Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Robin Hood

Daniel James (photo credit:
Daniel Di Marco)
Not Civilized – English
This new Robin Hood is uneven, but entertaining
by Stuart Munro

The tone is set early on in Hart House’s new production of Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy when the Voice of God explains that crusaders have been off in the Holy Land committing acts of murder, rape, pillage, and other noble deeds. A chorus of singing peasants then explains that they live in “Poor, poor England. England is Poor. We live in England. That’s why we say poor, poor England . . . ,” lyrics that walk that fine line between too much exposition and comedy gold. The songs may often fall flat, but the comedy in this production, thankfully, always works.

Robin Hood is a sometimes inventive, but mostly straightforward retelling of its namesake’s other incarnations. Robin of Locksley returns from the crusades to discover that Prince John, in league with the local sheriff, is brutally taxing the poor. Robin recruits a band of Merry Men, displaces the prince, and wins the hand of the fair Maid Marian. There are some unexpected twists and turns along the way (which often involve humorous discussions about various appropriate subplots) but everything ends as it should.

I wonder if the evening might be better served by removing the songs altogether.

The book, by William Foley, Jeremy Hutton, Jesse MacLean, Kevin MacPherson, and Kate Smith, is hilarious and filled with plenty of innuendo (a backdoor key fetched from the back of Marian’s dress) and nonsense (a subplot involving the Sheriff of Nottingham and his obsession with dressing up like a squirrel) and usually keeps the plot moving forward. The score, by Kieren MacMillan and Hutton, is entirely less successful. The songs tend to come out of nowhere and lead us nowhere. The melodies are cute, but not clever (the program notes call the score “sophisticated” and “complicated,” but I can’t imagine they’re referring to the same music as in this show), and I wonder if the evening might be better served by removing the songs altogether.

Thankfully, pretty much everything else about this production works well. As Robin Hood, Daniel James is charming, handsome, and suave. Authors Kevin MacPherson as Prince John and William Foley as the Sheriff of Nottingham are comic masters, and have a wonderful chemistry together. Jennifer Morris’s Marian is strong-minded and never devolves into the damsel in distress cliché. The large ensemble is polished and energetic, always performing Ashleigh Powell’s frenetic and busy choreography with enthusiasm. Jesse MacLean’s direction is fast paced (perhaps a tad too much: some of the dialogue was lost in the speed), and the sets and lights by Scott Penner and Simon Rossiter respectively easily transport us from place to place, without ever actually changing the scenery.

There are a few problems. Firstly, the show, at nearly three hours, is too long to consider taking the kids too (especially at 8pm on a school night). Secondly, the show must be a feminist’s nightmare: at one point, Will Scarlet (a woman in this version) curses Robin Hood for stealing her band of Merry Men, and her thunder. She then resolves to marry Robin and restore her self esteem, thus teaching all the young women in the audience that all a woman needs to be fulfilled is a man. (Maybe I’m reading too much into it). Thirdly, the show at times felt a bit like a poor man’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and I found myself wondering why Mel Brooks hasn’t yet put it on the stage.  Lastly, there seemed to be some problems with accents, with some characters having them, some not, and some picking them up and losing them partway through. (The one Swedish character, Sven, simply used a high pitched voice.) Nevertheless, the show is a solid night of good fun. Just be sure to check your ‘Serious Hat’ at the door. It won’t do you any good here.

Robin Hood continues to January 26

1 comment:

  1. I don't think you really got this musical... just sayin'...


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