Stupidhead! is “a show about all of us,” now playing on the Toronto stage
When I saw that Stupidhead!–a musical comedy about having dyslexia–was opening at Theatre Passe Muraille on March 22nd, I knew I had to see it. It’s essentially a one person autobiographical show, written and performed by Katherine Cullen; I’m a big fan of one person autobiographical shows. She co-wrote the lyrics with Britta Johnson, who wrote the music. I love musicals, and comedy, and I have dyslexia. It sounded like a perfect theatre match for me. And it was.
The show is about Cullen’s struggles with dyslexia and about learning to live her life successfully on her own terms. She tells the story in flashbacks in no particular order; it feels very natural, almost like a conversation that zigzags as one thing reminds her of another thing.
Cullen is a talented actor and can turn on a dime: happy one minute, sad the next; angry, then bemused; almost always funny. She uses sarcasm to great effect, something I appreciate, and has great comedic timing.
Underneath the humour there is a poignancy that made me want to reach out and hug that little girl whose teacher yelled at her and called her stupid, the little girl who kept getting lost and couldn’t recognize her house.
Look how brave it made her! She opens the show by saying that she has always wanted to make a musical comedy, despite having no training or experience in the field. She says she has no idea what pitch is; that’s OK, neither do I. Her singing is fine: not amazing, but acceptable.
Her dance moves hers alone; quirky, delightful, and endearing.
The songs are marvelous. They’re fun and funny and they move the show along; they never seem to be there just for the sake of having a song in that place in the show. Cullen and Johnson’s collaboration on the lyrics works very well. I will probably always remember “Dobermans and Nutella” if only for the bizarre juxtaposition of the words.
I loved the variety and complexity of musical styles. Johnson hasn’t dumbed down the music for Cullen. I really don’t like musicals where all the songs seem to have the same tune, and that wasn’t the case here.
It was a delight watching Johnson at the piano. For most of the show, she watched Cullen and beamed, grinning like a proud parent, her pride and love written on her face.
You don’t have to have dyslexia to relate to the show. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, who couldn’t figure out the rules, who has messed up and had to start over, anyone who thought they would never get it will get Stupidhead! Really, it’s a show about all of us. And about how amazing we can be.
Yes Katherine, you are a poet.
- Stupidhead! is playing until April 2nd, 2017 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue)
- Shows run Playing Tues- Sat at 730pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $17.00 to $38.00. Matinees PWYC in person at the box office
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-504-7529, and in person at the box office
Photo of Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson by Michael Cooper