Latest Ross Petty show tackles Robin Hood and education, now on stage in Toronto
After laughing through Lil’ Red Robin Hood as a family, we had tons to talk about on the way home. It’s a show that’s fun to relive, whether it’s going back to the catchy songs or asking about jokes we didn’t all get. While last year’s Ross Petty show, The Wizard of Oz, played at the Elgin Theatre like the 20 odd shows before it, this year’s Lil’ Red Robin Hood has moved upstairs to the Winter Garden Theatre. The upper venue, with the leaves hanging from the ceiling, is conveniently compatible with the “Sherway Gardens Forest” of Robin Hood.
The story starts out in 2019 with Lil’ Red (Robert Markus) having learning difficulties at school. He travels to the world of 1519 where his special textbook is stolen by the teacher-imprisoning villain Sheriffe of Naughtyham (Sara-Jeanne Hosie). Rogue teacher Marion (AJ Bridel), accompanied by Sugarbum (Michael De Rose), must get Red’s book back to save the world, and she needs help from husband Robin Hood (Lawrence Libor) whom she is separated from. Friar Tuck (Daniel Williston) is Robin Hood’s right hand, while Marvin (Eddie Glen) assists Sheriffe.
The show starts off with a bang with Red and the ensemble dancing in the school hallway wearing sneakers, brightly coloured clothes, and backpacks. Good work from Michael Gianfrancesco on these cute teen costumes. Red enters the world of Robin Hood via his locker, thanks to the playful set by Cory Sincennes. The lockers on wheels handily flip around to become greenery.
The songs in Lil’ Red Robin Hood are definite crowd-pleasers. “ABC 123” is full of pep like so many others, but “I Want It That Way” is distinctively silly. It’s sung by Robin Hood and Marion, who are locked up in a cage with their Merry Folk (ensemble), who spin the cage towards the end of the song. This twirling jail cell by Sincennes adds whimsy and delight.
The stand-out actor for me is Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Sheriffe. Her arms are commanding, her voice is full of contempt, and her facial expressions are spot on; she’s able to twist her lips to make herself more of a meanie.
More great things about this play include the lofty musical number by Marvin (Eddie Glen) that’s pumped up by the ensemble’s use of fans and swords, the orchestra being close and visible to the audience, and Sugarbum’s extravagent pink dress. Also notable is the overarching theme of education. Writer Matt Murray has embedded the importance of knowledge and learning in several scenes, and he specifically mentions learning styles, class sizes and funding cuts.
Regarding the target audience, Lil’ Red Robin Hood appears to be a very Toronto-centric show with the “6” T-shirt, the “We The North” chants, and the jabs at the Conservative party. I also think that this show in particular was markedly entertaining for adults; while the smaller people in the audience had fun booing and cheering, the bigger ones did most of the cracking up, and all left the theatre with a buzz.
Photo of Michael De Rose, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Daniel Williston, Lawrence Libor, AJ Bridel in top row and of Eddie Glen in bottom row supplied by the company