Fringe Fest entices producers

Toronto festival has history of good fortune

TORONTO — These days at the Toronto Fringe Festival, it seems you can’t go anywhere without a “Chaperone.”

Ever since the Broadway hit “The Drowsy Chaperone” started its journey toward Tony-winning glory at the Fringe here in 1999, pundits have been waiting to see if theatrical lightning will strike twice.

Much like Gotham producers, who were galvanized by the success of “Urinetown” to comb the New York Intl. Fringe Festival for commercial properties, the possibility of grabbing the musical-comedy brass ring increasingly fuels the ambitions of legiters who clamor to find their place in the Toronto sun.

This year’s Toronto Fringe marks its 19th outing, making it the second-oldest in North America after Edmonton, Alberta. It runs through July 15 and will ultimately result in 1,177 performances of 141 shows in 30 venues across the city.

Toronto remains an un-juried festival, with all entrants chosen in a lottery. This means some of its shows wind up looking like the drunken frat-party skits they began as, but a surprisingly high number of the final products are ready for primetime. This year, four efforts in particular have attracted advance attention.

Local independent producer Derrick Chua usually puts his expertise behind one promising show; this year it’s “Like Omigawd!” which carries the subtitle, “The sugar-pop ’80s rock musical.”

Its cast of 16 is gigantic by Fringe standards, and even if its title and plot (wide-eyed girl tackles the big city) have some wags calling it “Illegally Blonde,” the tuner’s commercial prospects seem promising.

Similar buzz surrounds “Funny Business — the Musical,” penned by a trio of twentysomething authors (Daniel Abrahamson, Daniel Falk and Rachel Brittain) aiming to create a new “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” for 2007.

The show has garnered attention by running a series of previews for the business community, simultaneously getting input and stirring commercial interest.

Next, especially after the recent disastrous London notices of epic Tolkien tuner, “The Lord of the Rings,” there’s a lot of focus on “LOTR: The Musical: The Musical!” The insider show ponders, “What happens when a lonely writer, a desperate mayor and a sinister British producer team up to turn a 2,000-page fantasy into a musical?”

But the fourth musical with strong advance notice is far removed from the campiness of the other three.

“Bash’d” already has proven itself a hit in Edmonton, and has been invited to the N.Y. Fringe after its stint in Toronto. The brainchild of Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, the show borrows the homophobic energy of the rap world to tell the story of two gay lovers and the hateful bashing that finally provokes one of them to revenge.

If it lives up to its out-of-town notices, this “gay rap opera” might provide the twist — and the emotional punch — to turn producers’ heads in this year’s increasingly spoof-obsessed Fringe.

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