Like a Fly in Amber is a new musical playing at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival. It’s a simple musical — there are no dazzling sets or a 20-member chorus, there aren’t any booming heart wrenching numbers — just two people, a minimal set, and a poignant and touching story with musical numbers that are quite pretty.
Karen Kelm plays Iris, a woman in her 60s working on the final preparations for her dear mother Grace’s (Judith Chertkow-Levy) funeral. Iris has been asked to deliver the eulogy, which is no short order as how is she supposed to sum up her mother’s life and their relationship in one speech? Throughout this 80-minute musical, Grace appears in the form of flashbacks and memories while Iris sits in the attic mulling over her words.
I’m going to say this right up front. I am not Like a Fly in Amber‘s intended audience. When I gravitate towards a musical, I go for those big bombastic shows filled with tears and emotions and a waving red flag over a barricade… This isn’t it. I also have a somewhat strained relationship with my mother and didn’t know my only living grandmother very well, but I digress. So for that reason, I didn’t find myself enjoying this show as clearly the rest of the audience did. From the sounds of it, they loved it and hats off to the cast and crew for that.
The majority of the story here is about the pitfalls of growing old. There’s a song in here about becoming senile. It’s called “Ain’t It Great to be Senile?” There’s also a rap song (yes, rap) about taking medication called “Pills Pills Pills” where a good portion of the lyrics revolve around staying regular. When Iris learns that Grace’s favourite poet was actually the Bard himself, she sings “Ode to Shakespeare” saying that she hates Shakespeare’s work because she finds it old. Umm…
As a piece of theatre on the whole, I will give Kelm and Chertkow-Levy full credit. They are fantastic actors and great singers and it shows here. The story itself is touching and heartfelt and you get a clear sense of the love that Iris has for mom and how mom’s wisdom, no matter how kooky, holds quite a bit of weight.
Though the songs are pretty, I found that many of the songs sounded similar–a few catchier than the others, but still very similar. On a whole, it just didn’t capture me. That, however, doesn’t mean that it won’t capture you. Maybe you’re the audience member Like a Fly in Amber is looking for.
- Like a Fly in Amber plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. (30 Bridgman 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.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Sunday July 3rd, 01:15 pm
- Monday July 4th, 09:45 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 05:15 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 05:45 pm
- Sunday July 10th, 01:45 pm
Photo of Karen Kelm and Judith Chertkow-Levy by Victor Dezso.