Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Big in Germany

Dylan George, Michael Goldlist (photo by Jenna Wakani)

Rockin’ in Toronto
Big in Germany’s charm smoothes the rough edges
by Stuart Munro

I first saw Ten Foot Pole’s Big in Germany two years ago at the Toronto Fringe Festival and was instantly taken in by its sincerity, warmth and charm. So when CharPo asked if I’d be able to review its newest incarnation at Buddies in Bad Times, I jumped at the chance. I was curious to see what two years could add to the show, or if it would simply be a remount of what I’d seen at Fringe. I’m happy to say that this new version of Big in Germany has all that charm and warmth that it had two years ago, along with some new surprises.

Despite its title, Big in Germany, really reads like a love letter to Toronto and Canadian pop culture of the 1990s

The plot is a simple one: best friends Alex (Dylan George) and Bruce (Michael Goldlist) want to be rock stars, and so instead of going to college, they get part time jobs at a porn studio (managed by author/director Rob Salerno as Phil) while they work on their act. Ten years go by before they make it big in, you guessed it, Germany (just like the Hoff!). Things get more complicated on their return to Toronto as Alex’s ambition gets the better of him and Bruce’s feelings for Alex come to light. But everything works out all right in the end, and the two eventually find fame at home, though not quite in the way they expected.

Probably the biggest and most successful addition to the story is the live music, performed (and written) by the cast. Not only are they filled with double entendres which are lost on Alex early on (“If you catch up to me, you can take me from behind. I can’t say it to your face, so you can take it from behind,” and “I want every inch of you”), but they even occasionally underscore the action and give us some real moments of poignancy. The extended back-story between the two main characters also helps to flesh out the real depth of their friendship, making its near end that much more difficult.

Other elements of the script and production are rough, but the sincerity of the performers goes a long way to help smooth them out. Dylan George and Michael Goldlist have their characters down to a T – George as the rocking idealist, and Goldlist as the realist-but-willing-to-do-anything-for-his-best-friend best friend – and Salerno’s slightly seedy porn producer rattles off about a dozen ridiculously raunchy titles while keeping a straight face.

Despite its title, Big in Germany, really reads like a love letter to Toronto and Canadian pop culture of the 1990s – there are more Mel Lastman, I Mother Earth, and Our Lady Peace jokes than I knew what to do with – and anyone unfamiliar with the city (or the halcyon days of Much Music) might be bewildered by the numerous references to its multiple neighbourhoods. But I’ve lived here long enough to get it, and I suspect most of the audience did too. And despite its rough edges, Big in Germany really is a charming little snapshot into the (slightly improbable) lives of two Torontonians – its underlying themes of friendship and finding success in the unlikeliest of places is something I think most of us can relate to.

Big in Germany runs to April 21

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