Review: BOY FALLS FROM THE SKY

David Mirvish and Past Future Productions

Cylla Von Tiedemann

Joe Szekeres

A charismatically charming Jake Epstein makes this ‘Boy’ soar past the rafters of Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre.

I’m probably one of the very few who never watched the Degrassi series with Jake Epstein and a whole bunch of young talent. True, there were moments when I was teaching back in the 90s where I was aware of some youth issue the kids were talking about from the show and perhaps, I may have caught a mention of its message from that highly regarded bastion Entertainment Tonight (it’s okay to read sarcasm here). Or, I may have listened as the kids talked about the episode at school.

So, I never knew of Jake. When I began reviewing, I did hear of his name and that of his older sister, Gabi, whom Jake affectionately and playfully mentions in this impressive solo show backed by three hardy musicians (Musical Director, David Atkinson, Lauren Falls and Justin Hall) who look as if they’re having a great deal of fun.

Jake surely was having fun from what I could see.

In the programme artist note, he calls ‘Boy Falls from the Sky’ a revealing solo show when it first made its appearance at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The title refers to a song from the controversially doomed for so many reasons Broadway show ‘Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark’ in which Jake appeared as central character Peter Parker.

Once again in the programme, Jake stated the metamorphosis of ‘Boy’ started with a question: what do you do when life disappoints you?

Well, Jake, it might be an over used and tired adage, but from hearing what happened to you in the lows of disappointments, you kept going. I respect that tremendously.

And what of ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ and its opening night at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra?

The youthful, boyish, lanky Epstein is one helluva classy artist, fine showman and arresting entertainer. His humble performance style radiates brightly as he shares some strong life lessons in the business he obviously carries forward to this day without any remorse or regret. Developed with attention and directed with insightful theatrical vision by Robert McQueen, Epstein’s engaging script beautifully comes full circle where I felt that everything that needed to be said about Jake’s journey was shared with us.

For those who may not consider themselves theatre-oriented, ‘Boy’ still speaks universally. We’ve all had jobs in our lives where we kept wondering if we should quit or not. We’ve all faced disappointments in our jobs and careers. And we’ve all encountered those individuals and their quirky idiosyncrasies who make the job memorable.

Brandon Kleiman’s split level set design fits the Alex stage perfectly. The floor is diamond shape where Epstein steps off periodically and walks along the apron to speak with us. It appears as if we are in a dressing room of a theatre somewhere. Centre stage is the dressing room door entrance. Epstein can climb a ladder to get to the top level of the set where there are music stands and theatre posters.

The musicians are located on Stage Right. Far stage left is a table where I thought a saw a coffee maker as a prop. There looks as well to be a water container. Two guitars are found just in front of the small staircase leading down – one electric and one acoustic. Amber Hoods’ lighting design creates a warm, intimate environment as Jake makes full use of the playing space.

Musical theatre lovers are sure to enjoy the pre-show music ranging from Ethel Merman to Barbara Streisand. As the lights came down and Babs’ ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’ quietly faded out, the lady next to me whispered quietly how she felt what a great song to introduce the show.

Clad in bright white sneakers, blue jeans and what I thought was a claret reddish looking t shirt, Jake enters at the top of the show without any fanfare at all. From where I was sitting, I saw him enter from backstage through the door on the set, but it all appeared natural looking to me as if Jake was coming from somewhere. There was no spotlight when he entered. When Jake went over to the pianist to talk momentarily, the applause started. He gave that youthful beaming smile to the audience, picked up his guitar and started with the iconic ‘Razzle Dazzle’ from the blockbuster Fosse musical ‘Chicago’.

And for the next 70 minutes, Jake did just that.

He razzled dazzled in regaling us with moments from auditioning for the touring companies of ‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘Green Day: The Musical’ to his first production of 'Our Town' at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and then 'Oliver' at the Princess of Wales. We learn about some of Jake's voice issues while on tour and what life was like on the road for an actor in a touring company where it’s not all sunshine and autographs. Epstein also refers to some big Broadway names in the business today and two hysterical situations which left this theatre lover and my guest in laughter.

Absolutely fascinating to hear and to watch.

It was Jake’s work in two Broadway sit down shoes that are personally compelling for me – his time in ‘Spiderman: Turn off the Dark’ (of which Jake says his mother was so pleased when he left the show) to his turn in the creation of Gerry Goffin, Carole King’s ex-husband in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Story’ and the process of what ensued during rehearsals, discussion with Ms. King herself and what she asked of Epstein regarding Goffin's portrayal and the opening of a new musical on Broadway. I saw the first disastrous production of ‘Spiderman’ several years ago, and not the version in which Jake appeared so I could make a connection from what I remember. My sister and I saw Beautiful at the Princess of Wales a few years ago and were moved by so many moments.

Epstein becomes “un raconteur extraordinaire/an excellent storyteller” as the plot progresses. All the while regaling us with these stories, one of Epstein’s artistic strengths as a performing artist is this inherent sense in just knowing when to use facial expressiveness with his eyes for emphasis or the campy jazz hands which evoked laughter after he shared one dramatic detailed moment where he learned that perhaps the business might not be for him.

Final Comments: Musically charged with vivacity and performed with verve and élan, ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ becomes that show we all need to see and hear as we emerge from the last three years.

An absolute treat. Get to see it.

Running Time: approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.

‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ runs to May 29 at The Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets: www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.

BOY FALLS FROM THE SKY
David Mirvish and Past Future Productions
Written and performed by Jake Epstein
Music Supervisor by Daniel Abrahamson
Developed with and Directed by Robert McQueen
Set and Prop Design by Brandon Kleiman
Lighting Design by Amber Hood
Sound Design by William Fallon.
Stage Management by Collette Berg, Erika Morey
Music Copyist by Jake Schindler
Voice, Speech and Accent Coach by Julia Lenardon

Production performed by Jake Epstein, David Atkinson, Lauren Falls, Justin Han.

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