“No-one gets to see the real me until I remember breathing,” says drag queen Selena Vyle (She’s So Vyle) in a raw line from her song cycle Broken Hearted Girl, now playing at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival. A series of connected songs about three romantic relationships over the past decade that shaped and changed Vyle via their painful endings, Broken Hearted Girl embraces the digital medium with a beautifully-shot tour through Toronto. At its centre is Vyle, who shines brightly in her outfits and awesome coifs, sharing entertaining and sometimes moving lyrical observations about the ones who got away.
Each of Vyle’s relationships was different, but the pattern remained largely the same — a happy meet-cute and honeymoon period, ensuing complications, a breakup, and an aftermath. At their heart, these are all stories about connections with people and how we move on from them — and, painfully, how we move on from them at different speeds from each other.
Vyle uses a three-act structure within 40 minutes to move us through each instance of initial excitement to variations on the five stages of grief following the death of these connections, using reprises with new lyrics to emphasize the cyclical aspect. Each act also features a short monologue from Vyle to her partner at the relationship’s post-mortem.
The songs, with music by Kitty Creature, lyrics by Vyle, and additional music by Maya Killtron, are bouncy, catchy, and appealing. Vyle is a strong comedic singer, with a distinct but ultimately pleasingly nasal voice, but she also steps up and brings it to the slower power ballads and club hits, assisted by occasional vocal distortions and effects.
Vyle’s lyrics make fun of their own occasional foray into cliched rhyme, but also aren’t afraid of repeating a word to avoid a banal rhyme. She plays with foreshadowing and double meanings in a cheeky way, tossing off lines like “now it’s destroyed” after recounting her meeting with one partner at a movie theatre, and telling us she’ll talk about the dark parts of love eventually, but “this is a happy song.”
Overall, the lyrics satisfied even my extremely picky tendencies. I really enjoyed their sense of specificity in place and action, my attention only wandering during the somewhat more generic “When I Cried.”
Speaking of place, Vyle also makes excellent use of several Toronto neighbourhoods and settings, such as Ontario Place and the waterfront, parks (amusement and regular), and the Distillery District, often with nary a person in the background. The cinematography and editing by Gei Ping Hohl are excellent, making both Toronto and Vyle look their best, while keeping Vyle in focus with lots of long, soulful eye contact to the camera.
A particularly effective visual moment involves undulating laser-like projections (by Spencer Wilson) twinned with heavy breathing in the song “Panic,” to simulate Vyle’s disorientation.
The camera work even responds to the storytelling. For example, in the song “You Don’t Have to Let Me Go,” the lyrics and beat have a propulsive rhythm, which fits with the song’s topic of playing catch-up, wanting to stay together after the other person has moved on. This theme is echoed by motion of the camera. Vyle literally runs with arm outstretched to catch up with it, bathed in its attention for a fleeting moment before moving on again.
In the end, Broken Hearted Girl is a story about moving on and becoming self-sufficient. It assures you that you can repeat a cycle several times and still break out of it, whether your cycle is moving too fast or dating Scorpios. I found it extremely charming and delightful, and I’ll have the opening number stuck in my head for the next few days.
- Broken Hearted Girl is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
- Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go, with the suggested price of $13 per show.
- Memberships can be purchased here. View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
- Accessibility notes:
- On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
- Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
- Content warning: This show is rated PG and contains strobe lights and abrupt cues.
- Read all of Mooney on Theatre’s 2021 Virtual Toronto Fringe Festival coverage here.
Photo of Selena Vyle in Broken Hearted Girl by Spencer Wilson.