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Fringe and other Theatre Reviews and Such

Melanie Gall – A Toast to Prohibition

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival has returned to live audience performances for 2022. This also means the return of Melanie Gall, with a new Fringe Show. I last saw Melanie live at the Fringe in 2019.

Melanie Gall poster
The poster for Melanie Gall’s A Toast to Prohibition.
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Before I go any further here is the link to purchase tickets to the show, along with the link to Melanie’s show for kids.

A Toast to Prohibition From Melanie

A Toast to Prohibition occurs during the last hour of prohibition. Our host operates the Tipsy Sparrow speakeasy. Over the hour she takes us through the events leading up to the imposition of prohibition, and what went on during the 13 years following the ratification of the Volstead Act.

The liquor cabinet at the end of the show.
The liquor cabinet from Melanie Gall’s “A Toast to Prohibition,” just before it got packed away for the night.

The stage is fairly bare. There is a liquor cabinet center stage, with a small end table in front of it. Off to the side, audience right, there is a microphone. During the show, Melanie moves in between the two. The liquor cabinet/table being the spot for the spoken parts of the show, and the microphone for the songs.

The Volstead Act was a flawed piece of legislation from the start. It was filled with loopholes. Some created on religious grounds. Some created on medical grounds. In the end Prohibition did nothing to stop the amount of liquor. (ill-defined, another flaw in the legislation), that people were drinking.

The songs featured tell the story of prohibition from both sides. There are stories of those who favoured it (such as the axe-wielding Carrie Nation).Those who prospered from it(Canadians made a ton of money). How it gave women new entrepreneurial opportunities.

Each of these stories is told with a song. Now, write off the top, I’ll say that the only song you are likely to know is Me and My Shadow. However, that just means you are going to learn a few songs that you never knew before.

Melanie is a great curator of songs. If you’ve ever had the chance to take in one of her shows, you know that she has a great gift in choosing songs that are readily accessible. While unfamiliar, the songs in A Toast to Prohibition, are fun, witty, and clever. Despite hearing it for the first time, don’t be surprised if you walk out humming, Lips That Touch Liquor will Never Touch Mine. 

There is even a song written by Al Capone. Apparently in addition to being a murderous gangster, Capone was also a banjo player and composed at least one song. I’ll leave it to future generations to decide which of the two was the greater evil, murder or banjo playing.

One of the pleasures of watching a performer year after year, is seeing the ways they grow, whether as singer, actor, or storyteller. This is true of Melanie in many areas, but particularly so as a writer.

The spoken stories area simply a series of vignettes. Yet, she has taken them and produced an interesting narrative. One doesn’t generally hear the story of Prohibition told from the point of view of a women speakeasy owner.

Her choice of songs, also gives a fairly wide view of the many ways in which Prohibition affected the lives of Americans.

Along, with the narrative, many of the songs end with her making a brief, pointed, response to the ideas expressed in them. These too are quite funny. A Toast to Prohibition proves that learning history can be fun. As a matter of fact, when it comes to proof, I’d say it’s 200.

The only disappointing thing last night was the house. Tom Hendry Warehouse holds around 300 people and there were maybe 100 people there. I know people are a little shy about being in large clouds what with Covid-19. However, I suggest you mask up(recommended not mandated), and get yourself down to see this show.

It’s intoxicating, even without any alcohol. Let’s raise a glass to A Toast to Prohibition.

Before I finish, I want to mention the arrival of Melanie’s newly released book on Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland(my copy is on order). As I mentioned above, Melanie is a very good storyteller, and a great curator of historical songs and singers. I’m really looking forward to reading this book, and I think you will too.

One aspect of the Fringe Festival that I have always really enjoyed is the connections you make along the way, and the people you meet. Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting Al Simmons, one of Winnipeg’s legendary entertainers. I also found out, that Simmons gave Melanie, then age 3, her first opportunity to step on stage.

By Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food.