HOOD: The Robin Hood Musical AdventureWritten by Douglas Carter Beane
Music and Lyrics by Lewis Flinn
Dallas Theater Center
Directed by Douglas Carter Beane
Choreographed by Joseph Pizzi and Robert Bianca
Music direction and Supervision by Brad Simmons
Set Design by John Lee Beatty
Sound Design by John Shivers
Lighting Design by Philip Rosenberg
Costume Design by Gregory Gale
Wig Design by Tom Watson
Puppet Design by James Ortiz
Puppet Direction by James Ortiz and Stefano Brancato
Fight Coordination by Jeff Colangelo
Dialect Coaching by Anne Schilling
CAST (In alphabetical order)
Much – Billie Aken-Tyers
Robin /Robert --- Nick Bailey
Will Scarlett --- Jacob ben Widmar
Gamble Gold ---Ricco Fajardo
Alan A’dale --- Ian Ferguson
Lady Jane --- Tiana Kaye Johnson
Lady Anne --- Beth Lipton
Little John / Prince John --- Luke Longacre
Marian --- Ashley Park
Friar Tuck --- Chris Ramirez
Sheriff of Nottingham --- Austin Scott
Meg --- Alysha Umphress
Piano / Conductor --- Kwinton Gray
Bass --- Pete Miller
Drums --- Jackie Whitmill
Cello ---Kelsey Smith
Guitar --- Felix Tellez
Reviewed Performance: 7/7/2017
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Well, the Dallas Theatre Center has put together a hell of a show in a barn designed by Tony winner John Lee Beatty, with costumes incorporating found objects by genius Tony nominee Gregory Gale and puppet design, also incorporating found objects, by Obie winner James Ortiz. All of this play-within-a-play wizardry is magically pulled together by Tony nominee, book writer and director Douglas Carter Beane with rousing music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn, ravishing lighting by Philip Rosenberg and a cast of tireless, charismatic, actor/singer/dancers eager to please and appearing to have the time of their lives executing Robert Bianca and Joey Pizzi’s witty choreography. The enthusiasm is infectious and never lags, inviting the audience to join in and be a part of this merry adventure.
This world premiere, put together by the 2017 Regional Theatre Tony Award recipient, the Dallas Theater Center, begins when the audience enters the performance space, and is greeted by a series of banners hanging across the proscenium. These banners detail the history of the Robin Hood story from earliest times to the current production. As the show actually begins, actors enter from behind the banners and begin telling the story, soon speaking over each other and creating a cacophony of sound soon joined by the orchestra and thus begins the opening number. We learn that we have a group of contemporary actors eager to share the Robin Hood story with us as they soon begin to put on various costume pieces, and then we are off and running with the origin story that has been told so many times in so many ways. Thankfully, this particular group of presenters has come up with a fresh and engaging re-telling that soon pulls us in and carries us along. What makes a hero? We’re about to find out.
In the lead role – although this truly is an ensemble show – of Robert / Robin Hood, we have Broadway veteran Nick Bailey who brings his world of experience to the role in a confident and engaging performance with a voice and movement skills to match. “Your Heart Will Be My Home” in the second act gives Mr. Bailey a chance to not only show off his fine vocal ability but also gives him a chance to share some heartfelt emotion that transcends the tin can footlights.
Joining Mr. Bailey, also from Broadway, are Ashley Park as Marian and Alysha Umphress as Meg. Both of these singing actresses take every opportunity to create a unique and compelling characterization, impressing with their powerful voices and commanding stage presence. Ms. Park lets us have it in her first number, “Take Me Home,’ rocking Mr. Beatty’s rafters with her belting. Ms. Umphress gets to sing the rousing “Merry, Merry Be” that sets the entire audience to cheering.
As stated, this is truly an ensemble show, and this cast doesn’t disappoint, with every one of the actors turning in fully committed performances, often in more than one role. Especially notable are Billie Aken-Tyers as Much, funny, sympathetic and spunky, getting laughs and garnering audience identification and Jacob ben Widmar as Will Scarlett stealing the show in more than one instance, first as two characters, male and female, riding in a carriage, and then as Will Scarlett, camping it up mercilessly and hysterically without ever losing a true character lurking behind all the red dye and swinging sleeves.
