Review: Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy (Hart House)

A Robin Hood of glee, energy and verve, at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre

Hart House‘s 2012/2013 season has surprised me for one key reason: the movement. Maybe it’s Artistic Director Jeremy Hutton’s background in musicals and fight choreography bubbling to the surface, but everything they’ve done has been filled with obvious attention to space, positioning, physicality and motion. With Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy, this all comes to a head. It’s nearly three hours of music and dance, and it’s every bit as spectacular as it ought to be.

The main problem with shows based on Robin Hood is that they’re indistinguishable from one another. Sometimes it feels like every single adaptation has more or less the same plot, jokes, characters, scenes, lines, haircuts, etc. It all begins to feel dull, predictable, and utterly bound by the conventions of the story.

This original production, imported from Nova Scotia (with original director Jesse MacLean along for the trip), smashes those conventions, and it’s a testament to the quality of the writing—a co-credit between MacLean, Hutton, William Foley, Kevin MacPherson and and Kate Smith—that it manages this without straying too far from the source. This is a sort of postmodern Robin Hood, deconstructing the story even as it tells it, borrowing from every outside source imaginable, and barrelling along at such a snappy pace that you barely have time to laugh.

And you will laugh—but more importantly, you’ll want to. Even the dopiest and most obvious gags are cut by a healthy measure of charm and manic glee, and this company’s knack for physical comedy is astounding.

Even more astounding is how much movement they’ve packed into the show. Hart House has a teeny tiny wee stage at the best of times; add Scott Penner’s excellent-if-cumbersome set and you’ve got a problem. But somehow there are twenty people on that stage, and they move beautifully. Choreographer Ashleigh Powell certainly puts them through their paces, and it shows: at times, the effect is downright cinematic.

This is all assisted considerably by the cast, who are singularly and consistently excellent. Jennifer Morris takes a delightfully written Maid Marion and somehow makes it even better; Kevin MacPherson and Will Foley gamely chew their way through the villain roles, spitting out hunks of the set as they go; and Kelly McCormack, as a gender-bending Will Scarlet, flashes and dazzles as an actor, then blows the top off the theatre with a first-act solo that may be the best song—and the best-sung song—in the show.

But I really want to recognize the chorus, who do much of the heavy lifting. This chorus of twelve sing and dance in almost every scene, and also provide some delightful one-shot characters. Special mentions for David DiFrancesco, who keeps picking up tiny parts at Hart House even though he seems capable of much more; and for Simon Rainville, who is absolutely wonderful in a role which cannot be described without spoiling it.

In any other production, such a massive chorus would be a massive obstacle: crowds of people tend to suck the energy right out of a staging, but the director, choreographer and authors have given them enough to do that it never drags the show down—and that’s what you need to know about this production as a whole.

It is so consistently outstanding in almost every regard that, whatever flaws it may have, you never really care. This show, composed largely of glee, energy and verve, is so utterly enjoyable that, for those three hours, nothing else matters.

This Robin Hood is appropriate for all ages (but clearly targeted at young adults), exactly the right length, and a sight to behold. Don’t miss it.

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Photograph of the company provided by Daniel DiMarco.

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