BWW Review: Hale Centre Theatre's Brilliant THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD is Mesmerizing
THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD at Hale Centre Theatre is a show that is difficult to describe but is so delightful and thrilling that you deserve to discover it for yourself. It is the pinnacle of what local theatre can be--a brilliant vision and a world-class production filled to the brim with creativity as it adheres to that vision. Truly enough cannot be said about how every detail combines to create an experience that is mesmerizing.
THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD is a play by David Farr that first premiered at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 and had a successful tryout in Toronto in 2015 prior to an announced but delayed Broadway run. It tells the origin story of a Robin Hood who is not yet quite the one you know and love. A man who steals from the rich but does not give to the poor, he crosses paths with an idealistic Marion who helps him become who he is destined to be. To do so, she passes herself off as Martin of Sherwood--a male rival to Robin, but it is not long before they must join forces against the malevolent Prince John.
A perfectly calibrated mix of genres, the script is at times darkly dramatic and at others light and witty. It at times feels elegantly Shakespearean and at others sleek and contemporary. It is heartbreaking, hilarious, romantic, and not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. And it is likely probable that director Dave Tinney's vision and his team's impeccable execution have magnified and elevated the strengths of the script.
Part of this certainly comes from the original music by Tinney and music director Rob Moffat, with superb orchestrations by J. Bateman. Setting medieval melodies to rock and roll rhythms, they sprinkled impressive musical numbers throughout the action, turning a play with music into nearly a bonafide musical. The lyrics are sometimes a bit too on-the-nose, but every song is memorable and enjoyable. Soaring modern rock, infectious 1960s vibes, and contemporary Broadway storytelling infuse the show with comedic and dramatic numbers that hit the mark every time. If only a cast album could be released to allow audience members the opportunity to relive the score. This is the first time in recent memory that Hale Centre Theatre has dabbled in original music, and it has done so to such success that it would be well-advised to give Tinney, Moffat, and Bateman a platform to create a world premiere full musical sometime in the future.
The fresh, hip costume design by Peggy Willis is simply incredible in every way. The attractive costume pieces are what you would expect from a period Robin Hood tale but with flattering contemporary cuts, details, and styling. Current fashions have been reimagined in a medieval context to form a hybrid world that feels absolutely real.
Lighting designer Michael Gray pulls a plethora of tricks from his quiver and hits the bullseye every time. He serves the story by being reserved when called for, but he also brings on the spectacle when it's time. From moody, dismal fire effects to the magical illusion of a dream to a vibrant, pulsating rock concert, he deserves high praise for his accomplished, fluid versatility.
Kacey Udy's set design is perfect for the theatricality and visual palette of the production. Brad Schroeder's fight choreography is realistic, exciting, and well integrated. In addition, the assembled actors are exceptional, whether leading or supporting.
Hale Centre Theatre regular Derek Smith showcases his substantial talent by transforming himself in every way to become a rough Robin Hood who slowly discovers his vulnerability. Physically and vocally he becomes the character in an impressive star turn.
Riley Branning as Marion/Martin is the beating heart at the center of the story, and she carries the production with substantial charisma and talent, along with a powerful and unique singing voice that is exactly what the score requires.
Benjamin Henderson commands the stage as Prince John. He is flamboyant and ruthlessly cruel in a perfect marriage of light and shade.
The entire cast is filled with affable, athletic performers who take on the required swashbuckling with panache while also easily hitting the required comedic and dramatic notes (both literally and figuratively).
Tickets are selling quickly, so you would be well advised to purchase soon. Surprises abound at every turn in this production, and you will not want to miss a single one.
THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD plays through October 14, 2017. For tickets, call the box office at 801-984-9000 or visit www.halecentretheatre.org.
Photo Credit: Derek Smith (Robin Hood)