Next Stage Festival – Just East of Broadway – Gig Productions

By Crystal Wood

eastofb2Just East of Broadway, playing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, is a play that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This, I think, is both its strength and its weakness.

In the grand tradition of Fringe Festival spoof musicals, Just East of Broadway takes all the old musical conventions and runs with them – from the fighters who become lovers, to the little theatre company that could, to a bumbling henchman out to thwart the leading man. Rex Maverick (played by Cory O’Brien) is a washed-up Hollywood star who is shipped off to small-town China to star in a play that might be his last hope for a comeback. Let the laughs ensue.

Like I said, the play wholly embraces its own silliness, which I don’t feel always works. There is certainly some sharp humour, like all the digs it makes at celebrity culture. Also, the play’s more serious moments are nicely underscored once a bit of humour is added in. (As in the ballads “Human-zee” and “The Cookie Never Lies.”) The play’s less serious moments, though, come across hammy and cartoon-ish. They even use the old cliché where a man puts on a mustache, and nobody recognizes him! Amazing!

There are also some nice moments of physical comedy in Just East of Broadway. When Allen the Thug bursts into a dance routine, the audience was virtually howling with laughter. The mixed-message love song between young lovers Sui Fung and Tai Lee was another stand-out. In fact, most of the songs (written by Nicholas Hune-Brown and Ben King) were memorable, with my favourites being “The Cookie Never Lies” and “The Greatest Mid-Level Official in the World.”

Ma-Anne Dionisio and Cory O’Brien are strong as the fighting lovers Mei-Ling and Rex. Dionisio, who has traveled the world on Broadway tours, has a beautiful voice, as does Lana Carillo, who played Sui Fung (and interestingly, was Mei-Ling in the original Fringe production.)

Though overall I enjoyed the show, I finally figured out what was nagging me about it. The Fringe is known for its spoof musicals, which are often the festival’s biggest sellers. (Lord of the Rings: The Musical: The Musical, Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical, etc.) The Next Stage Festival, as an offshoot of the Fringe, is meant to give successful shows and companies a chance to seek out life beyond the Fringe. So, my question is, does a slapstick-y musical spoof have a chance in a larger venue? Maybe it does, but Just East of Broadway doesn’t quite have the heart or the true-story angle of something like My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding.

But all the same, it’s a fun way to spend a chilly January evening.

Details:

– Playing until January 17 at the Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street

– Check http://www.fringetoronto.com/nstf/nstf_schedule.html for show times

– Tickets are $12 for shows that start before 7pm, and $15 for shows that start after 7pm. Multi-play passes are also available.

– Tickets available online at the web site listed above, or in person at the theatre.

Photo of Just East of Broadway cast. Front L to R: Sean Baek, Nicholas Hune-Brown, Ma-Anne Dionisio, and Lana Carillo. Back L to R: Lorna Wright, Stephen Lilly, and Cory O’Brien.