High C Productions and Cassidy Productions present No Chance in Hell at the Toronto Fringe Festival; a show which they purport to be “a new musical of epic proportions”. Hmm, an epic musical on a Fringe budget? You have to admire their ambition. The results, though maybe not as grandiose as claimed, are still surprisingly satisfying.
Let’s start with the story; a soul named John Smith (Isaac Bell), stuck in purgatory as Heaven has lost his file, falls in love with a sexy demon named Decadence (Jody-Anne Whitfield) and follows her to the underworld where they eventually get mired in a plot that will end in an epic battle between Heaven and Hell. So far, so good.
Then add a cast of fresh-faced musical theatre school graduates who sing and dance their hearts out. The ensemble is consistently strong and I love how they commit to the material.
Standouts for me include the diminutive Dana Jean Phoenix for both her vocal ability and her comedic prowess in her often scene-stealing turn as John Smith’s ex-girlfriend and computer hacker, Chelsea. Isaac Bell plays the lead John Smith character with an aww-shucks sincerity that makes him instantly likeable. And finally, Joel Gomez who’s able to take a bit character, Mario and break our hearts.
Then there’s the music. Composer Kevin Fox and Lyricist Chris John have created a solid musical backbone for the show. The songs feature a pop sound but have a musical theatre sensibility. They’re clever, catchy and work wonderfully in the context of the show.
However, I thought Chris John’s book (the scripted dialogue between songs) wasn’t as strong as his almost too-clever lyrics for the musical numbers. I found the weaving together of the comedy and the romance a little clumsy and I felt the tone of the show was never clearly established. At times the show feels like it’s going for subversive, satirical humour but takes too timid an approach to pull it off and the shifts in tone to the more earnest, character-sings-her-heart-out moments are abrupt.
No Chance in Hell has a lot going for it and I think it has legs for further development but I also think this Fringe Festival incarnation is well worth seeing.
No Chance In Hell – A New Musical plays at the Helen Gardner Phelan Playhouse (79 St. George St.)
Thursday, July 3, 10:30 pm
Saturday, July 5, 5:15 pm
Monday, July 7, 6:45 pm
Tuesday, July 8, 12:45 pm
Wednesday, July 9, 1:45 pm
Saturday, July 12, 8:45 pm
Sunday, July 13, 1:45 pm
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Photo of Dana Jean Phoenix and Jake Foy by Mary-Lu Zahalan