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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | 'Lil’ Red Robin Hood' An Amusing Romp Back To High School

By Paula Citron on December 7, 2019

Lil’ Red Robin Hood
Mariah Campos, Tyler Pearse, Robert Markus (Centre), Genny Sermonia, Julia Juhas. Lil’ Red Robin Hood. (Photo: Racheal McCaig)

Ross Petty Productions/Lil’ Red Robin Hood, written by Matt Murray, directed and choreographed by Tracey Flye, Winter Garden Theatre, Nov. 29, 2019 to Jan. 4, 2020. Tickets available at rosspetty.com.

The tag line of this year’s Ross Petty show is “The Family Musical that Targets Your Funny Bone”, and Lil’ Red Robin Hood certainly does that. The laughs come a mile a minute.

These shows have travelled a long way from the fractured fairy tales of English pantomime. Instead, writer Matt Murray has created an original plotline using well-known characters and found music, the result being a slick show performed by a very talented cast that is filled with local references. Lil’ Red Robin Hood is very much anchored in a Toronto sensibility, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

The story, such as it is, concerns high school student Lil’ Red (Robert Markus) who is facing a brutal world history test for which he hasn’t studied. He asks for a miracle, and is suddenly transported back to 1519, and this is where the laughs begin. On a projection screen, a timeline flows backwards, touching on significant events, and yes, the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup is there, but the biggest chuckles are generated by the picture of former, long-standing Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion, who appears in every century.

In 1519, Lil’ Red finds himself in Sherway Gardens Forest where he helps Maid Marion (AJ Bridel), Robin Hood (Lawrence Libor), Marion’s old nurse Sugarbum (Michael De Rose in drag), and Friar Tuck (Daniel Williston), defeat the evil Sheriffe of Naughtyham (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) and her duplicitous wizard Marvin (Eddie Glen). Lil’ Red’s world history textbook plays a significant role in the story. As well, Marion and Robin are battling former marrieds, which gives an interesting twist to the proceedings. I guess divorce is now a fact of life, even in family shows. As for the cast as a whole, they are all singing/dancing marvels, including the ensemble, who are the understudies for the leads, and so have to be right up to scratch. Markus, in particular, is a shining talent, but he is a first among equals.

Lil’ Red Robin Hood
Michael DeRose, AJ Bridel. Lil’ Red Robin Hood. (Photo: Racheal McCaig)

Lil’ Red Robin Hood is absolutely au current in its references. Along the way we get We the North, Kahwi Why?, the George Forman grill, Jon Snow and Game of Thrones, and selfies, to mention but a few. Although Donald Trump is never mentioned by name, he is certainly given the mickey in numerous ways and everyone knows he is the target. At one point, Eddie Glen slips into a Trump delivery, and the audience roars with laughter. What I found so fascinating is that even the children laughed at Glen’s impersonation. What does that say about Trump’s place in the world where even children laugh at him?

Murray has also included the very funny video commercials featuring the cast members paying homage to the show’s sponsors, and of course, there are the de rigueur three little kids who are brought up from the audience to help the heroes solve a problem, and who are always so funny. I usually can count on Sugarbum to spout the hilarious sexual double entendres, but if I do have one complaint, it is that there are not enough of them this time around. I wanted more, Mr. Murray! There is one other idea that writer Murray has introduced, and that is support for teachers. That concept is absolutely in your face and is repeated throughout, with a real slam at the Ford government’s education cuts.

Lil’ Red Robin Hood
Genny Sermonia, Tyler Pearse, Gray Monczka, Lawrence Libor, Daniel Williston, Julia Juhas, Conor Scully, Evan Taylor Benyacar. Lil’ Red Robin Hood. (Photo: Racheal McCaig)

The found songs, arranged and orchestrated by Bob Foster, are mostly right off the charts, so we get rap, rock and R&B performed in the current belter style of singing, which makes Lil’ Red Robin Hood a really loud show. Music director Joseph Tritt and his musicians are situated in boxes and not in an orchestra pit, but then, maybe the Winter Garden doesn’t have a pit, or Petty wanted to maximize seats, given that the theatre is much smaller than the Elgin, which is the Petty musical’s customary home.

Director/choreographer Tracey Flye has come up with her usual very muscular and very physical movement style that incorporates all the current dance moves, and the high-energy show flies through its two acts at a relentless pace. The legendary Michael Gianfrancesco has created the colourful array of costumes, while Cory Sincennes is responsible for the realistic high school/forest sets, which give Lil’ Red Robin Hood a real polished look. Cameron Davis has crafted projections on steroids, so colourful and plentiful as they are, and Kimberly Purtell has provided the juicy lighting.

In truth, these Ross Petty family entertainments have become a show that is as much for adults as they are for children. And a good time was had by all.

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Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
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Follow me

Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
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