This past weekend Mooney on Theatre sent its dedicated team of 30 writers and editors to cover all 147 shows* in this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival! With the sheer number of shows available at the festival, picking the ones you want to see can be a daunting task.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of shows and you’re looking for a place to start, we’ve asked our staff to tell us about their favourite shows they’ve seen at this year’s festival. We hope our staff picks can help you navigate the Fringe.
If you’ve seen something you think is amazing that you think others should go see please let us know by leaving a comment.
Mooney on Theatre Staff Picks – 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival
Jeremy Gardiner really loved Deadmouse: The Musical. As he said in his review, he thought the show was really fun and that the music in the show was really good. He’s a big musical theatre nerd and was still really blown away by the quality of this musical. The show boasts strong singing, dancing, and acting performances from the entire cast and half a dozen original songs that you’ll want to listen to again and again. Even if you don’t know anything about house music culture, Jeremy guarantees you’ll have a good time.
Lindsay Young really loved Swordplay: A Play of Swords for its blend of inventive parody with absurd stage physicality. She left feeling like she’d been punched in the gut (with comedy) as a result of laughing so hard. Not only was it hilarious, but it had tons of creative staging and a manic energy that just never stopped. Even more impressive is the level of consistency: it’s funny from curtain to bow, and she estimates at least one laugh every fifteen seconds due to its madcap pacing.
Wayne Leung thought Summerland was quite possibly the best musical he has ever seen at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Starting off in a high school and ending up in a magical fantasy world, the show is a beautiful metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s remarkably sleek and polished on a scale that’s far more grandiose than you’d typically see at the Fringe. The young cast brims with talent, the pop-inflected songs are pithy, poetic and often hopelessly catchy and the big ensemble production numbers are truly dazzling.
Margaret Sulc recommends Starry Notions. but not because she got to sit at the VIP table. Ryan G. Hinds is a true star and makes everyone in the theatre feel like a VIP in his cabaret. He performs a transparent rendition of his favourite songs, including some Canadian heritage with those Broadway standards, and generously shares his life journey to centre stage. Margaret has seen some pretty stellar performances of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” but nothing beats Hinds’ rendition of Disney villain Ursula. Her only experience of cabaret before this was watching Miss Patti on Gilmore Girls… but now she’s a cabaret convert.
Catherine Jan and her little companions liked Soaring Above Reality by Lucas Wilson and Kelly Defilla. It was cool seeing tables float, Kelly getting compressed, and Lucas getting tied up in a strait-jacket. It was a colourful, entertaining magic show.
Randall C Willis was blown away by Hamlet…A Puppet Epic! and considers it a must-see. Part of FringeKids!, this is a treat for kids of all ages. While it entertains the little ones with rampant silliness, it still has plenty of laughs for those well past puberty. Somehow, these puppetry magicians have turned literature’s greatest tragedy into Toronto’s greatest comedy. It’s the funniest hour that Randall has spent in years.
Istvan Dugalin fell madly in love with Rachel Blair’s A Man Walks Into a Bar. This tightly performed two-hander starts off buoyant and breezy, but there’s an unsettling truth creeping at the edges of its jokey set up. She’s crafted amusing and insightful study of gender-defined attitudes, of control and accommodation. At what point does standing your ground become intimidation? Is intimidation ever justified? When you acknowledge a potential threat, is there an inherent accusation? Who gets to decide and how? Fascinating stuff. Oh, and it’s VERY funny. And shit gets real!
Deepti Razdan simply loved You Know I Know, and is recommending it to everyone she knows in Toronto (and beyond). She is truly impressed with the sheer creative brilliance of the performance. The performers are intense, the concept intriguing. She feels that this captivating succession of everyday secrets has been beautifully translated into a complete performance by Fourth Gorgon Theatre.
Jeff Kerr feels you need to see To Be Alone With You. The show features a man’s last words to his deceased lover and is an honest and powerful portrayal of the aftermath of suicide. Inspired by tragedy, the show brings levity and light to many issues surrounding loss and acceptance of self. Matthew Eger’s performance has the depth and breadth to tackle them with truth and love.
Tracey Beltrano really loved One Good Marriage and recommends it because of the perfect coupling of an incredible script and two very talented actors. She couldn’t stop raving about the flawless execution of the quick paced script and the clarity with which it was delivered. The storytelling and synergy of the two actors as they wove in and out of past and present, kept her engaged in every moment as they unravelled their story. There were laughs, there were tears and through the tension there was release. It was an emotional roller coaster of a play that she felt lucky to have seen.
