Musical theatre fans can choose between the church of punk rock, or the Church of Latter Day Saints (both feature cuss words).
It’s a question a critic often gets asked, especially by those who don’t see a lot of stage shows: “What’s the best show in town?” The question is of course subjective, but altering the phrasing to, say “What’s the BIGGEST show in town?” or “What’s the WILDEST show in town?” might yield more helpful answers. Right now, those answers both feature music that folks might recognize—whether they are old-school Canadian punk and film fans, or folks who are into both the creators of the TV show South Park and Broadway’s hottest ticket.
It may look like it’s held together with safety pins and frayed guitar strings, especially in the authentically punk rock environs of the Dance Cave above Lee’s Palace, but Hard Core Logo Live is an exceedingly tight adaptation of the 1996 film directed by Bruce MadDonald, which was itself adapted by Noel Baker from the novel by Michael Turner. It’s billed as “part play, part punk show,” and the players—Almighty Trigger Happy’s Al Nolan as volatile frontman Joe Dick, Andrew Fleming as rising star guitarist Billy Tallent, Michael Dufays as introspective bassist John Oxenberger, and Thomas Scott as wildman drummer Pipefitter—all possess authentic musical chops, bringing the new tunes by D.O.A.’s Joey “Shithead” Keithley to raucous life.
HCLL really is a play with punk rock numbers versus a musical; these characters don’t sing when words run out, though for all four characters, they’re most alive when rocking out. Between their live show numbers, it’s the moments between on their increasingly chaotic road trip/tour, instigated by Dick as a fundraiser for aging rock recluse Bucky Haight (played by an engagingly against type Jennifer Walls, who, among other supporting characters, also does a bang-up Nardwuar the Human Serviette impression) that depict the slow train wreck of their lives and relationships.
The contrast between their frenetic gigs and the languid interludes driving from Vancouver to cities across the Rockies and Prairies, exemplified by Oxenberger’s introspective journal entry monologues, drags just a bit as a live show versus a film. But there’s some creative live video work (by “roadie/soundman” Tim Lindsay and the cast) that boosts the interstitial scenes, and the production itself has an added benefit; with so much mental illness on display in the show, both diagnosed (Oxenberger has a bi-polar disorder under control with lithium, while Tallent is a recovering alcoholic) and undiagnosed (both Dick and Pipefitter have serious impulse control issues), the company has decided to donate all of their proceeds to CAMH.
From shoestring DIY punk, to the slick gleam of a well funded evangelical organization (and Broadway pedigree), The Book of Mormon is making its third mission north of the border to Toronto.
It earned rave reviews when it first debuted here. Our reviewer at the time, who said it “just about lives up to the hype,” generated on Broadway by Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s clever (and only occasionally filthy) book and glossy production values. The story: two hopelessly naive Mormon missionaries, golden boy Elder Price (charismatic Gabe Gibbs) and insecure pathological liar Elder Cunningham (a delightful Connor Pierson) end up in a part of Uganda where the local village suffers almost universally from AIDS, and is under the thumb of a vicious warlord (Oge Agulué). Where Price is stymied at every turn, Cunnigham’s creative application of the Church of Latter Day Saint’s teachings to the Ugandan’s plight is surprisingly effective, until the church organization (and the warlord) catch the gist of it.
This was this writer’s first time seeing the show, so comparisons to previous iterations are difficult—but Now Magazine‘s Glenn Sumi, who’d seen the show in New York previously, delighted at this current touring cast. (Until Hamilton came along, The Book of Mormon was Broadway’s biggest hit of the 21st century). But despite the many accolades, the show isn’t for everyone; some of Parker and Stone’s ribald humour peeks from behind the curtain at times, most infamously in the song Hasa Diga Eebowai, which translates most profanely. Despite this, many Mormons are appreciative of the show and its impact. But those accolades really are deserved, and the show is worth forking out comparatively obscene ticket prices for, for those undeterred by some scatological and crude humour.
Until Hamilton tours, this really is the best Broadway has to send us.
Hard Core Logo runs to March 26, The Dance Cave at Lee’s Palace (526 Bloor Street West), Tuesday-Sunday, 7:30 p.m., $36.
The Book of Mormon runs to April 16, Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West), Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday, 2 p.m., Sunday, 1:30 & 7:30 p.m., $49-$139.
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