Review: TORONTOW [After Dark], Barrie, Ont.

by Lynn on September 23, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live, in person at part of the Bees in the Bush Festival at Talk Is Free Theater, inside The Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop St. W., Barrie, Ont. Until Sept. 25, 2021.

Conceived by and performed by Michael Torontow

Music direction and accompaniment by Mark Camilleri.

Actor-singer-director Michael Torontow has the guts of a bandit. He approaches work outside his comfort zone that scares him and stares it down. In musicals such as: Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast, The Light in the Piazza, Hairspray and The Music Man, for example, he is effortless in his performance.

But then about a year ago? Arkady Spivak, the smart Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, offered Michael Torontow a chance to direct, outside his comfort zone. Torontow grabbed at the chance. The result was a bracing production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The production was then remounted in a local Barrie conservation area—literally in the woods—to great success. It will be done again, this time in the Winter Garden Theatre, in Toronto, Oct. 28-30. Don’t miss it.

Now Torontow has given himself another challenge: a one-person show, singing songs that mean something to him, telling us his story, and starring down his demons.

Torontow is a wonderfully engaging communicator/performer/presence. He sings with his heart: some Sondheim; some classical opera (yes, he studied classical music), something from Once, songs that mean a lot to him. He acknowledges his mistakes (very few in the show) as the result of not being on a stage in 19 months.

He talks about the hard part of acting and even invites the audience to participate with their own suggestions. He does have some interesting words to share on audience participation. He said that in one show he was supposed to invite someone onto the stage with him for a little dance. The director said that under no circumstances does he accept “No” for an answer because that gives permission for the rest of the audience to say no. (Really? And that’s a bad thing? More on audience participation for another post.) Torontow tells a bittersweet story on the ills of the dastardly audience participation. Torontow was wonderful in a play called Every Brilliant Thing that depended heavily on audience participation but in that case audience members could politely decline, and only a few did (if any) because of the nature of the show.

In other words, Michael Torontow presented a personal, lively, charming show of what it means to be an actor in the theatre. He also opened up about demons that he was battling and how he stared those down too.

He was ably accompanied by Mark Camilleri on the piano. But again, a quibble, the piano is amplified as is Michael Torontow. At times the piano was drowning out Torontow. Why does the piano have to be amplified at all? Questions. Questions.

There is no doubt that Torontow [After Dark] is well worth your time.

Talk Is Free Theatre presents:

Plays until Sept. 25.

Running time:  one hour.

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