TOP GUN! The Musical book and lyrics by Denis McGrath, music by Scott White, directed by Colin Viebrock, with Drew Carnwath, Dmitry Chepovetsky, David Collins, Steven Gallagher, Alison Lawrence, Racheal McCaig and Mary Francis Moore. Presented by TG!TM Co-op at the Factory (125 Bathurst). Opens tonight (Thursday June 5) and runs to June 22, Tuesday- Saturday 8 pm, late show Saturday 10:30 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $15-$30, limited Sunday pwyc. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
The most successful show in Fringe history is revving up for a second flight. Yes, Top Gun! The Musical, Denis McGrath's and Scott White's clever 2002 satire about the making of a musical oh so loosely based on the hit 80s flick is unpacking its gear, goggles and gay subtext and getting ready to take our breath away, again. Not that new producers are piloting this return trip. Despite the box-office blowout and an American premiere in Houston last November, the original Fringe team has reassembled.
Guess the high-powered producers ushered past the around-the-block lines outside the Factory Theatre last summer weren't impressed enough. Or, more likely, they didn't know how the show would fit into the current grant-subsidized Toronto scene.
"There's such great theatre in this city, but everyone's in a box," admits McGrath, who's better known as a TV writer (Zoo Stories) and personality.
"This doesn't fit in any of them. It's not particularly Canadian, although I'd argue there's no more Canadian theme than commenting on culture. It's also a show that's very commercial, which, ironically, makes it less marketable unless you've got piles of money. And no one has that.
"Look at The Drowsy Chaperone," says McGrath about that other little Fringe musical that grew. "It had to be remounted before the Mirvishes picked it up. There seems no alternative but to do it yourself."
The hugely entertaining show, which sends up everything from backstage diva antics to the gung-ho spirit involved in bankrolling big musicals, has been tinkered with since last summer. Why?
"Well, a couple of things have changed in the world since last summer," says McGrath, attempting a Texas drawl.
"In the script we've got this militaristic general-like character who acts as a producer. You can't just put him up there and not comment on it. I went back and wove in a few lines that tweaked the character. There's also a new song called Ignore The War that serves a couple of purposes."
"When we were thinking of remounting," adds consulting producer Derrick Chua, "we had no idea what state the world would be in. Would we be sending armed forces to Iraq? Would this still be funny?"
"In some ways the show feels more relevant now," says McGrath. "This is the time to do a show like this, with the idea of America as a behemoth and military might."
The timing is ironic, since the show itself began as a joke ("What musical based on a film would be the stupidest?") and was written in four frenzied weeks after another idea for a Fringe show fell through.
Chua, the original producer (he's also helmed hits like The Laramie Project and Poochwater), and McGrath are both musical fans. They even appreciate mega-musicals like Phantom. What they're satirizing is the unimaginative trend toward musicals based on movies (see sidebar, below).
In the show, a director's just come off two film-inspired musical duds, Die Hard: The Musical and Apocalypse Wow! "Maybe these musicals would have a chance," quips one character, "if they made better movies."
"The problem with the event movies they're trying to turn into these musicals is there's never any idea in the first incarnation," says McGrath. "How can you recontextualize something that was never about anything?"
Still, the two readily admit that one reason for the show's initial draw was name recognition - the same factor producers of big musicals bank on.
"This is like a poison pen letter," says McGrath. "It's criticizing the industry for its lack of originality, but at the same time showing all the styles represented. There's an overwrought, histrionic Les Miz number that people will recognize."
What's more, the writers respect the audience's intelligence.
"People are savvy - they understand theatre," says McGrath. "There's nothing wrong with using stock characters if you know where to take them and what to reveal. The minute I introduce a leading-lady diva, I know that to be responsible to this character I've got to have a moment later in the show to explain why she is the way she is.
"Teetering on the abyss: that's what comedy is all about. You've got to see the emotion underneath."
firstname.lastname@example.orgLyric lessons Think successful films easily morph into musicals? Not so fast. Here are some notable hits and misses.NINE b>(1982, from the 1963 Fellini film 81/2); Verdict: Not quite a 10, but it got a successful Broadway remount last season.
CARRIE (1988, from the 1976 movie based on the Stephen King novel); Verdict: "They're all gonna laugh at you" proved true. So bad it inspired a book about theatre bombs, Not Since Carrie.
SUNSET BOULEVARD (1993, from the classic 1950 Wilder film); Verdict: Glenn Close, but no cigar.
OUTRAGEOUS (2000, from the 1977 film starring Craig Russell); Verdict: Outrageous misfortune.
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS b>(2002, from the 1957 cult classic); Verdict: Not-so-sweet smell of failure.
HAIRSPRAY (2002, from the 1988 John Waters cult film); Verdict b>: holding up nicely - first T.O. production arrives next season.
URBAN COWBOY (2003, from the 1980 film); Verdict: tainted beef.