Cellar Hotel is a very ambitious production; perhaps a little too ambitious in scope and scale for Fringe. Billed as a rock-musical adaptation of the Faust legend, the production boasts a cast of 24 performers; one of the largest I’ve ever seen for a Fringe production.
The Cellar Hotel is staffed by a saintly hotel manager (later revealed to be God, herself) and the overly courteous, tip-refusing Seven Saintly Virtues. On the ground floor of the Cellar Hotel sits Auerbach’s Lounge staffed by a guileful bar tender (who turns out to be Mephistopheles) and the Seven Deadly Sins.
The hotel and lounge are a microcosm for the universe where the souls of the guests lie in the balance of the battle between good and evil.
Two guests in particular are fated to cross paths. Dr. Michael Gray (Mischa Aravena) is a respected medical researcher who is questioning the reason for his existence and longing to make a personal connection, and Maggie Valentine (Ashley Gibson), tortured by guilt over the death of her father at the Cellar Hotel years ago she comes back with her brother to find closure.
If you think of this Fringe production as a workshop for the show, it has potential. I do think, however, that the script needs some re-working. I thought the plot was a bit underdeveloped, I found the show lacking in dramatic tension and I don’t think any of the leads are fleshed out enough for me to really buy in to their characters.
As it stands right now, the show mostly consists of a series of throwaway one-off numbers by most of the Seven Deadly Sins. Not that these aren’t enjoyable in their own right. Christian Jeffries who performs in drag as Gluttony particularly steals the show with his number “Everything’s Good”.
Even though songs in musicals are often used as a shorthand way to create an emotional connection with a character I didn’t find I was invested enough in any character for the songs to have the kind of impact I think they were going for.
Musically, the company cites a diverse list of influences from Jonathan Larson (Rent) and Andrew Lloyd Webber to Iron Maiden and Britany Spears! The eclectic score definitely makes reference to all these artists.
Unfortunately, with such a large cast there likely wasn’t room in the budget for a live band and the cast sings unamplified to backing tracks which results in an uneven sound mix that makes the lyrics a bit hard to understand at times.
Luckily, the cast can sing. Standout performances include Ashley Gibson as Maggie and the vocal face-offs between Michelle Cabral and Brad Marks, as God and Mephistopheles, which are the closest the production comes to any sort of tension or chemistry.
Brittany Robinson’s choreography is also ambitious, especially in the numbers involving the entire cast. The parts of the show in between the choreographed dances felt a bit static by comparison and could use a little more movement design to create a more dynamic musical staging.
Cellar Hotel wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It wasn’t as dark, perverse, ironic, dramatic or thought provoking as I thought it would be. It’s kitschy, it’s fun and it’s a work in progress. But I’d say it’s worth checking out for the strong vocal performances of the leads.
Chicken Coop Theatre
At the Toronto Fringe Festival presents
Written by Anthony Rein, Terence Vince and Alan J. Nash
Director: Anthony Rein,
Producer: Alan J. Nash
Musical Director: Terence Vince
Stage Manager: Jenna Rocca
Choreographer: Brittany Robinson
Mischa Aravena, Ashley Gibson, Ruth Goodwin, Ryan Galloway, Michelle Cabral, Brad Marks, Stacey Gawrylash, Christian Jeffries, Sydney Dunitz, Kayla Whelan, Nikki Hogan, Karen Scobie, Avra Fainer, Meghan Barron, Vickki Velenosi, Dave Miller, AJ Edmonds, Lauren Richard, Adrian Baldauf, Yehuda Fisher, Jordie Currie,
Bathurst Street Theatre, 736 Bathurst Street, Toronto.
Thursday July 7, 8:45pm
Saturday July 9, 5:15pm
Monday July 11, 12:45pm
Tuesday July 12, 6:45pm
Wednesday July 13, 3:30pm
Thursday July 14, 5:15pm
Saturday July 16, 11:00pm
Tickets and Pricing:
Tickets $ 10.00 (Advance tickets available at www.fringetoronto.com), 736 Bathurst St.
Photography by Melissa Di Pasquale www.twoshakes.ca and promotional concept and design by Jenna Rocca jennarocca.com.