July 13, 2006

The Star! Lucid Forge! Toronto Live Theatre! Eye (full version)!

Grade me!

There are loads of laughs in the fish tale cheekily entitled Giant Killer Shark: The Musical, set on a "copyright-protected" island where the characters bear canny resemblances to the cast in a certain horror classic of the 1970s called Jaws.

We get Graham Losee as a grizzled police chief, Sam Sutherland (who wrote the play) as a hippie oceanographer and Aaron Zorgel as both a crazy old captain and the blinkered town mayor, to hilarious effect.

All three show verve and energy in their performances, replete with campy synchronized hand gestures and dance steps. Losee's breakdancing is particularly impressive.

This is a spoof with a capital S that also manages to lampoon other musicals (such as Rent), beach parties and American patriotism, among other things.

The dialogue and lyrics are often inspired: "Let's get drunk and compare our scars in a slightly homo-erotic fashion," for example, is one of many Jaws send-ups. Even cheesy props like the cheap cardboard boat don't detract from the fun.

What does is a bit of sloppiness that director Amy Duncan would be advised to tighten up, such as the numerous awkward scene changes in the dark.

Still, the opening night performance received a standing O and Giant Killer Shark T-shirts are sure to be among the hot-selling commodities of the festival. - Bruce DeMara, Toronto Star

As I made my through the U of T campus, I was struck by the big empty feeling I was getting from the Big Smoke on a hot, July afternoon; it was almost as if the city were a beach and a 25-foot, man-eating great white shark were on the prowl. Of course, the distant roar of car engines told the real story; the simple fact was that it was Indy weekend and anyone not enjoying that was gathered around a TV somewhere watching the finale of the World Cup.

But back to the U of T campus, more precisely The Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse where there really was a shark on the loose. It’s in the context of the play that was being performed there of course; a musical about a monster shark out for the flesh of 4th of July beach party revelers on a fictional New England island resort town. Just another day at the Fringe Festival.

If the above plot synopsis sounds like a certain copyright protected film directed by a Signor Spielbergo, then…you’d be right. But copyright law protects the work, not the idea – so nobody mentions the ‘J word’ or any of its equally protected character names even once. Instead we get Grizzled New York City cop (Graham Losee), Hippie Scientist (Sam Sutherland) and Crazy Old Fisherman (Aaron Zorgel).

Naturally, in translating ‘J-word’ to the stage you’re going to lose some of the dramatic tension, the blood and gore and the two ton mechanical shark; but with some creative plotting, wildly inventive musical numbers and hilarious winks to the audience, Giant Killer Shark takes the material to the next level. This play is a no holds barred comedy being formed by three fearless actors who give every note the perfect punctuation. Then just when you think things can’t get any more ludicrous, they bring out the cardboard boat.

Am I giving too much praise to Losee, Sutherland and Zorgel? Well, considering that these three actors play all but two roles, while having to pantomime through many of their scenes and master all the requisite dialogue, songs and dance routines; let’s just say that I’d like to see you do better.

Each member of the trio gets a chance to shine in moments of individual achievement. Losee is man possessed of rare manic energy, whether it’s singing his heart out or performing a mesmerizing break dancing routine. Zorgel probably gets the most out of anyone in the cast by doubling up as the Mayor as well as Crazy Old Fisherman, whom we’re introduced to with some pretty sophisticated rap beats. Sutherland, for his part, just always looks happy to be there; although I must complement his tremendous singing voice.

The script written by Sutherland manages to cram all the highlights from the movie into a tight, one-hour running time; it keeps all the jokes nicely packed together and prevents the production from feeling like some kind of overwrought Saturday Night Live sketch.

Some new flourishes are added to give the material a contemporary feel. When the police chief suggests that they should close the beaches for the Fourth of July holiday, he’s accused of being un-American in song by the Mayor. Quint’s monologue about being onboard the Indianapolis is boiled down to a single line, “I helped deliver the atomic bomb.” Pause. “Awkward.”

At times we’re given a postmodern spin on the story, most famously with the climax and the final battle with the shark. In the film, Chief Brody destroys the shark by blowing up an oxygen tank in the shark’s mouth with a well timed bullet. In the play, Hippie Scientist correctly points out the scientific implausibility of this act to which Grizzled New York City cop slaps him and responds, “This isn’t science class, this is the real world!”

It very much brings to mind the story about how that scene in the film was concocted in the first place. The tale goes that Spielberg was unhappy with the initial ending to the movie and shot the revised conclusion with his own money. When someone pointed out the impossibility of blowing off a shark’s head by exploding an oxygen tank with a gun, Spielberg replied that if he’s got the audience’s attention this long, they’ll follow him through to the end.

The production wasn’t perfect; sometimes the timing of the songs was a little off. But it was hard to fight the energy of the performance, the absolute gonzo comedy that fills the stage in a way that the three chairs, side table and poster board that make up the minimal set dressing don’t. It may be pie in the sky praise, but there was something about the play that had a definite Rocky Horror kind of vibe. It’s the songs; there all simple enough lyrics-wise and I have a feeling that if the audience knew the words they’d be compelled to sing along.

Could Giant Killer Shark the Musical be the next cult classic in the making? I don’t know, but word of mouth will definitely turn this play into a must-see of the Fringe. The play’s soundtrack is available to be heard at www.giantkillershark.com. - Adam A. Donaldson, Lucid Forge

Giant Killer Shark: The Musical is based on the 1975 movie Jaws. The musical is reminiscent of another recent sold out Fringe hit, Top Gun The Musical, except this one is even more stupid, much funnier and more cheesy. The singing trio plays various different characters, they always sing in harmony. Although their vocals are sometimes inconsistent, the choreography, the lyrics and the props evoked many laughs from the audience.

If Spamalot can be on Broadway, why not Giant Killer Shark: The Musical?. - Toronto Live Theatre

In case you haven't heard, singing is the new talking and Giant Killer Shark -- which, believe it or not, is about a really big shark with a nasty killing habit -- might be the best unnecessary musical for your money. This Jaws remake isn't perfect, but it's a lot of fun: catchy pop songs, ridiculous props, a few well-placed jabs at American patriotism, a hilarious rapping fisherman and the best breakdancing cop to ever bust a move during a song about man-eating sharks. JS In case you haven't heard, singing is the new talking and Giant Killer Shark -- which, believe it or not, is about a really big shark with a nasty killing habit -- might be the best unnecessaryduring a song about man-eating sharks. - James Simons, Eye


Anonymous Izzy said...


8:25 a.m.  
Anonymous Izzy said...

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9:08 a.m.  

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