Home / Entertainment / You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh while you cry. Jake Epstein’s autobiographical ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ is a bracing showbiz tell-all for every fan of the theatre

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh while you cry. Jake Epstein’s autobiographical ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ is a bracing showbiz tell-all for every fan of the theatre

Jake Epstein, backed by an electric three-piece band comprised of Justin Han, David Atkinson and Lauren Falls, performs in “Boy Falls From the Sky,” now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until May 29, 2022.

  • Jake Epstein, backed by an electric three-piece band comprised of Justin Han, David Atkinson and Lauren Falls, performs in “Boy Falls From the Sky,” now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until May 29, 2022.
  • Jake Epstein in “Boy Falls From the Sky,” his one-man show playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until May 29, 2022.

Boy Falls From the Sky

(4 stars out of 4)

Written and performed by Jake Epstein. Developed with and directed by Robert McQueen. Until May 29, 2022, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., mirvish.com and 1-800-461-3333.

There’s no business like show business. And Jake Epstein well knows.

His autobiographical musical, “Boy Falls From the Sky,” picked up following a smash-hit run at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival, is a rousing showbiz tell-all that is a must-see for every fan of the theatre.

If you’re seeking saccharine fare filled with the glitz and glamour of the Great White Way, this ain’t the show for you. But Epstein’s cabaret-style musical brims with enrapturing tales, both hilarious and bracingly earnest, about life in the spotlight.

And boy, does he have a story to tell.

He starts at the beginning — from the moment he was bit by the theatre bug while belting out Broadway show tunes with his sister in the back of his family’s minivan during trips to New York City — and chronologically traverses the roller coaster of his career that followed.

As a kid, he landed the leading role of the Artful Dodger in “Oliver!” at the Princess of Wales Theatre. After a stint on “Degrassi,” for which he’s still recognized to this day, Epstein criss-crossed the U.S. in national tours of “Spring Awakening” and Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

He then found his way to Broadway, playing the title role in the infamous “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

All that before he turned 30, no less.

Each time he returns home from a gig, Epstein, who was born and raised in Toronto, is asked the same question by family and friends: “So, what was it like?”

“Boy Falls From the Sky” is Epstein’s attempt to unpack his experiences. From the suffocating stage fright, to the rejection, to the crushing physical trauma that resulted from flying and free-falling in “Spider-Man,” Epstein’s bingo card of theatrical experiences is marked out twice over.

But perhaps most candid is his story about originating his first leading role on Broadway in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” As Gerry Goffin, King’s first husband, he’s painted as the antagonist, and each night has to endure the “boos reserved for the villains” during the curtain call. After being greeted by that “wall of hate” eight times a week, you begin to internalize it, Epstein explains in the show.

It’s painful, at times, watching Epstein so vulnerably re-enact these moments. But never do you feel he’s searching for sympathy. His stories are always padded with a good dose of humour.

Ultimately, Epstein confronts what it means when your dreams don’t turn out as expected. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh while you cry.

His vignettes are punctuated by countless recognizable Broadway numbers that are so perfectly curated to match each story, perhaps none more so than the elegiac love song “Gold” from “Once,” which takes on new meaning when Epstein reveals he took his then ex-girlfriend to see the musical when she visited New York City. (They then rekindled their love and eventually married.)

Epstein is joined onstage by an electric three-piece band, comprised of David Atkinson, Lauren Falls and Justin Han.

While he isn’t the strongest singer (he’s frank about the vocal issues he faced early in his career, particularly while navigating Green Day’s rock ’n’ roll score in “American Idiot”), Epstein’s stage presence is enrapturing. Standing downstage centre on the Royal Alex stage in the halo of a spotlight, and with a guitar strapped around his shoulder, Epstein somehow transforms the 1,200-seat theatre into an intimate cabaret club. Raw and refreshingly frank, he spitballs his stories with bravura, as if sharing memories with old high school friends.

But make no mistake, “Boy Falls From the Sky” is finely crafted by Epstein and director/co-creator Robert McQueen, nary a song or story out of place. At a brisk 80 minutes, you only wish the natural storyteller that is Epstein could go on forever.

The production is simply staged by McQueen on Brandon Kleiman’s two-tiered set. How appropriate that the backstage area of the Royal Alex is left visible to the audience — a metaphor for how Epstein’s show aims to pull back the curtain on life as a theatre artist. And the sets of travel trunks that flank the set are a smart nod to Epstein’s days on the road.

It’s fitting, too, that “Boy Falls From the Sky” is being mounted at the historic Royal Alex, where Epstein made his professional stage debut in a 1999 Soulpepper production of “Our Town.”

This is a homecoming of sorts — 23 years in the making.

Here’s one of Toronto’s very own, who found success, made it big and has come back to tell the tale.

Joshua Chong is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach Joshua via email: jchong@torstar.ca

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