Staging a musical about one of the most controversial figures of the last 60 years might seem like a daunting task. But it has happened. Hugh and I (Bad Neighbour Productions), a musical about the formative years of Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, made its debut tonight as part the Toronto Fringe Festival. And the results were quite entertaining.
Directed by Ari Weinberg, Hugh and I examines Hugh Hefner‘s transition from shy schoolboy with a creative side to one of the most successful businessmen in American history. The great book, written by Kevin McGarry and Daniel Falk, is the anchor of this show. It provides glimpses into different chapters of Hefner’s life which address both his talents and flaws. The script also does a great job of balancing humour and drama.
Daniel Abrahamson (who also co-wrote the music and lyrics with Dan Cummings) stars as the young “Hef”. His performance is more subtle than I expected, but his laid back charm works. As far as standout performances go, it’s the women who really shine. They all play multiple characters and each have at least one scene stealing moment. Given the subject matter of the show, it would have been very easy for the women to become merely eye candy but just the opposite happened. It’s the strength of the women’s performances which takes Hugh and I to the next level.
There was a lot of solid work happening on the technical side of things as well. The costumes fit the different eras accordingly and the choreography kept the musical numbers lively and energized. Also, Musical director/pianist Adam White and percussionist Spencer Cole’s stripped down accompaniment filled the Randolph Theatre very nicely.
If I had one gripe about the show it would be Hefner’s transition from copy writer to founder of Playboy Magazine. While this transition does occur, I felt it happened a tad too quickly. But with my opinion aside, the show does a commendable job of tackling such a controversial figure. Hugh and I probably won’t change your opinion of Hugh Hefner, but it’s an undeniably intriguing show and one worth checking out.
Hugh and I is playing at the Randolph Theatre (736 Bathurst Street).
July 5 5:15pm
July 7 12:45pm
July 8 6:45pm
July 9 10:30pm
July 10 5:15pm
July 13 7:00pm
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.
Photo of Lana Sugarman, Daniel Abrhamson, and Jennifer Walls by Kevin McGarry.