lindsey frazier and warren bain
There is some really funny business going on this week at the Bread and Circus that you are not going to want to miss. Funny Business, a Canadian musical written by Rachel Brittain and Daniel Falk (book) with music and lyrics by Daniel Abrahamson, came out of Sheridan College’s Musical Theatre Performance program and first wowed critics and audiences in the 2007 Toronto Fringe Festival. It went on to play for a 119 performance run at the Diesel Playhouse and now the show has been reworked and your mandatory attendance is required at the Bread and Circus to see Funny Business before it closes on Saturday February 27th at 4:00pm.
From the first few moments of its catchy, energizing, pop-y overture/remix, Funny Business promises to be a fun fest of giggles from start to finish which leaves its audience members with a belly filled with joy. When low morale threatens the Toronto branch of Chime Communications Canada, five office workers embark on a team building talent show extravaganza which threatens to tear apart the faithful, unite the cunning, raise the stakes and rock the house with music and laughter. At first glance, Funny Business is a clever satire on office politics; all the characters are familiar prototypes and the musical accentuates the absurd nature of office interactions, the inane company protocol and policies and how fine the line is between corporate competitive edge, reality television and High School gym class. What sets Funny Business apart from other musical satires is that, at its core, it is a show bursting with heart and it manages to tell a story of cooperation and comradery triumphing over rivalry and ego without becoming too sentimental, maudlin or didactic. There’s a fine, fine line and Brittain, Falk and Abrahamson nail it.
This show is given an invigorating boost by its fantastically strong ensemble of performers who know just how to bring their stereotypical characters to life and how to infuse them with a strong dose of hilarity and humanity. Daniel Abrahamson is a hilarious mixture of Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock, Ross Gellar from Friends and Matthew Broderick as Stuart, a boss with an affable awkward slickness, who hopes to motivate his business associates into higher productivity. Abrahamson shines brightly when he is meddling in the affairs of his colleagues, although he does have a few moments of disconnection in his interactions with the pre-recorded looming voice of the omniscient CEO. Lindsey Frazier is dynamite as the fierce and bitchy Diane, a true business shark who experiences no mercy or remorse as she climbs the corporate ladder. Frazier is sharpest in her physicality, especially while dancing, which is always in hilarious contrast to Diane’s frigid personality. Warren Bain is absolutely endearing as Intern Jack (a cross between Seymour Krelborn and Dr. Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds). He sings the nerdiest love song ever written and Bain makes certain to infuse every move he makes and every line he utters with the pure essence of Jack, to marvellous effect. Rachel Brittain is adorable as the perky receptionist, Brie, with the heart of gold. Brittain has good comic timing and it is remarkable to watch such a powerful voice belt out of one so small in stature. Truly, she makes it nearly impossible not to make the Kristin Chenoweth reference. Kevin McGarry shines especially bright as Marcus, the egomaniac, in his creation of the ultimate jerk. McGarry nails every sleazy line, every charming manoeuvre, and every opportunity for hilarity to abound.
Daniel Abrahamson’s songs are captivating, clever and often self-referential which gives the musical its license to pastiche the (tendency toward) cheesiness of its own style. There are a few lines which I think could benefit from a bit more tweaking, to tighten up some rhyming and rhythmic discrepancies, but in general, these songs burst forth from the show with vigour and prowess. Standout songs include a feisty “Welcome to the Business” quartet, the sing-along closing number and a song about Toronto which could have been written by the cast of the Second City. Funny Business was collectively directed, with help from stage manager/co-book writer Daniel Falk, to striking effect. The choreography, especially in the final number, is magnificent, and the show makes creative use of technology and multimedia and boasts of a Highlight Reel which includes one of the best (staged) catfights I have ever seen that will absolutely leave you ROTFLOL.
Funny Business is the sort of Canadian musical that will leave you cheering with just as much National Pride as watching us win an Olympic medal, and in the case of Abrahamson, Brittain and Falk, the possibilities for where their joyful little show will take them are endless. Go see this show, it will make you proud to be Canadian.
Funny Business plays at the Bread and Circus Theatre (299 Augusta Avenue, Toronto) on the following schedule: Friday February 26th at 7:30pm and Saturday, February 27th at 4:00pm. For tickets please call 416.925.8898. For more information please visit: www.funnybusinessthemusical.com.