Brian Kennington has a burning love for Toronto’s Fringe Festival.
The Lawrence Park resident, and co-owner of the Yonge and Eglinton restaurant Hannah’s Kitchen, wrote and directed the musical Elvis and Dick for his fourth appearance at the July 2–13 theatre fest.
Kennington has stolen away from a busy lunch crowd to give the lowdown on his interpretation of one of the more bizarre moments in American political history: when the King of Rock and Roll met with President Richard Nixon in 1970.
He said he “just expanded the information that I heard” about Elvis Presley’s meeting in the film.
“[Elvis] mentioned the Beatles, the Rolling Stones — the Smothers Brothers were discussed because back then they were considered radical — Jane Fonda, the Black Panthers,” he said. “He also talked about Communist brainwashing techniques, which I don’t know how true that was, but he was a well-read person.”
He said Elvis was going to “find out who these people were, to find their sources.”
“I think he was a bit jealous of the Beatles because they sort of knocked him off his perch,” Kennington remarked, a smirk forming under his bristly moustache. “So it was sort of a vendetta.”
The script was written two years ago, and Kennington brought in professional actors to read. What went to Fringe was his 10th draft.
“I always bring in professional actors, they do a read-through, and I get feedback from them,” he said. “They cut back dialogue, and they said put more songs in it.”
Fifteen No. 1 hits were strategically performed throughout the play, and sung by actor Phi Bulani, who played Elvis. Included on the playlist were “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds”.
As for Kennington’s previous appearances at Fringe, he directed and acted in Robin Pond’s script The Retirement Plan last year, and The Dream, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a modern day camp. The tunes were courtesy of Three Dog Night.
Kennington’s unabashed about the use of other people’s music for his shows.
“I like using music from other people, like Three Dog Night, because I know it’s solid, good music,” he says, emphatically. “They call it a jukebox musical and some people don’t like it because they feel it’s sort of cheap, but for me, I like it.”
And that’s all right, momma.