Mike Anderson was so moved by pool (no water) that he hasn’t stopped babbling about it. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea: the “artier” elements will turn off some people, and it’s got a few squirmy moments, but if you can stomach it, this is a piece which will excite, inspire, challenge and threaten you — and so far as Mike’s concerned, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Sam Mooney thinks Summerland is the best show she’s seen at Fringe so far. She absolutely loved it. The talent is awe inspiring; it bodes well for the future of theatre in Toronto. She loved everything about it. The singing, the dancing, the acting, the sets, the lighting, the music, the script, the lyrics. She’s telling everyone to go and see it.
Madeleine Copp did not expect to find herself laughing so hard that she cried when she impulsively bought a ticket to Swordplay: A Play of Swords. She is currently plotting ways to convince various friends and family members to buy a ticket to this imaginative and exciting show. Looking for romance, political scheming, knights, queens, and swords? Madeleine certainly wasn’t, but man did she love every minute. She was up on her feet giving a standing ovation at the end.
Angela Sun was mighty impressed by the darkly comedic one-person show, The Orchid and the Crow. Not only is it one of the most polished productions she has seen so far, it features a powerful can’t-take-your-eyes-off performance from the multi-talented Daniel Tobias. His catchy songs and smart stand-up on topics like faith, love, and cancer was not only hilarious, but also heartrending. Tobias is also an ace at developing a playful, comfortable rapport with his audience. This is one performance you shouldn’t miss!
Maighdlin Mahoney loved Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness because of its universally accessible themes and depth and precision in execution. It alternately made the entire audience laugh out loud as well as sit in awed silence, often within seconds of one another. She’s been telling everyone she knows to go check it out, and she promises you won’t regret seeing this gem!
Allison Jones was really impressed with Mixed Chick, a funny, thoughtful and finely-crafted coming-of-age story featuring the extremely likeable Coko Galore. This one-woman show explores the challenges of navigating a biracial identity while facing constant pressure to fit neatly into others’ categories. She knows it’s a tall order to make things as weighty as identity politics and ‘race’ entertaining, but the show succeeds. She thinks most people would be able to relate to Galore’s struggles, and she loved how skilfully words and dance were used to advance the story.
Ilana Lucas thinks Morro and Jasp Do Puberty is a must-see. Thrilling, hilarious and brutally honest, the show is also touching and sweet on the topic of growing up. The audience almost never stops laughing. These two are storied festival veterans with impeccable instincts and timing. As an audience member was heard to murmur while leaving the show, “such a deal!”
Jess Gillis absolutely loved Lust & Marriage – a one-woman gem of a show – hilariously and flawlessly executed by Dance Naked Productions’ Eleanor O’Brien. The premise seems simple enough, but the show really delves into the vulnerability, complexity, ecstasy, and pain of modern romance. It specifically tackles open (“monogamish”) relationships – a subject still seen by many as taboo – and the specific challenges they present. With raunch, honesty, openness, and relentless humour, we watch Emily’s journey from self-discovery, to awkward sex phase, to self-acceptance, and ultimately, to happiness.
S. Bear Bergman recommends Starry Notions, for being just the best – great music, great heart, great shoes, and a truly polished Fringe entry that really raises the bar.
Sarah Siddiqui recommends Cootie Catcher, written and performed by Lucas Brooks of New York. Brooks combines his skills as both a performer and sex educator to share his close encounters with STIs. The show is humourous and educational, and Sarah would suggest this show to anyone with lingering phobias about STIs, as well as sex-positive folk!
Randy McDonald thinks that The Philanderess is one of the strongest shows he has ever seen at the Toronto Fringe. Sophia Fabiilli’s adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1893 The Philanderer is a success, preserving the spirit of Shaw’s original while updating it for a 21st century audience. Acted by a uniformly strong cast, this wonderful show made him laugh and think.
Tavish McGregor was lucky enough to catch The Inventor of All Things, a last-minute entry to this year’s festival that isn’t in the program. Gem Rolls is a master performance poet, and his spirited, artful narration make the historical details of this one-man show come alive.
Samantha Wu wasn’t sure what to make of Man’s Dominion when she first read the blurb on the Fringe site but she was very pleasantly surprised by the show. Tim Powell does fine work illustrating the story of Mary the elephant who lashed out after a life of captivity killing an assistant trainer and the aftermath that followed. The 10 characters he plays are distinctive, nuanced, incredibly well thought out and executed. His transitions between them are immaculate. Every word, every silent moment, every prop is used constructively. Overall his performance gives wonderful food for thought on human nature. It’s the best one-man show she has seen.
*The 147 shows we covered include all venue, site-specific, and FringeKids! shows. We cover Shed Shows and the presentations in Visual Fringe separately.
Photo credits: Toronto Fringe Festival