Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Heart of Robin Hood

There's much excitement going on at the Royal Alexandra Theatre these days.  The audience is invited into Sherwood Forest for a telling of the Robin Hood tale, but with a few twists.

I happened to attend on Opening Night, something I've never done before.  It was as a result of that evening being a convenient date more than wanting to go to the opening.  Being prevented from entering the theatre until about 15 mins before the show was suppose to start didn't make for a comfortable start to the evening.  The waiting area by the mezzanine doors was packed and hot.  Finally we got inside and a look at the stage.  There was no curtain (perhaps the reason for the delay since no warm ups etc. could be hidden from the audience) and what looked like a rather short stage area before the grass slopped up into a very steep hill disappearing into the fly space.  There was a band playing onstage with lots of energy, and a small pond completed the set.

When the performance started the purpose of the hill became clear, the actors and musicians slid down it, and effortlessly hopped to their feet at the bottom!  The stage didn't look very wide and thankfully they always stopped short of the audience (perhaps the material changed adding a bit of a brake).  I imagine it would be quite a visual from the front row seeing these people speeding down a hill towards you.  A few actors also climbed back up the hill using hidden hand and foot holds.
The Set with the hill open

Starting in the forest, we meet Robin Hood (played by Gabriel Ebert) and his merry men, who steal from the rich for themselves and have a pact that no woman ever be allowed to join their group.  Setting up a dramatic irony problem right there.

Meanwhile at the castle (which was created by cantilevered platforms folding out of the hill),
Izzie Steele as Marion
Marion (the lovely Izzie Steele) isn't happy.  Her sister wishes to marry but being the younger can't until Marion has first.  The King is off fighting in the crusades and Prince John (Euan Morton) provides the perfect suitor for the sister to push on Marion.  Marion wants none of that and escapes to the forest with her guardian Pierre (joyfully played by Christian Lloyd).  There she meets Robin Hood, is upset he doesn't do what the legend says (giving the stolen plunder to the poor), and sets herself up as Martin, fulfilling the legend.  It is Martin, not Robin, who we see in the expected green tights and feather cap.

Marion is enticed back to the castle to prevent the execution of two children by marrying John.  Robin goes to rescue her and the fairy tale has a happy ending.  His switch in opinion of women happens awfully quickly though.

Several characters, including Marion's sister in a nice dress, end up completely drenched in the pond. I'm sure the costumers are thrilled at having to deal with that each day.  There are some oddities.  It's not really a musical, Robin refuses to sing regularly, and I couldn't understand most of what the musicians were singing, so I have no idea if it was relevant or not.  Parts are gruesome.  I get that John is evil but I don't need to see him extract a guys tongue on stage to have the point emphasized.
Robin/Marion in flight

Things happen in the air, I'm not sure I'd really call it aerial work as most involves people just hanging there.  The duet with Robin and Marion isn't very interesting.  One of the funniest sort of aerial moments was Little John (Jeremy Crawford) held aloft in a basket using a henchmen that they'd killed as a puppet so John would think he was still alive.

Robin and Martin
It was an entertaining evening, and I did enjoy the "Matrix" slow motion style fight moments.  I would have to agree with the Globe and Mail review.  I hope it has a good run on Broadway, but not really sure where it fits in.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Celtic Christmas with Leahy

The Toronto Symphony went Celtic for Christmas this year.  I almost didn't go having found the concert a few years ago with a similar theme somewhat boring, but I'm certainly glad I did.

Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster
(all photos from TSO Facebook page)
The special guest this year was Leahy.  Headed by Donnell, he was joined by two of his fiddling brothers (I'm not sure what the relation was with the pianist and drummer), his wife the incomparable Natalie MacMaster, their six children, and a few of their cousins.

Steven Reineke
With Steven Reineke at the helm, the TSO got the Christmas theme rolling with a rich and dense "Holiday Overture".  They played my favourite arrangement of "Winter Wonderland" (by Ralph Hermann) and a familiar but not overplayed version of "Carol of the Bells".

Reineke's arranging skills were featured in a gospel take of "Go Tell it on the Mountain".  Vocals were provided by the Etobicoke School of the Arts, the standard choir for the TSO Christmas concerts.

Step Dancing
Leahy took the stage with enthusiasm and infused the audience with their spirit.  Highlights were the introduction of the children step dancing in the last piece before intermission.  At each phrase of the music another youngster, getting younger and younger danced out for their turn in the spotlight.  The audience leapt to their feet at the end.

Michael Joseph
Michael Joseph (there was also a Joseph Michael) at 7 years old made his TSO solo debut playing "Silent Night" on a small fiddle.  As Donnell said it only took him about 40 more years (as Leahy was making their debut as well) to get to the same spot.  The rest of the children also demonstrated their music skills joining Michael for "Away in a Manger".  Donnell was very gracious, thanking the TSO for the opportunity for multiple generations to have the experience of playing with a wonderful symphony.

As always the evening concluded with a sing along.  But wait!  There was an encore with one of my favourite songs.  The entire Leahy clan, the TSO, and choir joined forces for the very fitting "Christmas in Killarney".

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!