Of singing, stereotypes and sex

Publication YearIssue Date 

The Calgary Fringe Festival is in full swing and there are many productions to choose from, spanning from one-person show to musical, to puppet show and beyond. Here is the Gauntlet's look at some of what the festival has offered so far.

Use Me: An Undead Musical

There's a first for everything. In the case of Use Me: An Undead Musical, there was a first-time musical director, first-time musical playwright and some first-time composers. The result is a chuckle-worthy production that has some noticeable jitters to work through.

As the audience moves through the story of incomplete dead looking to rest, Alex Plouffe shines playing Alistair, conveying the emotions of his character with great skill, but misses the mark in the musical interludes, wavering in and out of key unpredictably. Playwright Jeff Kubik's words feature a marked wit, but rush through some moments and the overarching message he's trying to express comes off slightly muddled and hard to decipher.

As for the music itself, it does well portraying the production's wanted cabaret style, but fails to exhibit anything other than that, leaving it a little lackluster and cliche.

Overall, Use Me shows the inklings of talent in all areas and acts as a fantastic jumping point for future musicals.

Pussy Sushi

The exploration of stereotypes abounds in this two-woman show about moving from the trailer parks of small-town Alberta to the glowing lights of Calgary. The problem is Emiko Muraki and Laura Whyte don't work to explore anything new, resulting in an hour-long cliche fest that doesn't deliver in innovation.

There are some laughable moments--a lingering picture of an octopus "pleasuring" an anime girl and a strategically placed clip of a Japanese Hulk Hogan ad, among others--that could be honed into a more workable show in the future, but barring that, the audience is left with many haphazard scenes that were not useful to developing any sort of message or adding real entertainment value.

Pussy Sushi scratches the surface of a workable commentary, but definitely needs some refinement and focus if it wants to stand out from redneck-mocking one-liners and Japanese game show spoofs.

Les Ms.

Les Miserables is an undeniable cult sensation that has its place in pop culture history. That said, one should think twice about embarking on a production paying tribute to the play because their friends said it was funny when they did a scene in the basement one time.

This was the inspiration for Robyn Lamb and Lisel Forst's offering at Fringe. The tribute, with its sort-of endearing doing-a-play-in-your-basement feel does, if anything, act as a good synopsis of the original work. Unfortunately, the humour of Lamb and Forst's production comes mainly from one-off, "Remember when this happened?" jokes poking fun at the original, like a friend who recites lines from a well-known sitcom and thinks they're funny for doing it.

Both women are ferociously talented singers--as they work to point out in Lamb's very oddly placed, somber rendition of "Bring Him Home"--and do a lot of justice to the songs they sing, but after watching Les Ms., they should focus their talents on their voices and keep their tributes in the basement.

Debbie Does Dallas: the Musical

Cheerleader Debbie's quest to become a Dallas Cowgirl started in porn and moved to musical in 2001 for the New York Fringe. Director David Gallant's version of the infamous story features some innovative shifts that manage to add to a story about whoring out your teenage body for money.

The show incorporates some of the other Fringe artists as well as improv moments, some of which are done surprisingly well, and manages to flow in and out of the scripted content with some ease.

Erin Ward does a fair job as the title character, effectively portraying a signature ditzy attitude. Her singing voice, also of note, did, however, face some problems synching with the track, leading to some precarious moments in the musical interludes.

This silly, over-the-top production works well in conveying Calgary Fringe's community attitude.

Fringe Fest runs until Aug. 10. Check out the Fringe Fest's site for schedules and tickets.