This article is cross posted with blogTO.
Well, another Fringe Festival has come and gone. But like every year, there are a few shows that will go on to bigger things. In 1999, there was the Drowsy Chaperone. In 2002, Job: The Hip Hop Musical got all the buzz. Last year gave us the Gladstone Variations and An Inconvenient Musical.
And in 2008, we have The Christian Republican Fundraiser in Dayton Tennessee. I reviewed this show during the Fringe and loved it. But since Christian Republican Fundraiser is playing next week as part of Diesel Playhouse's "Best of the Fringe", I thought I'd tell you a bit more about what makes this show so good.
The Christian Republican Fundraiser in Dayton Tennessee tells the story of an insurgent group of liberal musicians who go undercover as a Toby Keith-esque country band in order to agit-prop a Republican gala. It's a clever story, and it gets a nice treatment in Grant Tilly's script. But here's the first reason why the show is great: at its core, it carries an impressively nuanced political message. Political change is all about speaking to actual people and the circumstances of their lives, not endless browbeating with hackneyed slogans and high-minded ideals. The characters learn this lesson the hard way, and by the end of the show, we've picked up on it too.
Reason the second why Christian Republican Fundraiser rocks: the music is amazing. All of the songs are performed by the actors onstage, and there is some serious talent on display. It never feels like these are actors attempting to be country musicians. These are country musicians who also happen to be actors. I've heard rumours that the cast is planning to record the soundtrack. I really hope they do- when it comes out, I'll be first in line to buy it.
If there is a weakness to the show, it happens in the moments between songs. The script occasionally falls into cliche, and the delivery can sometimes feels a little forced. The actors play their character broadly, almost like cartoons. This fits with the over-the-top nature of the show, but I could have definitely used a bit more detail and subtlety in the non-musical performances.
In the end, you hardly notice the weaknesses for all the energy and fun. Here's the final reason why this show deserves a long life after the Fringe: it's just a good time. A smart story and fantastic music makes for a brilliant performance, and you'll be smiling all the way through.
The Christian Republican Fundraiser in Dayton Tennessee plays July 23, 24 and 27 at the Diesel Playhouse. For tickets and information, check out the Diesel website.
Photo: Kate Unrau, Jason O'Brien, Jason Chesworth and Jackie English go country.