Holiday! (Bad Dog at The Assembly Theatre)
I made it out to Bad Dog Theatre Company’s Comedy on Queen Festival at The Assembly Theatre for one night only, to see an improvised musical based on Sondheim’s Company. With a rotating cast featuring more than a few favourites, I knew it wasn’t one I wanted to miss. After a scripted opening number set to the tune of Company‘s opening number, the cast launched into an awkward holiday party hosted by “Bobby” (I assume they’re played by a different pre-selected person each night but at opening it was Ashley Botting, which felt like a lucky draw). The awkwardness was both tonally intentional and a little unintentional as the cost of having a rotating cast quickly became clear. The troupe wasn’t quite a troupe yet, often stepping on each other’s instincts and boxing certain characters out of a scene after they’d already entered, but the performers familiar with the format and each other quickly rose to the top along with a few undeniable stars. Producer Stephanie Malek and Botting showcased their strong musical instincts and excellent voices with some of the hour’s most polished numbers and Kyah Green did that thing Kyah Green seems to do better than almost anyone, delivering the show’s best joke by aiming for emotional honesty over the easy laugh. But the biggest star of the night was Baroness Von Sketch‘s Aurora Browne who is so deft and witty no matter what’s thrown at her that she elevated even the weaker cast members in every scene. Because it’s a slightly different group at every performance, the ensemble feels a little ramshackle with an imbalance of abilities and not every combination of people makes a ton of musical sense together (on opening night, nearly everyone was singing in a comparable vocal range, which is a dumb thing to nitpick I know but it felt like a casting blindspot) but there are enough excellent performers in the rotation that you’re sure to get someone great at any show.
Bruce Dow- Beautiful Things (Buddies in Bad Times)
This holiday concert from Stratford* legend Bruce Dow is about as pleasant a way to spend an hour of your time that I could possibly imagine. Dow’s voice is lovely but imperfect and lovely in its imperfection as they showcase an incredible range of styles in holiday and holiday-adjacent songs linked together by themes of loneliness and the inherent complexity of true beauty over simple prettiness. Usually cast in broad comedy roles, Dow’s earnestness as themself is very endearing and they are a wonderful guide through the evening. The set list is at its best in an early mashup that unexpectedly splices Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” into Charlie Brown’s melancholy “Christmas Time is Here”, perfectly capturing the bittersweet and often overwhelming feeling of adult Christmas in the city. A perhaps less universal but personal favourite section sees Dow dissecting the musical and lyrical construction of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “My Favourite Things”. There’s a sort of apologetic tone about the pedantry of this section that needn’t be there; I could have happily listened to Dow lovingly describe Rodgers’ key signature trickery in far more detail. In fact, more Beautiful Things would be welcome in general, both the expansion of the show in length and more confident leaning in to Dow’s perspective, taste, and personal story. As is, I felt like we were just getting started when it came to an end. It was a beautiful ending though, so maybe the longing I was left with was a feature not a bug. Beautiful things are complicated like that.
*while Toronto audiences will most likely remember Dow from their years at Stratford, they’re also in Diana the Musical on Netflix (recorded on Broadway), which I’m genuinely obsessed with and am happy to take questions on the issue of its legitimacy as a great musical any day.