It’s Donny and Marie: Only Jewish.

Fred and Adele Astaire. Donny and Marie Osmond. Sutton and Hunter Foster. Janet and Michael Jackson. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. What is better than a pair of show biz siblings? Every community seems to have its own set, and on Monday, February 23rd, 2009, the Berkeley Street Theatre and Acting Up Stage’s Dark Night Cabaret Series presented North York’s own legendary siblings: Gabi and Jake Epstein in their own one-night-only show entitled Who Knew They Were Siblings?
Despite having similar theatrical upbringings and both attending Earl Haig Secondary School and being part of the Claude Watson Arts Program, Jake and Gabi’s careers initially split in different directions. Gabi attended McGill University for Voice and then dedicated herself to musical theatre and cabaret, while Jake was (inter)nationally recognized for playing Craig Manning on the CBC hit television program Degrassi: The Next Generation. But after graduating from the National Theatre School of Canada and returning to Toronto, Jake and Gabi suddenly found themselves in the same city and the same community. In the Fall of 2008 Gabi was performing in Acting Up Stage’s production of Edges, while Jake performed in the Ross Petty Pantomime Cinderella: The Sillylicious Musical. It seemed only fitting, then, that the two Epsteins should do a show together.
Who Knew They Were Siblings? was a exuberant evening that celebrated not only Jake and Gabi’s shared passion for the arts, but also their individual interests and talents. Gabi sang mostly musical theatre songs, and the ones that she chose were all typically sung by men. Jake sang predominantly his own music, which is a mixture between indie rock and folk, but ensured that all the songs he covered were typically sung by women. When they came together, it was rooted in harmony; a shared, soulful, beautiful blending of two very unique voices, personalities and talents, that fit together perfectly.
Gabi is always poised, her eyes sparkle, and she speaks with an eloquence that is instantly engaging. Her voice holds elements of Peters, Streisand and Brice, while always remaining unmistakably Gabi. She’s a master of the showstopper, and froze the room twice with Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” and Schwartz’s “Lost in the Wilderness.” She also proved her power as a storyteller with her rendition of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
Jake throws 100% of himself into every nuance of his performance. It is a marvel to watch him play the guitar because you can see the music radiating from every pore of his body. It’s quite incredible. He infused the whole show with a delightful, boyish sense of fun, and this beautiful earnestness that I hope he will always hold tightly onto. He was joined in most of his songs by the magnificently talented drummer Graeme Gerussi, while Gabi was accompanied by the buoyant Lily Ling- whose energy and elegance at the piano is contagious.
Jake’s own songs are beautiful and impressive. I thought that “Pretend it’s Nothing” suited his voice especially well. He has this lovely, croon-y voice which is very different from Gabi’s, and generally, I think, quite distinctive. I’m sure that Jake is going to keep establishing a name for himself as a singer/songwriter. Other highlights include his rendition of The Cranberries’ song “Dream,” and him and Gabi singing The Mamas and Papas’ song “12:30” and the Beatles tunes “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
Donny and Marie Osmond can become gimmicky and fake pretty quickly, but throughout Epsteinapalooza, Gabi and Jake’s sibling banter was actually, genuinely funny. At one point Jake referenced his harmonica holder saying that it looked like he had really bad braces. He then said, “…I never had braces.” He then smiled mischievously, “Gubby had braces.” It seemed like such a natural tidbit for a younger brother to offer up to an audience. The humor comes because everything that the Epsteins say seems to come from such a genuine place, and you can tell that they really adore one another, which is really heartwarming to see.
I know Jake and Gabi Epstein will continue to blaze their own trails in the theatre scene of Toronto, and wherever they roam, and that they are both poised on the cusp of great success and exciting adventures. However, I can’t help but think about how wonderful they would be as hosts of their own not-gimmicky, not-fake, not-lame televised Variety-style show.
I have all this nostalgia for the time before I was born, which I’m sure is mostly my inflating things to degrees of awesomeness beyond what they deserve because I don’t feel connected to the popular culture of my peers… so, sue me, I think television was way better before I was born. The Carol Burnett Show. The Ed Sullivan Show. The Johnny Carson Show. Donny and Marie. Sonny and Cher. Mary Tyler Moore. Dick Van Dyke. The Original Muppets Show. It’s like televised Vaudeville, how amazing! I don’t understand why 2009 audiences aren’t interested in this type of programming. With the right talent and a lack of the lameness that seems to permeate out of these types of things now (that isn’t there in the old clips I watch on youtube), we could make something extraordinary!
At the same time, I’m also so interested in the idea of having local programming: quality local programming that can give American shows a true sense of competition and run for thier money. The East Coast used to have Don Messer’s Jubilee (1957-1969), Toronto had the theatrical Spring Thaw (1948-1971 New Play Society) which spawned the 1952 CBC Variety Show The Big Revue. The West had The Tommy Banks Show from 1968 to 1983. We have the talent now and here, but it’s all about dissemination. I think Epsteinapalooza could be just the thing to start a movement to launch the stars of our theatre into the consciousness of our nation.

Leave a Reply