Belleville-Ville is your monthly dose of hilarious cabaret improv at Toronto’s Monarch Tavern
If you’ve ever been in New York City and have been lucky enough to be taken into an out of the way bar by locals, only to have the time of your life, you might have an idea of what to expect from Bellville-Ville. It’s a cabaret-style improv show that happens on the first Thursday of every month, in a gem of a bar called The Monarch Tavern.
Belleville-Ville is an improvised soap opera with a cast of over a dozen. Actors remain as one character throughout the evening and each performance has a theme. The characters will remind you of people from your past, and probably from your present day life. The improv show takes place in a fictional small town that anyone can identify with regardless of where they grew up
When I got to the nearly century old Toronto venue, I was greeted by two affable characters. One of the men seemed particularly outlandish, and it really caught me off-guard, but it a good way. He turned out to be one of the artists, Adam Bailey, already in character as Buck – Eh. That’s one of the fun things about Belleville-Ville: the divide between the actors and the audience is barely there. The audience really is part of the show.
Host and director Dave McKay calls up 2 or 3 characters on stage at a time, and gives them a short, one-sentence cue. The scene develops, completely improvised. At just the right moment, McKay will interrupt, saying something like “Meanwhile, on the other side of town…” and the characters are replaced by two others.
The theme for the night I attended was the events leading up to New Year’s Eve. Several characters are travelling, either by bus or by car, and those scenes were some of the highlights. The bus driver had some great lines, saying things like “New Year’s Eve is always great for me. I have 8 children, all of them born in September.”
To be honest, the cast of Bellville-Ville lacks something that a lot of improv shows ought to lack. Call it smugness or pretentiousness; this cast has none of that. Funny, sharp, personable and boasting chops sharper than a Ginsu knife, I felt more like I was hanging out with them than I was watching people work. They collaborate seamlessly and don’t come across as spoiled brats scampering for the spotlight.
Another thing I liked about Bellville-Ville is the inclusion of people of different generations. What initially drew me to the show was the chance to see DJ legend and cast member Don Berns. He’s a personality I’ve known from radio for a quarter century now. He played a theatre owner trying to make a buck on New Year’s Eve, and mostly appeared in scenes with Reginald Sperm (Paul Berner). Berner was equally compelling, reminding me a bit of Norris from the long-running soap opera Coronation Street.
Don’t let my references to history throw you. The show is tight, young, fresh and cutting edge. They know how to have a good time, but that comes secondary to putting on a great show. The cast members who have been around for more New Year’s than others still have a spring in their step.
On the other side of the coin, the younger artists have a maturity and depth of character so lacking by today’s beardos and hipsters. It all makes for a great panoramic view of life in a small town.
I really hope to catch this ongoing soap opera every once in a while and bring some friends. If you are up for a ridiculously fun evening, I suggest you do the same. You might want to check out the karaoke upstairs afterwards, too.