York-created musical hits high note at Edinburgh Fringe

Critics at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival are raving about That’s Life, a rock musical for teenagers produced by theatre Professor Peter McKinnon (below, right) and created by a talented team of York alumni, as the production ends a three-week run at the festival and begins a six-city tour of Scotland.

About a rock star who is electrocuted when his guitar blows up onstage, That’s Life is a dynamic retelling of the medieval morality play Everyman. It follows Joe as he struggles to take stock of his life – presented in the form of personifications of Wealth, Kin, Beauty, Knowledge, Strength and Good Deeds – and prepares for Judgment Day.

Right: Musical producer Peter McKinnon

That’s Life explores the big questions: What’s important in life? What do you take with you? What’s left once you’re gone? The play’s answers – and the actors and musicians who deliver them – have garnered rave reviews in the Scottish media.

One critic compared That’s Life, written by theatre grad John Illingworth and composed by York music alumnus and award-winning composer Alan Moon (Forever Plaid, The Cradle Will Rock, Menopositive), to the popular productions Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Others applauded the superb singing, the excellent band, and the well-written, humorous script.

Hailed as “fabulous, enchanting, for-our-time” in the Edinburgh Festival Guide, this “truly inspiring show” was awarded four stars by The Scotsman, one of the UK’s leading dailies. The paper’s critic, Kirsty Knaggs, said, “this is no happy-clappy, tambourine-shaking, glorified prayer meeting” as she feared. “The dialogue and song lyrics are dripping with irreverent humour” and the “cast’s voices would earn them a place in the heavenly choir with no problem.”

“If there is one thing this show deserves, it’s a week on Broadway or London’s West End,” enthused Radio Forth. “Excellent!!! Or as the Canadians would say, AWESOME!!!!!”

Right: Craig Burnatowski as Kin

That’s Life was conceived by McKinnon about three years ago as a project for his first-year theatre class. Through his production company, Front Porch Theatre, he developed the concept into a full-fledged professional production. He assembled a dynamic cast of recent graduates from theatre schools across Ontario, including York theatre alumnus Craig Burnatowski, who plays Kin, and guitarist Mike Bowell (below), a graduate of York’s music program who plays in the onstage band.

The creative team is packed with other York talent. Contract faculty member Sylvia Defend designed the sets and costumes. Theatre alumni Nicole Tushingham and Rachael Monaghan serve as production manager and assistant stage manager, respectively, with help from third-year student Jason Hand as production assistant. Natalie Bartello, who will be completing her theatre degree at York this fall, is the show’s publicist and York grad Randal Boutillier designed posters, programs, playbills, CD and Web site.

Left: Production manager Nicole Tushingham

McKinnon is a nationally known lighting designer and producer. The founder of Rare Gem Productions and Owen Sound’s Summer at the Roxy, his credits include the award-winning Squonk Opera in Toronto and on Broadway.

That’s Life is one of 1,500 productions from around the world featured in the Fringe. Workshopped in York Region last spring, it was staged 20 times in Edinburgh from Aug. 6 to Aug. 25. CD sales have been brisk, says McKinnon, who’s shepherding That’s Life on a six-city tour of Scotland, including stops in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee, until Aug. 31. 

For more about the production, visit  www.everymanexperience.com and for more about the Fringe, go to www.edfringe.com.

Submitted by Brigitte Kleer, public relations and special projects manager, Fine Arts.