Sunday, April 1, 2007

Charm, wit in revamped ‘Robin Hood’

Published in The News Tribune March 30, 2007

Robin Hood … The Legend Continues” is a new musical with lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan and music by Peter Sipos now playing at Centerstage’s Knutzen Family Theatre in Federal Way.

Charnin, who wrote lyrics for the original production of “Annie,” teamed up with Sipos in 1999 to kick around ideas for a new musical based on the legend of Robin Hood.

“‘Shakespeare in Love’ was out at that time, and I was very taken by Tom Stoppard’s approach,” Charnin said, referring to the co-writer of the script. “How he could mix a legend with pure fiction, make it relevant to today, yet keep it in the time of good old Will. One morning I woke up and I knew what I wanted to do, to tell the story of Robin Hood, 20 years later, and make it the love story between Robin and Marian, and this offspring that he doesn’t know he has.”

“Robin Hood” is a light opera in the spirit of “Man of La Mancha” and “Camelot,” with a few modern touches thrown in for comic effect, and Shakespearean plot lines involving false identities and gender confusion.

Years after his famous exploits in Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood (Stephen Grenley) returns home and reunites with Marian (Patricia Britton). He tells Will Scarlet (Marcus Wolland), “she’s going to kill me” for not writing in all those years. So he pretends to be deathly ill, figuring she wouldn’t kill a dying man. But Marian doesn’t believe he’s dying, and informs him they have a daughter, Elizabeth (Anne Kennedy).

The evil King John (Eric Hartley) is still ruling England with his money-grubbing and sex-obsessed Queen Isabella (Taralynn Thompson). All of the Merry Men except for Will are dead, but their children are still around, and all carry on their father’s names. (Little John, by the way, had more than one son; they are called Little John, Big Little John and Middle-Size Little John.)

Battles with King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Dave Tucker) begin all over again. But this time the children lead the fight because Robin and Will are too old and creaky. The only hitch is that Elizabeth would never be allowed to lead the new Merry Men because she’s a girl. So she disguises herself as a boy and presents herself as Robin Hood Jr.

In this version, swashbuckling takes a back seat to romance, and the thoroughly modern battles between the sexes are much more entertaining than fighting with swords – though there’s plenty of that, too.

Robin and Marian bicker and fight like a couple out of a Neil Simon play. Feminist themes and sexual innuendo abound. Best of all is the gender-bending love affair between Elizabeth, who is pretending to be Robin Jr., and Will Scarlet Jr. (Ryan Childers), who says he’s not “that kind of boy” but can’t help falling in love. Their duet on “What’s Going On Here?” is a strange and beautiful love song.

The principal actors are outstanding. Thompson’s every move is laugh-out-loud funny. Britton, Kennedy and Grenley all have beautiful voices. Grenley, a big, burly man, has a surprisingly sweet voice. (When he holds a soft, high note overly long, Marian whispers, “Showoff!”)

William Bone as the servant Phink is terrific. He reminded me of Sir Derek Jacobi in “I, Claudius.” Most of the lesser characters are less than exciting. Hartley is a one-dimensional King John, and McKendrick (Tom Butterworth) is a character seriously in need of a rewrite, not to mention a more realistic beard.

“Robin Hood” might not compare favorably with Charnin and Meehan’s best work, but it’s still in development and has tremendous potential.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through April 15 (no Saturday matinee March 31)
WHERE: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $8 to $25, depending on age
INFORMATION: 253-661-1444

No comments: