Despite the best efforts of the actors involved, Emerald City: A Musical Play — put on by Baby Gumm Productions as a part of the Toronto Fringe Festival — is a disappointing execution of a somewhat exciting premise.
When Dorothy returns to Oz, she and her friends find that the solutions for their problems with their brains, heart, and courage, as suggested by the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, only solved their problems temporarily. As a result, they go together to get group therapy from Dr. Oz. But mostly, they just sing through their problems to the tunes of some public domain music.
The fact that a Dr. Oz joke gets dropped after about the first ten minutes of the play is the least of its structural problems. Each scene is set up so that a character has some sort of mundane problem that gets solved by the time they sing their song about it. There’s nothing at stake in the show, so there’s no narrative arc. The play’s ending features the resolution to an issue that I didn’t even know was a problem in the first place.
Part of the problem with the play’s structure, in my opinion, is that these scenes are entirely built around the public domain music the play uses. The dialogue is supposed to flow naturally into these songs, so there are a lot of stilted one-liners that shoehorn the song titles in as introductions to the songs to be sung. It’s like they were confined to using these specific songs, and had to build something passable around them.
The cast performs admirably, despite the flaws in the writing. Both Dillan Chiblow (as the Lion) and Christie Stewart (as Dorothy) sing their songs incredibly beautifully. Christopher Vergara (the Scarecrow) and Matthew Fuller (the Tin Man) both also have nice voices, but sing too softly to stand out as much as the other two.
It’s especially unfortunate that Chiblow’s Cowardly Lion is written as an outdated stereotype of a gay man, because I found him to be charming when his character wasn’t demeaning. I’d hoped for better from writer/director Darren Stewart-Jones, who runs an LGBTQ theatre festival in the city.
It really pains me to discourage anyone from seeing a Fringe production because I think it’s so important to support these shows and the artists involved in them, but I found Emerald City: A Musical Play almost painful to watch. The talented cast deserves better material to work with.
July 03 at 10:30 PM
July 05 at 03:30 PM
July 07 at 06:15 PM
July 09 at 07:30 PM
July 11 at 12:00 PM
July 12 at 06:15 PM
July 13 at 03:30 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Picture courtesy of the production.