I’ll preface this review by saying I’m a huge fan of the work of the musical writing team of Barbara Johnston, Anika Johnson, and Suzy Wilde which is why I was interested in seeing them perform in their cabaret Daughters of Feminists, playing at the quirky nautical themed bar, The Boat, in Kensington Market as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was the best showcase for their talents.
The show is a multi-generational family affair which also features comedian and songwriter Nancy White (who also happens to be Suzy Wilde’s mother) as well as composer/lyricist Bob Johnston (Barbara’s dad). Despite the title, feminism is only touched on superficially but the celebration of strong women does serve as a theme throughout the evening.
Unfortunately, that loose theme is the only structure holding together a show that I found scattershot, under-rehearsed, and generally lacking in focus. While a cabaret doesn’t need to be tightly scripted and there’s room for spontaneity, I think the format works best when the performers keep a sharp focus. Writing some short, pithy material would have kept the performers from delivering long, rambling monologues between numbers.
When putting together a cabaret I believe it’s important to ask yourself; are you up there doing this because it’s fun for you or are you also actively taking the audience into consideration?
Everybody on stage for Daughters of Feminists is obviously having a good time up there, and that’s great, but I also think it’s important to invite the audience in, especially when you’re charging admission, and I thought that too often this show leaned toward the self-indulgent.
The show feels a bit like a private jam session for a close group of friends and family. Between-song banter largely consists of narratives from the group members’ past, and their friends and family onstage would often interject as if it were a dinner table conversation. I thought it was kind of cute at first but it became less and less interesting as the show went on.
I also found the featured material hit-and-miss. A song by Nancy White about actors touring to regional theatres is one long in-joke that I’m pretty sure only people working in the industry would really get.
However, there were also a handful of truly stellar performances. Barbara Johnston performs a beautiful number from the musical Anne & Gilbert (which her father and Nancy White co-wrote) and the group performs an interesting bluegrass cover of No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” and an stunningly original a cappella arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time.”
Ultimately, those few gems weren’t enough to salvage the show for me and I’d recommend skipping this one and seeing their new musical The Fence instead.
- Daughters of Feminists plays at The Boat. (158 Augusta Ave.)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warnings: Sexual Content, Mature Language, Audience Participation.
- Thursday June 30th, 08:00 pm
- Friday July 1st, 07:00 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 08:00 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 08:00 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 08:00 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 08:00 pm
Photo of Barbara Johnston by John Bregar