Monday, June 3, 2013

The Question, June 3, 2013

Back by Popular Demand
by Estelle Rosen

Kieren MacMillan is one-half of the writing team of MacMillan and Hutton, whose three musicals ("Fairy Tale Ending", "ToboR the RoboT", and "Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy") are favourites of audiences and critics in Toronto and beyond. Kieren graduated from Rice University with his Master of Music in Composition, and since then has worked in Toronto as a composer, music director, and educator. In addition to his freelance work, Kieren is a faculty member at Toronto's Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts.

CHARPO:  Although the original concept of Fairy Tale Ending was intended for youth theatre, the appeal of this production extends to adults as well. Are you able to pinpoint why adult audiences are attracted, and compare responses between young and adult audiences.

MACMILLAN: First, a quick history of "Fairy Tale Ending". Jeremy Hutton was a founding director of the Toronto Youth Theatre, and asked me to write a musical with him for the youth actors to perform. There were nine kids enrolled, so we wrote a show with a cast of nine. Those youth actors (some younger than 10) premiered "Fairy Tale Ending" at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, to wildly enthusiastic audiences. In 2010, we remounted the show at the Toronto Fringe (FringeKids!) Festival, using adult actors. We polished a few scenes, and beefed up some of the vocal parts (especially for "The Three", who act as the main chorus), but otherwise it's the same musical we wrote back in 2008. That FringeKids! production sold out, and went on to do quite well at the Best of Fringe and NextStage Theatre festivals. People have been begging to see it ever since — so you might say we're "back by popular demand".

the lasting adult appeal is due in part to its (perhaps surprisingly) "grown-up" sensibility and maturity of theme

As to the universal appeal… Jeremy (who wrote the book, almost all of the lyrics, and some of the music as well) is quite in tune with the mindset of youth actors — it's one of the things that made him a spectacular director at TYT — and so the writing is immediately relevant and accessible to that age group. But we're also keenly aware that adults attend our shows, if only because they have to accompany or support their children, so we write material that they can enjoy as well. We try to hit that "Pixar sweet spot", where there's something for every age group. In "Fairy Tale Ending", the lasting adult appeal is due in part to its (perhaps surprisingly) "grown-up" sensibility and maturity of theme. We refuse to "write down" to kids, which means that our stories, lyrics, and music have a certain sophistication that adults appreciate.

Of course, there are differences in the responses of different audience members. The really young ones (5-9) mostly love the upbeat music and fast pace; they can get a little fidgety as the end approaches and the tone turns a little more serious. The "tweens" and teens get more of the popular references and comedy bits, and can grasp the story's moral. The adults catch the wry allusions and societal commentary, and enjoy the music (which is heavily influenced by 20th Century pop, jazz, and music theatre); they're also the ones most likely to get a little misty-eyed at the end.

Ultimately, though, I think adults and youth are attracted to "Fairy Tale Ending" for exactly the same reasons: it's a really funny, intelligent, and touching show, with hilarious scenes and a lot of great music (warning: we write "ear-worms"!) The audience leaves the theatre feeling good about life, and that's hard to beat, regardless of how old you are.

Fairy Tale Ending Website

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