Ian Ferguson is Alan A’dale, a balladeer creating the legend of Robin Hood, playing his guitar and singing throughout, charming the other characters and the audience with his deft playing and sweet singing. Austin Scott gets to be the villain, often the most fun role, as the Sheriff of Nottingham and doesn’t miss an opportunity to be underhanded and slick, working his schemes without losing the character’s humor and true motives.
Luke Longacre pulls double duty as Little John and the voice of the Prince John puppet. Each is a jewel of a character. Ricco Fajardo as Gamble Gold, Tiana Kaye Johnson as Lady Jane and Beth Lipton as Lady Anne each get their chance to shine and Chris Ramirez plays Friar Tuck among others. Fajardo brings his considerable talent as a voice actor and innate sense of humor into play while Lipton also often plays the violin in addition to her singing and dancing, and Johnson delights with her strong vocals while Ramirez impresses in each of his roles.
Gregory Gale is responsible for the amazing costumes. Dyed, painted, embellished with found objects and just generally dazzling, as an old costumer myself, I was drooling and oohing and ahhing over each piece. As someone said, “The show should go to Broadway just so Gayle can win a Tony.” They also are designed and constructed to be easily put on and taken off during the many rapid costume changes each performer must make. Kudos to the backstage team helping out! Wig designs by Tom Watson perfectly compliment the many characters and look completely natural and right.
The puppets, wow, the puppets, are designed by James Ortiz who impressed New York audiences and critics alike with his Off-Broadway show, The Woodsman. These creations are constructed of KFC buckets, ketchup dispensers, pop-top rings and a thousand other things resulting in fascinating and whimsical creatures who fit right in with the other design elements. The puppets range in size from a foot tall to – well I won’t give everything away. You’ll just have to see for yourself!
Lewis Flinn, composer, lyricist and orchestrator, has created some wonderfully evocative music for this take on the Robin Hood legend, giving it the sounds it needs for each moment of the story. Upbeat, catchy, infectious to ballads that will tug at your heart, these musical numbers are given full-out renditions by the cast and are enthusiastically greeted by the audience. The orchestra under the direction of Kwinton Gray instills each of Flinn’s compositions with a lively attack that contributes to the overall good natured feeling of the production. Music Director Brad Simmons has worked with the cast and musicians to put together an impressive group of vocal and instrumental sounds.
Award winning scenic designer John Lee Beatty doesn’t disappoint with his enormous barn construction made of wood slats that allows the lighting design by Philip Rosenberg to shine through and shape the space to enhance the nuances of the story. Using that space and light to great advantage is the choreography by Robert Bianca and Joey Pizzi. While this is not a huge dance show, when the dance numbers come, they seem to flow seamlessly out of the action, advance it and comment on it all at once. Sound design by John Shivers keeps the balance mostly rocking along, creating his own layer of effects for the merry tale.
As directed by Douglas Carter Beane, the show has a wonderfully consistent tone with not only the actors, but all the production elements falling together to create a smooth, tight, quickly moving evening that never jars or feels disjointed. Stage pictures are a pleasure to look at and emotional arcs and beats clearly defined. This is the confident and professional control that never looks forced, pulling the best from all the creative talent involved.
The opening night audience jumped to its feet at the end of the show giving the actors and production staff well-deserved accolades for the performance. There are certainly things that might be improved as with any show at this stage, but over-all the production seemed remarkably ready for its next incarnation. Female characters, fully empowered, made a welcome nod to the present while the second act, as with many musicals, seemed a little slow with several ballads forwarding the story line and fewer up-beat numbers taking place. Although each of these ballads seemed right and was beautifully performed (especially Mr. Bailey’s song with Kelsey Smith on the cello) in the moment, the overall second act effect was not quite as tight as the first act. The ending managed to pull everything together, bringing us back to the present and making a statement about being a hero in today’s world, roundly cheered by the attending crowd.
The Theater Center clearly has a crowd favorite on its hands with Hood, and audiences will in no way be disappointed. The overall visual presentation including the scenery, costumes and puppets is delightful and fresh, adding sparkle and well-received distraction for this hot summer. Don’t miss a chance to join Robin and his merry men – and women – in their latest round of adventures.
Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre
2400 Flora St.
Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through August 6, 2017
Admission: $20 - $104, subject to change.
Tickets and Information at www.dallastheatercenter.org and by phone at (214) 880-0202