Broadway-bound The Heart of Robin Hood, a new musical play, delights Toronto
In the history of myth and legend, many, many things have been done to Robin Hood. Some of them have enriched and enlivened the old tale, and some…well, never mind. Good news, fans of the fairy tale: The Heart of Robin Hood at the Royal Alexandra Theatre is everything you had no idea you wished for in a retelling. It’s not a traditional Robin Hood, but it is a good old traditional romp of a story – and that’s grand too – mixed with acrobatics, aerial stunts, some extraordinary fight choreography, and a generally fresh and fantastical idiom. It’s almost too much fun.
In fact, this show is multiple stories stuck together, with a cast of supporting characters that includes a band who are characters themselves. I had not really imagined that the band of merry men I’ve been hearing about since childhood were an actual band. But here they are: Parsonsfield, a pack of bluegrass/roots/folk ramblers who are on stage for the entirety of the show (except when they are walking over the audience), and they are an honest delight.
But back to Robin Hood (a charming, if slightly grouchy, Gabriel Ebert). He starts out as something of an ass, not nearly as nice as his legend, and it’s the story of how he locates his tender heart that drives this version. When we open, Robin Hood and his fairly merry but quite completely lawless men are terrorizing a wealthy couple driving their horses through Sherwood Forest. By the time they’re robbing and killing a friar (even if he is a bit of a scamp) we’re quite delighted and completely amazed by their acrobatics but none too keen on their ethics at all.
By now, we’ve met Marian, played with fire and verve by Izzie Steele. She’s fiesty and outraged by injustice as her father’s castle is taken over by lawless, heartless Prince John. She flees the castle just before Prince John arrives, taking only her tutor Pierre, determined to join Robin Hood (the myth and legend) in the forest. When she finds Robin Hood the man, he reveals that he has no particular feeling for the poor and a strict rule of “no women in camp”. Outraged at the outlaw’s twin lacks, she disguises herself as a young boy, Martin, and takes to the woods. Crossdressing shenanigans shortly ensue and, while none of them are new to the theatre, they’re still pretty damn much fun.
Pierre is in the mix as well, beginning as a soft and cultured courtesan horrified at the idea of sleeping on the ground and living rough. Christian Lloyd’s performance is reminiscent of Stephen Fry as Malvolio in Twelfth Night last year – more understated than you might have expected, and therefore much funnier. And Euan Morton is so horrible, so utterly and coldly evil, as Prince John that the opening night audience booed him right out loud as though it were the panto.
Rarely has a stage been such an character in a performance; Börkur Jonsson’s confection of a set is what a kid in a grown-person suit would design to keep other similar characters entertained all day. This version of Green Monster, an astroturf wall that stretches almost straight up and which the characters scramble up and slide down, is a marvel of engineering (and choreography! My Laban notation classes didn’t cover half of what these acrobats can do). Periodically characters emerge from a pond, fall in a hole, swing from a tree, dangle precariously off of things or slide down with a shout of delight. It just looks like so much fun! And no one minds the handsome, shirtless boys in their assorted good guy/bad guy versions of a chest harness, either.
(A note please, before this goes to Broadway: Marian when en femme, Alice, and Prince John shouldn’t slide down. It’s just too off. Someone give them a rope with a loop or rung they can step into and be lowered in a stately fashion, please?)
The only disappointment of the whole business was Marian at the end. Having secured her husband, and her father’s blessing, (it’s a 700 year old story, so no spoilers) the crossdressed crusader goes curiously silent. She allows Robin and her father to sort out the terms of her marriage, the style of the wedding, and nary one promise does she extract from her instantly-affianced outlaw about his future doings. I wanted her to make him swear to her code of honor before she agreed to marry him, true love or no.
None of these quibbles was enough to spoil the fun and frolic, of which there was a tremendous amount. This show is obviously going to delight the audiences who will get it on Broadway soon, and with its zip and fizz and crack it should be delighting them for quite a while.
- The Heart of Robin Hood is playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre(260 King Street West) until October 26
- Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $30 to $99 with a limited number of student tickets at $25
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.872.1212 or toll-free at 1.800.461.3333, and in person at the box office
Photo of the cast provided by Mirvish Productions.