Confederemix is well-performed by actors who give it their best, but it isn’t quite enough to save the show from its misguided concept.
Confederemix centres around George Brown, a hugely important political figure at the time of Confederation (and founder of the The Globe newspaper, which eventually became The Globe and Mail) but who is largely remembered for having a college in Toronto named after him. Through rewritten lyrics to contemporary (mostly) rap songs, we follow Brown as he faces his political rivals to create a new country the way he sees fit. If this is starting to sound like a Canadianized Hamilton, then you would be correct. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a loving rip-off at Fringe – it’s the best time for that kind of thing, really – but the similarities end after “slightly obscure historical figure’s political career told through hip-hop music”.
The music is not original, but rather rewrites the lyrics to songs as diverse as Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” (like I said: it’s mostly rap, but there are a few outliers). The rewritten lyrics are clever at points, but the choice to use pre-existing songs weakens the show by connecting the historical figures portrayed with the artist who wrote the song in the first place (it seems wrong somehow for Sir John A. Macdonald to rap along to Slim Shady) rather than an honest portrayal of the historical figure in modern parlance, as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original score for Hamilton did.
The storyline feels somewhat clunky as well: at the outset of the show the premise seems to be Brown vs. Macdonald for who will lead the political reform that will lead to semi-independence, but the rivalry between the two is resolved fairly quickly and the plot continues to follow history with George-Étienne Cartier, Louis Riel, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, and Anne Brown (George’s wife) joining in the mix.
All that said though, the performers really do make the most of what they are given. Vocally the standouts are Hilary Peck as Anne and Cartier for her powerful belt and Sandy Gibson who hangs on admirably to his slightly-over-the-top Scottish accent. Peter Grant Mackechnie’s Macdonald is a cocky bro who always has a flask, and this presence forms a great complement to Gibson’s more high-strung demeanour as Brown. Kevin Reid is something of a surprise on a musical stage but holds his own with the rest of them, even through his rendition of Louis Riel’s little-known single “Sweet Home Manitoba”.
Some of the faster lyrics are lost in the echoes of the basement of St. Paul’s. The venue is not ideal not just due to the acoustics but also to the small size of the stage, which results in a staging that feels a bit cramped when all four cast members are onstage.
As an enticement to seeing this show, there is the possibility of scoring some free swag: there’s a history test passed around before the show starts based on the relevant facts to this show – but be warned, the questions can be tricky, such as “Which province flew its flags at half-mast on July 1, 1867?” (Spoiler alert: It’s Nova Scotia, the original Canadian separatists).
Confederemix features good performances by strong actors, but the concept still needs tweaking before it could be something that can stand on its own outside of a Fringe setting.
A SDT production
Written by Sandy Gibson and Mark MacDonald
Performed by Sandy Gibson, Peter Grant Mackechnie, Hilary Peck, Kevin Reid
At St. Paul’s Eastern United Church (BYOV D)
Running Time: 60 minutes
Monday 12 June 7:30pm
Tuesday 13 June 6:30pm
Wednesday 14 June 6:00pm
Thursday 15 June 9:00pm
Friday 16 June 7:30pm
Saturday 17 June 6:00pm