Film Noir musicals meet Euro-punk parodies at Fringe Festival

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      Fringe festivals are, by their very nature, eclectic and unpredictable, and the 24th annual Vancouver International Fringe Festival (September 3 to 14) is no exception. With a lineup of 68 groups giving more than 500 performances, from the Dada-esque to the therapeutic, it’s as likely to move audiences to tears as it is to make them bust a gut laughing.

      “We have the most Bring Your Own Venues that we’ve ever had,” notes David Jordan, executive director of the festival, referring to productions that take place not at the festival-supplied main-stage sites, but at 11 other venues around the city.

      “We’ve had everything from a bathroom to up in a tree, to an Aquabus [over the years],” Jordan recalls. “It [a BYOV] accommodates those who don’t get in [to the main-stage venues], and it also accommodates those who might have a creative idea for where they want to do their show.”

      Lest you think that BYOVs offer less notable performers than the main-stage shows, remember that main-stage slots are awarded through a lottery system, which means traditional Fringe favourites TJ Dawe (Totem Figures at Havana, September 4 to 7, 9, and 11 to 13) and Monster Theatre (The Shakespeare Show at Havana, September 5 to 8, and 11 to 13) have, through the luck of the draw, ended up at BYOVs, says Jordan.

      Meanwhile, audiences won’t have to travel far between main-stage venues, because they’re all concentrated on Granville Island this year. “A big part of our festival is being able to walk from venue to venue, being able to go to the bar between shows, being able to decide to go see another show on the spur of the moment,” says Jordan.

      Despite Fringe offerings being all over the map, there is a bit of a theme emerging, according to Jordan: “There’s a real off-Broadway musical thing going on this year.”

      These include Burnaby’s Wide Eyed Productions’ staging of Gutenberg! The Musical! (Granville Island Stage, September 4, 6, 10, 13, and 14), which is not, incidentally, about where-is-he-now ’80s actor Steve Guttenberg, but about Johann Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. “It’s all tongue-in-cheek stuff, and they really play up the fact that there’s only two of them on-stage,” says Jordan.

      Taking self-referential humour to the extreme is The Musical of Musicals: the Musical! (Carousel Theatre, September 4 to 7, and 10 to 14), staged by Vancouver’s Fighting Chance Productions, which encompasses five musicals, all with the same plot, each done in the style of a different famous Broadway composer.

      There’s also Oy Calcutta! (Granville Island Stage, September 4, 5, 7, 11, and 14), a musical comedy set in India, from Salt Spring Island’s Peace in Our Time Productions, and, on the more serious side, The Last Gig of Lenny Breau (Agro Café, September 4 to 10, and 12 to 14), described by its Victoria-based creator, Attunement Productions, as a “film noir musical” about one of the world’s best, and least-known, guitarists.

      Much of the fun of the Fringe comes from taking chances on random little-known acts, but there are a few shows that have been generating buzz at Fringe fests in other cities.

      Australian Euro-punk parody act Die Roten Punkte (The Red Dots) (Performance Works, September 5 to 8, 11, and 12) was one of last year’s most popular shows, while Spiral Dive (Granville Island Stage, September 7, 9, and 12 to 14), by Edmonton’s THEATrePUBLIC, received five-star reviews in Winnipeg and Edmonton for its story of a Canadian fighter pilot in 1943 England.

      U.K.–based Spaniard Ricardo Garcia has been topping critics’ picks with his flamenco guitar and dance shows since 2006, so his Flamenco Flamenco! (Waterfront Theatre, September 5 to 8, 11, and 12) production is a must-see for dance aficionados.