NSTF: Hidden WWII treasure, a closeted aunt, a shifty foreign cousin & other family secrets in the funny, surprisingly poignant, Songbuster

Songbuster Inc. brings the funny with a musical twist in with Songbuster – An Improvised Musical; a new show created every performance by the ensemble with musical director Tom King. Currently running during the Toronto Fringe Next Stage Festival (NSTF) in the Factory Theatre Studio, the ensemble features Tricia Black, Kristian Bruun, Ashley Comeau, Alexandra Hurley, Stephanie Malek, Josh Murray, Nug Nahrgang, Nicky Nasrallah and Connor Thompson.

It all starts off with an ask. In this case, the ensemble asking an audience member for a setting to work with; something in the nostalgic gathering department. The woman in the front row suggested a family reunion. And off they went.

From there, a series of musical scenes unfolded, incorporating various music styles from classic musical, to country western, to blues, to ballads. A cantankerous, forgetful grandfather has a heart-to-heart with his hair-eating, taxidermy practicing teenage granddaughter Claire, who was named after her grandmother (one of the only things he can remember), who was known to walk the tightrope on occasion. The strained relationship between Aunt Eleanor and her husband Philip, who both really like to drink beer (like, a lot), unfolds as we learn that Eleanor is secretly in love (mutually so) with their next door neighbour Martha. An unexpected guest arrives, a previously unknown cousin from Norway, who cross country skied the whole way there—and who has secrets of his own.

And then there’s Claire’s mother Donna, trying to keep things together at home since her husband John left for another woman. And her kid brother Robert, who misses his dad’s scary bedtime story character voices and takes out his confused frustration by punching trees. Unbeknownst to this family, John is making his way home to the family ranch, hoping for reunion and redemption.

Meanwhile, Grandpa unearths the strange cousin’s secret and rallies the family to protect a hidden cache of WWII treasure (and weapons, apparently) buried on the property—forcing everyone to put their differences aside for the good of the family.

Amazing work from the ensemble in this hilarious trip through family relationships and crises—and all with music and improvised lyrics, folks. And these guys can sing. This performance of Songbuster included some surprisingly poignant moments, especially during John’s entrance. Sorry for his trespasses and realizing the huge mistake he made in leaving, he’s been longing to return home to be reunited with Donna and the kids. Here, solo turns into quartet as Donna and the kids join him in the background.

Hidden WWII treasure, a closeted aunt, a shifty foreign cousin and other family secrets in the funny, surprisingly poignant, Songbuster – An Improvised Musical.

Songbuster – An Improvised Musical continues in the Factory Theatre Studio until Jan 15. Get your advance tix and passes online; and check out the full NSTF schedule.

 

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Toronto Fringe: A joyful, thought-provoking celebration of life in Memento Mori

MEMENTO_MORI_POSTER- FINALFrom the sidewalk outside Rochelle Rubenstein’s Studio (402 College St.), the audience is led along the alley and inside the wooden gates of a colourfully decorated garden, where we are greeted by two handsome, masked men (Christopher Sawchyn and Bruno Cunha); one offers two pieces of paper with questions and a crayon to write our answers, the other serves orange punch. Perched on the fire escape above us, Tracey Erin Smith, our host and guest of honour, sits masked and dressed in black, watching the gathering crowd. We are here to celebrate her last day of life. And she regards us like a fly on the wall at her own funeral.

From the garden, we are led into the studio to find a spot at one of the café tables as the Tango ensemble Payadora (Rebekah Wolkstein, Tom King, Branko Dzinovic & Alberto Munarriz) serenades us.

This is Memento Mori, a solo show written and performed by Smith, directed and co-created by Anita La Selva and produced by SoulOTheatre. The show is the culmination of a journey that started with the question: ‘What if I had one year to live?’ – which turned into a year-long experiment of bucket list activities, work on a troubled marriage and self-discovery.

Memento Mori - shrineWith gorgeous scenic design by Adam Barrett, the space is full of orange flowers (Smith’s favourite colour?), pink and orange strips of cloth, and shrines honouring lost loved ones. Accompanied by the passionate music of Payadora and featuring Tango choreography by Sawchyn, Memento Mori is part memoir, part confession, part hero’s journey – all told with stories of family mythology, personal anecdote, mask performance, music and dance.

I was transported by Smith’s words, and I often found myself feeling like a little kid listening to story time – and Smith was the story lady, rabbi and shaman all wrapped in one. Highly engaging and entertaining, funny and sexy – the threesome, male/male and male/female Tango moments are hot! – our trip is over quickly and we’re all invited to join in the dance (to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”) as the ensemble takes their bows.

And the questions we were given at the beginning of the show?
What is one item on your bucket list?
What would you like to have happen at your funeral?

Memento Mori is a joyful, thought-provoking, singing, dancing, storytelling celebration of life!

The entire Toronto Fringe run of Memento Mori (on till July 13, with no show July 8) is sold out, but if you get to the venue box office early, you just might be able to score a ticket or two at the door.Tes sugar skull on chair