LUST'S LABOUR'S LOST book, music and lyrics by Brock Simpson, directed by Mary Francis Moore. Presented by Brockspeare Productions at the Tarragon Mainspace. July 7 at 8:15 pm, July 8 at 1:30 pm, July 10 at 5:45 pm, July 11 at 6:15 pm, July 12 at 9:45 pm, July 15 at 10:30 pm, July 17 at 3:15 pm.
SARSICAL by the Rumoli Brothers (Kurt and Brandon Firla) and Waylen Miki, directed by the Rumolis. Presented by the Rumolis at the Fringe Club. July 7-16 at 7 pm (no show July 11).
The doors are closed on the city's big long-running musicals, but that doesn't mean the art form's dead. Just scaled back.
The Fringe has always loved song and dance. Maybe it harkens back to that iconic image of Judy and Mickey putting on a summertime show in the barn. Or perhaps audience expectations are modest because production costs are minimal.
You never know what you might discover. Urinetown, The Drowsy Chaperone and Top Gun: The Musical all began at the Fringe level.
"Of course, we all want to have that hit musical," says Brock Simpson, who's penned other musicals in and outside of the Fringe, like Honest Ed: The Bargain Musical, This Could Be Love and Canuck Kid.
"But I no longer have the fantasy of some big producer with a cigar seeing the show and signing us on. I've been through all that. The producer ends up being broke, or won't pay but expects you to do all the work. I'll believe it when I get the cheque."
His new piece, Lust's Labour's Lost: A Rock Musical, is an update of the Bard's Love's Labour's Lost.
"I can't understand why it hasn't been done before," says the writer/composer/book writer, who's well aware of the tradition of Shakespeare comedies turned musicals, including Two Gentlemen Of Verona and Kiss Me Kate.
"Of the comedies, Love's Labour's Lost has the clearest structure for a musical," explains Simpson.
The musical's set in northern Ontario, where an all-male rock band, Pretty Petty, have sequestered themselves in a cottage to write a new disc. They've given up women, sex and drugs to finish the project. Soon, an all-female grunge band with some unfinished business with the guys shows up. And after some farcical happenings in the forest, the musical ends in a big battle-of-the-bands showdown.
"I also replaced some secondary characters with people like a music lawyer and a roadie," he laughs.
The Rumoli Brothers' SARSical boasts the funniest tagline of any musical I've encountered. It's dubbed "the musical about a real showstopper."
The piece was inspired by the city's SARS crisis and the media's overblown reaction to it.
"We were in a local watering hole two years ago and someone coughed, and everyone immediately joked, 'SARS,'" says Kurt Firla, one-half of the Rumoli Brothers.
"We realized then that people in the city weren't scared; everyone else was. It seemed like a great thing to spoof."
Not that the show will be completely irreverent.
"People died, and we're not making fun of the disease," says Firla, who points out that $1 from each ticket is going to a fund administered by the Canadian Nurses Foundation.
"We're handling it carefully. It's about Toronto's resilience and people banding together to help out."
The show follows a doctor and nurse who are there when the SARS breakout happens; a skater kid who gets quarantined; his girlfriend, who works in a Chinese restaurant; and the problems of theatre producer David Mirvish and Mayor Mel Lastman.
"We're being very careful about how we portray those last two," says Firla.
And will audience members be encouraged to cough during SARSical?
"We actually thought of pausing and looking out into the audience whenever that happens," says Firla.
A musical is only as good as its music. The Rumolis have collaborated on the lyrics and music with jazz musician Waylen Miki. They aren't afraid to spoof the rock opera genre with comic homages to Rent and A Chorus Line.
The Fringe musical is a genre that's easy to send up and parody. Simpson's one of the few musical writer/composers who takes the genre seriously. His score runs the gamut from folk rock to punk to hard rock.
"I think you can be funny without resorting to parody," he says. "What happened to a funny book, a good concept and a good show? There's a show in New York now called the Musical Of Musicals. It's parody taken to the max. I think it'll extinguish itself pretty quickly."
THE FRINGE: TORONTO’S THEATRE FESTIVAL
Featuring local, national and international companies. Runs to July 17. $10 or less, $2 surcharge on advance tickets, discount passes. Advance tickets sold up to three hours before showtime by phone, online or in person at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick); also by fax at least one day before show. At least half of all tickets for each performance are on sale one hour before showtime at thevenue; first show of the day and KidsVenue tickets available half-hour before showtime. No latecomers. Fringe hotline 416-966-1062, advance 416-967-1528, fax 416-966-5072, www.fringetoronto.com.
Check out NOW’s latest Fringe reviews at www.nowtoronto.com/fringe