2 min

Unrestrained talent

Outrageous has spirit, chemistry - and length

'A STAR IN WAITING.' Playwright Brad Fraser has words of high praise for Thom Allison, who plays female impersonator Robin Turner in Outrageous: The Musical. Credit: Xtra files

The pay-off in Brad Fraser’s new musical Outrageous comes late in the second act.

Female impersonator Robin Turner (Thom Allison) is starring in his first play, an off-Broadway musical about Joan of Arc. It’s the late 1970s, and the show is full of ponchos and Godspell choreography, with Robin’s Joan inexplicably transforming into Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Eartha Kitt.

It’s a mixed triumph for Robin: He’s a hit, but the show’s a bomb.

Meanwhile, back in Toronto, unknown to Robin, his schizophrenic best friend and soulmate Liza Connor (Loretta Bailey), sits comatose in a hospital, while her friends and family battle over her fate.

Moving between these two scenes in one seamless musical number, Fraser (Poor Super Man, Martin Yesterday) deftly balances satire with pathos, managing all at once to convey Robin’s elation, Liza’s despair and the helplessness of her well-intentioned family and friends, all the while poking fun at musical theatre with a big musical theatre number.

It’s an utterly unconventional showstopper that had the audience leaping out of their seats, clapping and cheering.

Unfortunately, there’s too little of this energy and focus in the rest of this maddeningly uneven production. Based on the 1977 Craig Russell film and the writings of Margaret Gibson, Outrageous chronicles the sweet and unlikely friendship between Robin, a gay man and budding drag performer struggling to find his voice, and Liza, a schizophrenic straight women fighting to quell hers.

As writer, lyricist and director, all of Fraser’s vociferous energy and talent is in evidence here, but so too is his trademark lack of restraint. At 2 1/2 hours, it’s about 45 minutes too long, with too much explication and too many supporting characters muddying up the story.

Still, it’s a spirited production. The uniformly proficient cast has strong voices and capably handle the serviceable, if somewhat uninspired, choreography and score. Fraser and composer and co-lyricist Joey Miller are wisely generous, giving everyone the opportunity to show-off, including Timothy Murphy, as Robin’s queeny friend Perry, serving up a hysterical musical tribute to the under-appreciated charms of Airport ’75 star Karen Black.

As Robin, Allison is an engaging performer, but he doesn’t get to truly shine until almost midway through the show. And while his Mae West (one of Russell’s stock characters) is only so-so, he makes a great Billie Holliday and Judy Garland. Bailey’s Liza is appealing, but seems too resilient and collected for someone struggling with dark hallucinations and distorted realities.

Between the two, however, there is genuine chemistry – that’s the true strength of Outrageous. When Fraser quiets all the noisy secondary business and turns the focus to this pair of misfits who lovingly care for one another, the show’s real heart comes through.

The run of Outrageous has been extended to Sat, Nov 18 at the Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley St). Call (416) 368-3110.