Pho Sure, You’ll Like it a Lot

Poster for 'A Perfect Bowl of Pho'.
There is red background. Music notes with the shows title on top appear in a wave. A bowl of pho eating itself is seen. A cartoon of a bull singing is seen.

A deliciously funny show. A Perfect Bowl of Pho is a meta-musical created and written by Nam Nguyen, music composed by Wilfred Moeschter, and directed by Steven Hao. The story is centered around a procrastinating University of Toronto student, Nam, performed by Chris Vergara. The story follows Nam as he struggles to write a musical about… I think you guessed it… Pho. 

A meta-musical is a play within a play. There is often a transition from “reality” to the play on multiple occasions throughout the show. The performers are very aware that they are on a stage performing to an audience. Due to this, they break the fourth wall on many occasions. This is utilized effectively in the performance as instances of comedy or for quick explanations.

However, a meta musical can make for confusion. I was very surprised that, due to Nam’s outstanding writing, I did not find myself puzzled. In “reality” we follow Nam as he goes through the process of creating his musical about pho. He’s seen with writer’s block, trying to cast actors, and gets feedback and criticism. In the musical, there are multiple numbers revolving around pho and its relation to Nam’s life and to Vietnamese history and culture in general. I did find minor pacing issues towards the middle/end of the performance where I felt it dragged a bit. In spite of that, Nam was able to get me back on track with a fantastic and satisfying ending.

The show shines in its comedy. I found myself teary eyed from laughing on countless occasions. The music is lively and lyrics are extremely funny, featuring numerous puns and a constant stream of jokes. The composition was also very well done, ranging from ballads to rap. The musicians Jonah Nung, Maren Helyar, Jasmine Chu, Gillian Derer, and Amiel Ang are top notch. They did not miss a beat throughout the performance. 

A crucial moment in the plot is when a famous playwright asks Nam, “So, what is the point,” alluding to the point of the musical. I was actually asking myself the same question, further showing its awareness to the audience. When asked, Nam couldn’t answer the question. The best answer he had was, “It is funny.” Throughout the show this question consistently comes up and the audience never receives a direct answer. I loved that the musical was brave enough to ask the question, but I also admired how it didn’t tell us. It allowed us to think and create our own “point” of the story.

Chris Vergara is amazing as Nam. He is energetic, charismatic, and extremely likable. He and the rest of the cast have amazing voices and hold their own throughout the performance. I did find the rapping to be off at times, but it did not hinder my viewing one bit. I also thought Jameson Mosher was particularly funny as Leo in the performance. His character was perfectly written and whenever he was onstage I found myself constantly laughing. 

The play is also very accessible. The show has subtitles which are projected above and behind the actors. They are in English and Vietnamese, the latter done by Ky Anh Alex Nguyen. 

A Perfect Bowl of pho is a laugh out loud, funny meta-musical about pho. It discusses the story of the Vietnamese soup while also touching on Vietnamese history and Nam’s life. With lively and catchy music and a great cast, it is bound to be a fun time for all that attend, aside from children as there is a lot of coarse language. 

‘A Perfect Bowl of Pho’ has one last performance in Kingston tonight at the Kingston Grand Theatre as part of the 2023 Kick and Push Festival. More information can be found here.

This article was edited on December 1st, 2023 to update formatting.