Oz: Not so wonderful or wizardly

publicity photo for Oz, Carousel Theatre

Megan Zong and Stephen Thakkar (Photo by Sarah Race)

“Is it going to be over soon?” is not what you want to hear when you take a kid to the theatre, but that’s what my partner was getting from his eight-year-old grandson during this production of Oz. I don’t blame the boy. I was wondering the same thing.

Patrick Shanahan’s script is basically an excuse to do a three-person version of the best-known Wizard of Oz story. L. Frank Baum, who wrote the series, is struggling with his manuscript for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when a sooty urchin named Dot breaks into his study. Soon, Dot, Baum, and Baum’s housekeeper Bridgey are acting out the incomplete novel, filling in its holes and inventing an ending.

But why? In the press release for this production, director Jennica Grienke says, Oz transports us to a new place – not just a magical land with witches and wizards and talking scarecrows, but to a place of endless possibility – our own imaginations.” 

Well … sometimes it does. To tell their story, the narrators must use found objects in Baum’s study, so a mop (predictably) becomes the Cowardly Lion’s mane, and, more engagingly, flapping umbrellas turn into flying monkeys and the gramophone’s horn supplies the Wicked Witch of the West with a fantastical hat.

But the talkiness of Shanahan’s script defeats it. The framing story about Dot is laboured and its resolution unsatisfying. And there’s way too much description. I was interested in the Tin Man’s backstory from the vantage point of literary study, for instance, but theatrically it slowed things right down.

[Read more…]

Stiles & Drewe’s The 3 Little Pigs: disappointing

publicity photo for The 3 Little Pigs

Tanner Zerr, Angela Chu, and Frankie Cottrell
(Photo by Tina Krueger Kulic)

Absolutely the best thing about going to a kids’ show is that you get to take a kid. My friend Mathias, who’s six, accompanied my partner and me to Carousel Theatre’s production of Stiles & Drewe’s The 3 Little Pigs. Mati had never been to the theatre before and, on the ride over, he was overflowing with questions and speculation, especially about how the theatre company might show the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the little pigs’ houses. And I’ve never seen anybody have such a good time walking — well, skipping and running — through a parking garage on the way to a performance. He was pumped.

And so was I: I love introducing kids to the theatre and I was confident we were heading into a strong show. But 3 Little Pigs massively underdelivered — at least for me. [Read more…]

Rishi and d Douen: hang in (if you can)

company image for Rishi and d DouenI’m glad I stuck around for the last two episodes of the three-part audio series Rishi & d Douen; they’re so much better than Episode 1.

The story is about a nine-year-old named Rishi, who uses they/them pronouns according to Carousel’s press material. Like their Uncle Papaboisee Mamou, who’s a little crazy, Rishi can have conversations with plants and animals — in English. [Read more…]

Nom Nom Gnomes: Nope

Carousel Theatre recommends this 30-minute audio play for kids who are three years old and up, but I can’t imagine any kid I know sitting still for it. I could barely manage. [Read more…]

The House at Pooh Corner: a cosy address in the Hundred Acre Wood

Carousel Theatre is presenting House at Pooh Corner at the Waterfront Theatre.

Piglet (Victor Mariano), Pooh (Tom Pickett), Roo (Advah Soudack), and Tigger confer. (Photo by Tim Matheson)

My date for The House at Pooh Corner was a four-year-old whose primary language is Turkish. Just before I picked Eren up, along with his dad, he’d had a meltdown. And, despite these challenges he liked the show, which makes my review more or less irrelevant, but I enjoyed it too. [Read more…]

BEEP: Incoming

Carousel Theatre is presenting Windmill Theatre's production of BEEP at the Waterfront Theatre.

Kailea-Nadine Williams and Ezra Juanta in BEEP. There are some changes in the touring cast. (Photo by Sia Duff)

There’s nothing wrong with Beep. [Read more…]

Bad Hats Theatre’s Peter Pan: a creaky story well told

Carousel Theatre is presenting Bad Had Theatre's Peter Pan

Check out the cool horns that costumer Kiara Lawson has given Slightly (Victor Dolhai)
(Photo by Tim Matheson)

Peter Pan is not the most progressive story in the world. Even in this adaptation, which has excised Tiger Lily along with all of the other Indians, reactionary gender norms haunt the tale like the ghosts of every frickin’ Christmas past. Through Wendy, girls are taught that their highest calling — their only calling — is to become dutiful little mothers: to take care of absolutely everybody else’s emotional needs and to stitch Peter’s shadow back onto his feet. The boys? When Captain Hook is forcing some of the Lost Boys to walk the plank, Wendy pulls herself up to her full Victorian glory and declares, “I think I speak for all mothers when I say we hope our sons will die like proper gentlemen.”

At the end of the show, the actors introduce themselves and state their preferred pronouns but, given the script, that gesture feels empty.

Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let me offer another perspective. I attended this performance with my three-year-old neighbour Nola. It was Nola’s first time at the theatre. When I asked her what her favourite part was, she replied, “All of it.” [Read more…]

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: children’s theatre can do better

Carousel Theatre for Young People is presenting The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at the Waterfront Theatre.

Sereana Malani as the White Witch. If only evil were always this stylin’.

During the holiday season, adults are eager to take the kids in their lives to the theatre. That lovely human impulse should be rewarded with first-rate art. Unfortunately, Carousel Theatre for Young People’s production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is only okay. [Read more…]

Going to the theatre with kids: I highly recommend it

Carousel Theatre, Shizuoka Kai, Go, Dog. Go!

Shizuka Kai’s design creates a stylish, magical world for Carousel Theatre’s Go, Dog. Go!

Yesterday, I took my six-year-old neighbour, Abraham, to see Carousel Theatre’s Go, Dog. Go! It was the first time that Abraham had ever seen a play.

The script is very simple. Based on P.D. Eastman’s book, it’s a lot like the old Dick and Jane readers, or the more basic material on Sesame Street: the author uses repetitive text and simple interactions among a group of dogs to introduce vocabulary and simple concepts that are often related to colour and space: “The red dog is in. The blue dog is out.”

But that description doesn’t begin to capture the fun. Designed by Shizuka Kai, Carousel’s production has a bright, picture-book look, complete with two-dimensional props, including outsized, flat ice-cream cones that the actors goofily pretend to lick. And those actors, especially the playful Allan Zynik—chief ice-cream licker—are having a very good time.

But the kids are the thing, really. A couple of little guys behind me were loudly perplexed by theatrical conventions at first: “That’s not like my book at home!” But they were soon so amused by the dogs’ antics, including their refusal to go to sleep when told, that they were chortling uncontrollably. (In case you haven’t heard it lately, kids’ chortling is the most intoxicating sound in the world.)

And the best thing of all was spending time with Abraham. When we were crossing the street to get to the theatre, I said, “Careful. There are lots of cars”, and he reached up and took my hand. Melt me and make me into a chocolate bar. And, when we were driving home, I said he seems to have a lot of fun playing hockey with his friends in the courtyard of the co-op where we both live. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I like being goalie the best. Yesterday, I probably made 20 unforgettable saves.”

We’ll be going to the theatre again—to enjoy shows, and for the pleasure of one another’s company.

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