Mirvish has promised to bring Toronto audiences the very best of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and with this, their inaugural year, they feature two shows, Julie Madly Deeply and The Boy With Tape On His Face, both sold-out sensations at the largest arts festival in the world.
I must commend Mirvish Productions for not only bringing large scale musicals to the city of Toronto, but also for picking up smaller shows, allowing independent theatre to have a voice on a much larger scale than would likely be possible without their generous assistance.
In its third season, the Off-Mirvish series offered this year is a wonderful program and in the same vein, Mirvish has also brought in two of the smash hits from the Edinburgh Fringe: Julie Madly Deeply and The Boy With Tape On His Face. The shows were served as a double bill with a substantial intermission between the two. You can also opt to see just one of the productions, but both are definitely worth a go.
Julie Madly Deeply is written and performed by the talented Sarah-Louise Young. The show looks at everything Julie Andrews—her childhood, rise to fame, life struggles, marriages, failure, illness, and the loss of her dazzling voice. To be honest, I would not call myself a fan of Julie Andrews. I have seen a couple of her films and certainly recognize her talent, but beyond that, my knowledge is limited. Young, on the other hand, is a die-hard fan and has crafted a 90 minute show that is part instructional recitation of Andrews’ life, sprinkled with a dose of audience interaction, quick and witty improvisation, and of course a wonderful medley of Andrews’ popular music.
Julie Madly Deeply is definitely going to appeal to those who love Andrews, yet it remains entertaining and insightful for people like myself, with very little knowledge of this icon. This is largely due to Young’s absolutely infectious energy and clear passion for her subject. I guarantee she will charm the pants off of you. She is engaging, highly entertaining, and has a stunningly beautiful singing voice. Michael Roulston should also be commended. He is the musical director/pianist of the show, and he adds a lot of flavour to the production. Young and Roulston playfully riff off each other throughout and Roulston’s charisma shines through.
Russell Lucas’ direction is just right for this show, allowing the performers to clearly illuminate the Dame Julie Andrews’ journey while incorporating improv and audience interaction which Young executes seamlessly. There is also a mini sing along at the end. What fun!
The Boy With Tape On His Face is a completely different kind of show. New Zealand’s Sam Wills has a background in circus and street performing. He has taken a bunch of bits (that he likely perfected on the streets) and created a funny, quirky, sixty-minute show out of it.
As you enter the theatre, here is a guy, sitting on stage, fidgeting about, looking awkward, with tape over his mouth and I have to say, my first thought was that this could go terribly wrong. I give big kudos to effective silent performers because it isn’t easy to keep an audience with you without dialogue and without a voice, but Wills manages to use his wildly expressive eyes and exuberant body language to great effect.
The Tape Face show relies on audience participation and everyone in the audience seemed to be willing to take part in the theatrical spectacle. Wills was either very lucky or is great at selecting the right people from the crowd, because I found many of the audience members to be almost as entertaining as Wills himself. Wills created characters and puppets out of all sorts of common objects including shoes, coats, tape, dusters and various other odds and sods. He had a large prop box, would grab a few items and before our eyes two shoes or some masterfully woven bunch of tape suddenly became a puppet and then, a new character.
This is not a show with a story or a through-line but rather unrelated sketches loosely strung together. There were loads of laughs in Tape Face and a lovely bit of simple magic at the end. I can’t begin to imagine how many hours and years it has taken Wills to perfect his craft the way he has, but his showmanship is exemplary.
I do hope that both Julie Madly Deeply and The Boy With Tape On His Face get the audiences they deserve. I believe it is so important to support smaller theatre companies and I hope Mirvish continues with this excellent initiative.
Julie Madly Deeply and The Boy With Tape On His Face play now through October 19 at the Panasonic Theatre on Yonge. For tickets, or more info, please visit: www.Mirvish.com