Review: Banana Shpeel (Cirque du Soleil)

Banana Shpeel “a-peels” to audience at Toronto’s Canon Theatre

By Crystal Wood

I’ve seen a few Cirque du Soleil shows in my time, so I thought I knew what I was in for when I went to see Banana Shpeel at the Canon Theatre.  But my expectations were turned as upside-down as one of their trapeze acts.

Banana Shpeel has none of the motorcycle-on-a-tightrope death-defying acts that you might recognize from its other shows.  There are, however, still plenty of Cirque du Soleil’s trademark contortionist acts that make my spine hurt just to watch.

Banana Shpeel bills itself as “Vaudeville with a twist.”  I think it’s equal parts Vaudeville, The Muppet Show and the Broadway cast of Wicked. My show partner for this one was fellow MoT writer George, who also suggested Ringling Brothers and old George Burns/Gracie Allen shows as influences.  That makes the historic Canon seem all the more appropriate for a show such as this.

It’s definitely one of the more accessible Cirque shows I’ve seen.  There’s an actual plot involving a grumpy circus manager and the assistant who loves him.  (There was a great moment where they mock shows that revolve around esoteric French sylphs, i.e. the other 90% of their repertoire.)

Scattered throughout the acts are two hosts and three clowns, which include a flatulent old man and a scrawny little flasher which George said suffered from “over-exposure.”  (Ba-dum-bum!)  This is where the show gets most of its humour, and the audience on the night we attended were very receptive.  George was battling a cold, and said this dose was levity was just what he needed to feel better.  We did agree, however, that one audience participation bit went on a little too long (although I happen to think that all audience participation bits are excruciatingly long).

There was also a lot of dancing in this show, mainly hip hop and tap, all upbeat stuff with sparkly costumes.  I realize I’m probably one of only 6 people in Toronto who really enjoys watching tap, so I like to think that Cirque du Soleil programmed those numbers just for me!

In fact, the only thing I didn’t enjoy about Banana Shpeel was the distracting neon glow of the girl in front of us, who texted during the entire first act.  People, when they say “turn off your cell phones” that means everyone.  We’re trying to watch a show here.


–  Playing until October 10, 2010 at the Canon Theatre, 244 Victoria Street

–  Showtimes are Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 PM, and Saturday & Sunday at 1:30 PM

–  Ticket prices range from $25 to $110.

–  For tickets, call 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, or visit

Photo by Jean-François Gratton