It’s hard to please a crowd with a musical. People seem to either love them or hate them. For example, I’ve heard mixed reviews on the recent film adaptation of Les Misérables. My best friend saw the movie last Friday night: “I felt awful,” she told me. “My friend was sobbing through the whole thing, but I couldn’t stop laughing—it was so cliché to me.” With that in mind, I was curious to see what combination of tears and laughter I would see at Hart House Theatre’s latest production, Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy.
Members of the Shakespeare by the Sea acting company in Halifax first created this musical of the Robin Hood story in 2005. Since then, the script has undergone some changes, a few roles have been cut, and the musical has travelled across the nation. It is now making its Toronto debut at Hart House.
The musical opens with the voice of God speaking over the orchestra. The seven-member orchestra is a new addition to the production, but the score isn’t. The score was composed by Jeremy Hutton and Kieran MacMillan for the original production and is retained here. The music rang with a medieval character and transported the audience to Sherwood Forest.
From the start, it is obvious that The Legendary Musical Comedy intends to make fun of every cliché in the original story. Robin Hood, played by Daniel James, isn’t the paragon of morality we’ve seen over and over again. In the classic tale, the poor townspeople champion Robin Hood as their one saviour from the evil of Prince John. But here, when Robin Hood sees the poverty in England, he insists he’s not the guy to help them. In the musical number “Robin of Locksley”, the poor of England convince Robin Hood that by helping them, he will forever be made a hero in English history. Robin Hood finally concedes to help them, and reminds them later, during his song “Generosity”, that by helping them he is actually helping himself. James plays his pompous character convincingly, obnoxiously brushing his hair out of his eyes and shouting “My face!” out of concern for his good looks every time he is struck during a swordfight.
Prince John, played by The Legendary Musical Comedy pioneer Kevin MacPherson, is a ridiculous, confused character. His wingman, the Sheriff of Nottingham (William Foley) is smarter—but only slightly. Together, they poke fun at the stereotypical evil monarch in the musical number “E-V-I-L”. I was nearly crying with laughter when the Sheriff suggested capturing Robin Hood by sneaking up on him disguised as chipmunks and then indeed entered Sherwood Forest in a furry helmet, clawed gloves, and an unmistakable chipmunk tail.
The band of merry men comes together in an unlikely way, similarly to the original tale. Little John (Andrew Dundass), angered by Prince John demanding that he pay an “ironic name tax”, retreats to the forest to be left alone, where Robin Hood finds him fishing. The two battle over the fish—or “fishes”, as Little John says—before becoming friends on the basis of their common hatred for Prince John. Soon, Willow Scarlet (Kelly McCormack) and her band of merry men join the duo. By far, the most comical character of the play is the runt of the merry men, Sven, played by Simon Rainville. He is constantly excluded from the group of bigger, stronger merry men. In his dainty Mary Janes, sporting a single fluffy neon yellow feather on his head, he goes through the musical interrupting songs and conversations by screeching his name like a Pokémon.
The humour of The Legendary Musical Comedy lies in pointing out what we all see in fairy tales and legends: the clichés. The characters openly admit to the nonsensical decisions they make. Why is the sheriff disguised as a chipmunk and watching Robin Hood perform a musical number when he could be defeating him? “I guess that was a missed opportunity, wasn’t it?” Prince John admits, looking back on the situation.
The only real downfall of the musical is how hard it was to hear some of the dialogue over all the laughter. There may have been a few rolling eyes or bored attendees, but they were definitely outnumbered. I certainly recommend if you’re tired of the same old fairytales.
Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy is playing at Hart House till January 26. Visit harthouse.ca/hart-house-theatre for show times and ticket information.