This Simpsons-themed musical, on stage at the Aztec Theatre in Toronto, misses the mark
Outside the March presents a musical about everyone’s favorite yellow-skinned family — The Simpsons — in Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play. The production features favorite characters, classic lines, music, and yes is “post electric” in that the entire show is done without the use of standard lights.
The concept has taken Toronto by storm. Everyone is talking about it and filing into the Historic Aztec Theatre en masse. It should be amazing! It should be, in a word, ehhhhhxcellent!
So let’s start by putting this up front. The posters say “an apocalyptic musical about The Simpsons” which I think is a misnomer. That leads the audience to believe that actual Simpsons characters are the focal point of the three-hour (yes, three hours) production. That is not the case. Mr Burns is predominantly about humanity’s preoccupation with pop culture even in the face of the apocalypse.
The show is performed in three acts, with two 15-minute intermissions. The first act takes place not long after global power has gone out with a few friends gathering around electrical lamps for warmth while reminiscing about a certain classic Simpsons episode. They’re recalling it from memory, so not all the facts are correct.
There is one particular classic episode that is referenced throughout the show – Cape Feare (the one with Sideshow Bob, a ground littered with rakes, and the entire score from the HMS Pinafore).
The second act takes place seven years after that with a troupe of actors staging classic Simpsons episodes on stage as a means of makeshift entertainment. The story goes on from there.
In essence, Mr Burns uses The Simpsons as their main point of pop culture reference. And that would be fine if the story itself held up, but aside from these loose ideas of how society has collapsed and entertainment is necessary to maintain morale, the story lacked flow, structure, and resolution.
The production is long, clocking in at two-and-a-half hours without the intermissions. In that time, I found that many of the bantering lines between the actors didn’t serve to progress the story forward, or to really have a point. My show guest and I never got a real sense of where this performance was going. At the end of each act, I was left more confused than I was before.
Taking the show for what it is, there were a few things that truly impressed me and most of it lies within the actual stage working itself. Their “off the grid” lighting made room for the use of plenty of battery and generator-powered lights, dark lights and day-glo elements, and, of course, flashlights. Lighting director Nick Blais did a fine job of pulling all of this together to make a show that was a lot of visual fun to watch.
Set designer Ken Mackenzie was able to give the lights a very detailed and functional set to play off of, with plenty a miss-matched found item giving it a delightfully run down and post-catastrophe feel.
My guest and I were also quite impressed by the puppetry of Mr Burns’ gigantic skeletal face and hands. Also, the decaying Troy McClure puppet was a lot of fun to watch. Hats off to puppet designer Marcus Jamin for a fine job.
At the third act, the Simpsons do make their grand appearance with a grand opening musical number. This is where it finally starts to get exciting in a very Greek Tragedy kind of way. It’s just unfortunate that it took a full two acts before it reached its riveting point. Even in this act, I felt that there were a few sequences that may look visually exciting but ended up halting the story line rather than propelling it forward.
Outside the March has created some fine productions in the past and we have loved them — which is why I still highly anticipate their next theatrical endeavor, even though Mr Burns didn’t hit all the right notes for me. The performance still makes for an entertaining night of interactive theatre, especially if you’re a huge Simpsons fan.
And if you manage to sit in the Powerbar seats at the front, be prepared to be part of the action.
- Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play is playing at the Historic Aztec Theatre (1035 Gerrard St E) until June 7.
- Performances run Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 or 8 pm with matinees on weekends at 2 pm and Wednesdays at 12:30 pm.
- Standard tickets range from $29.95 to $59.95 with special “Powerbar” (audience interactive) tickets at $59.95.
- Tickets are available online.
- Audience advisory: Please note that this production uses strobe lights, flash lights, gun shots, profane language, scents, and audience participation.
Photo of Colin Doyle, Amy Keating, Rielle Braid, and Katherine Cullen by David Leyes