in Life After is so beautiful that you physically cannot; I just had to face it and sob in a packed theatre in Toronto. And I was absolutely not the only audience member. In the whole theatre there was not one moment where anyone was distracted or let their attention drift. The audience was there and engaged for the entire ninety minutes, and everything outside of the show stopped. I was so in awe and taken with the show that I found myself give an involuntary standing ovation at the end (and I hate standing ovations), along with the entire house. It is mesmerizing.
- Life After plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Ave)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance. 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.
- Content Warning: Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Friday July 1st, 01:45 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 03:30 pm
- Monday July 4th, 08:45 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 11:00 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 03:30 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 08:45 pm
- Sunday July 10th, 02:45 pm
Photo provided by the company