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Boy Falls From the Sky is on at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre until May 29.Cylla von Tiedemann/Mirvish

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  • Title: Boy Falls from the Sky
  • Written and performed by: Jake Epstein
  • Directed by and developed with: Robert McQueen
  • Company: David Mirvish and Past Future Productions
  • Venue: Royal Alexandra Theatre
  • City: Toronto, Ont.
  • Year: To May 29, 2022
  • COVID-19 measures: Masks and proof of vaccination required.

Critic’s Pick

Boy Falls from the Sky is a very Canadian look at pursuing the Broadway dream.

In this autobiographical, one-man-plus-a-band show now on at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Toronto actor Jake Epstein reveals what it is like to make it there, in New York, on the Great White Way – and return kind of dissatisfied.

How do you communicate the lows along with the highs to your friends, family and especially the performatively peppy musical-theatre crowd back home without seeming #ungrateful for #livingthedream? (If you follow any aspiring triple threats on Instagram, you’ll understand the pressure to post backstage pics with plenty of upbeat hashtags.)

Epstein, 35, begins with his memories of being a middle-class Toronto kid who drove down to New York with his family to see musicals, singing along to original cast albums all along the 10-hour journey.

After one such road trip, Epstein begs his parents to let him audition for shows – and the preteen’s raw talent is such that soon enough he is performing at the Royal Alex as one of the kids in a Soulpepper production of Our Town, and playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver! at the Princess of Wales presented by Mirvish Productions.

Enrollment at the Claude Watson School for the Arts follows and then, the Canadian big time for small fries, several seasons on Degrassi: The Next Generation. (Yes, Epstein tells the audience winningly, he did attend Drake’s bar mitzvah.)

Writer and performer Jake Epstein tells a story about what it is like to make it on Broadway and return kind of dissatisfied.Cylla von Tiedemann/Handout

But the focus of Epstein’s show is on the siren call of Broadway – both the oligarchical commercial theatre district in Manhattan, and the brand name attached to touring musicals that originate there across North America.

Soon enough, despite his height (which forms the basis of an enjoyable running gag), he’s succeeding in that sphere, performing on the road or in New York in shows such as Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (in which he originated the part of lyricist Gerry Goffin).

Epstein details each of these experiences in episodic fashion, not hesitating to shine a light on the less-than-ideal moments involving stage fright, vocal issues, depression and physical injuries.

Those latter occur while he is playing Peter Parker for a spell in the Bono and the Edge musical Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. The behind-the-scenes issues on that show will be no surprise to anyone who read book writer Glen Berger’s memoir Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History.

But Epstein stays away from gossip and grounds and contextualizes the sprained ankles and wrists he gets whizzing around on wires through the Foxwoods Theatre (now the Lyric Theatre) within his larger story about life in a business where the mental and physical health of performers has not necessarily been top priority, and it’s hard to admit when you’re struggling.

During the pandemic pause, Broadway’s darker side did get some airing in public. Bullying allegations were published about producer Scott Rudin, which prompted him to take a step back from projects – and Tony winner Karen Olivo departed Moulin Rouge! because of disillusionment with the industry.

But Epstein’s personal theatrical travails are not related to #MeToo or the ongoing racial reckoning – and he wisely does not connect them to these movements. Indeed, he never leaves the dark on too long. He shares many fun stories, too, about bungled auditions and meeting Billy Crystal and Paul McCartney.

Along the way, Epstein sings songs from shows he has performed in (or just loves) and, under the simple, sensitive direction of Robert McQueen, makes their lyrics speak to the themes and emotions at hand in his narrative. He is an absolute charmer on stage, alive to every moment.

As honest as Epstein aims to be, however, he doesn’t poke too, too hard at the Broadway brand – because, after all, Boy Falls From the Sky is selling itself on the mystique of it.

Boy Falls from the Sky, though an intimate show with roots in cabaret, doesn’t seem small in the Royal Alex, to where it has been promoted from the CAA Theatre owing to a Mirvish season rejig. McQueen’s production, in fact, has a site-specific feel here.

Brandon Kleiman’s two-floor set, a cozy, wall-less apartment with a loft space up a ladder, sits at the centre of the stage with the vastness behind it exposed. It looks like a comment on how small and big “show business” is at once for an actor; one moment you’re in a show at the Fringe Festival that costs $10 a ticket, the next people are paying hundreds of dollars to see you perform on Broadway.

And when Epstein talks about how he used to fly through the air in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and land in the dress circle, his description certainly benefits from being in a theatre with an actual balcony.

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