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Constellation Prize (A-)

The premise of this astrological musical sounds a little goofy but Alessandra Ferreri & Steven Suepaul’s incredibly strong book infuses genuine tension and honest emotion into the story of the twelve astrological signs fighting for their status after an application to join their ranks from a lesser cluster of stars. Ferreri & Suepaul clearly know their astrology and are able to harness that detailed knowledge to craft rich characters out of purposefully broad archetypes. One of many productions this year that feel a little unfinished, Constellation Prize plays a bit like a first act of a larger project, finishing suddenly with little resolution, and I’d love to see it expanded into a longer piece (there are still quite a few signs who don’t appear in this iteration; I found myself obsessing over whether I would like Taurus and how that would make me feel about myself). The cast all have fine but not amazing voices but they are perhaps the best acting ensemble in a musical this Fringe. Merritt Crews sparkles particularly brightly as Sagitarius, the constellation most in danger of being replaced, her superb comic timing setting the pace for the whole production. Dave Miller also stands out as the controlling Capricorn, particularly effective in my favourite song of the show when his “sister sign” Cancer melts his stressy heart with unconditional love. Ferreri’s songs are all catchy and fun if perhaps a little derivative (a flaw effectively neutralized by calling out any Lin-Manuel Miranda similarities directly). Constellation Prize is a great time and I hope to see it expanded and remounted.


The Man with the Golden Heart (B)

Andrew Seok writes beautiful music, only hires the best singers, and chooses beautiful venues (this time Jeanne Lamon Hall in Trinity-St. Paul’s, one of the festival’s few site-specific spaces). As such, there’s guarantee of pleasantness with his work. The music will undoubtedly move you if soaring, earnest musical theatre with pretty harmonies is your sort of thing, and it’s very much my thing. At a certain point, the melodies of this new work do begin to blend together and the overly sentimental weakness of The Man with the Golden Heart’s book doesn’t help to hold the work in the audience’s mind long after leaving the theatre. I’d love to see Seok partner with a playwright, someone to reign in his admirably big hearted but not always dramatically complex instincts so that the pleasantness is as affecting as I know it can be.


Absolute Magic with Keith Brown (B)

Keith Brown is a very solid bet of a performer and his show this year is a great choice for the risk-averse Fringe-goer who wants a guaranteed good time. If you saw his show last year though, I might skip this one because a lot of the content is repeated. While that’s not an insurmountable problem for the storytelling aspects (charm is charm even if you’ve seen it before), it does the illusions no favours and I could this year see through a few things I was amazed by last year. I know Brown’s bag of tricks is bigger than this makes it seem and I hope he returns in future years with something wholly new.


PAZ (B-)

A two-hander in real time between a former nanny and her boss, PAZ explores class and racial tensions against the backdrop of personal crisis. Both actors do a fair job with their archetypal characters but the stakes of the crisis don’t feel as consistently high as they need to be for the story or the characters to really make sense. The mother character is a pretty basic Karen and Paz is a pretty basic Good Person, simplicity that makes the point hard to miss but made me long for the complex rewards of nuance.


Fertility Slippers (C+)

This so-so mother/daughter drama takes on a confusing non-linear structure, bouncing between unreliable narrators visiting various incidents in the past as the audience tries to piece together the sad scary thing that’s happening in the present. The result pulls our attention away from where the real drama is and the emotional reckoning that’s needed never comes.


Insert Clown Here (C+)

The concept of throwing an unrehearsed clown into the starring role of a serious drama is a funny idea that’s not hard to imagine going very right with the right cast, the right drama, and- most importantly- the right clown. Unfortunately those factors just don’t line up well enough here. The regular cast members deliver over-the-top melodrama when hyper-serious acting would have been funnier (and, ideally, far less shouty) and they’re not enough of a well-oiled machine unto themselves to successfully guide their stumbling guest star through. The play-within-the-play is repetitive and silly, giving the actors very little to grip onto. And unfortunately the guest starring clown I saw at my performance was not a strong improviser and barely seemed in clown character at all; there were times I thought they might not have been a clown so much as a random person pulled from the lobby. I’d be interested to see what a stronger guest star with better improv instincts could have done with this production but I’d also like to see a stronger infrastructure for said guest star to stand on.


Dead End (C-)

This dull mystery thriller plays out like wannabe Agatha Christie with bad accents and worse jokes. It’s dated, awkwardly performed, and directed with zero invention. There’s a bit of a fun twist but not nearly fun enough to make up for the lack of fun elsewhere.