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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Jun. 17, 2022 1 week ago

Robin Hood Redux

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“Hood” reimagines the legend of Robin Hood in Asolo Repertory Theatre’s inventive, high-energy musical adaptation.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

“Hood” is the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s final summer production.

This musical is the brainchild of Douglas Carter Beane (playwright) and Lewis Flinn (composer and lyricist).

It’s a very old story — 700 years old, at least. I didn’t expect to see anything new. I was off the mark.

Here’s Beane and Flinn’s spin on the legend.

Robert of Loxley (Anthony Chatmon II) is the musical’s hero. But he starts out as a zero — the coddled son of a nobleman who’s never had to fight for anything. After the Sheriff of Nottingham slaughters his father, he flees to the forest — and gets an arrow in the back. He’s left for dead.

But Meg (Aury Krebs) nurses him back to health. He then slowly rallies the forest fugitives around him. Originally, he’s just helping them survive; becoming a folk hero isn’t Robert's plan.

Billie Aken-Tyers, Luke Antony Neville and Anthony Chatmon II star in "Hood." (Photo: Frank Atura)

That changes when a panicky aristocrat riding through the woods assumes Robert’s a bandit — and mishears his name as “Robin Hood” before tossing him his purse. A strolling minstrel witnesses this scene — and makes up the legend of “Robin Hood” on the spot.

The folk hero’s legend spreads, his followers grow, and Robert/Robin goes along with it. His merry band gets increasingly skilled at stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

The sheriff, meanwhile, finds out that the man under the hood is Robert of Loxley — who’s very much alive. To change that, the sheriff decides to lure Robin out of hiding.

First with the threat of his forced wedding to Maid Marian, the love of his life. Then with an archery contest to win a golden arrow. In this retelling, the woman (Savy Jackson) is the ace archer who wins the contest.

Aside from Maid Marian’s archery aptitude, the legend is mostly the same. The key difference is the order of cause and effect. Here, the legend of Robin Hood comes first. The man becomes the legend as a result.

Under Mark Brokaw’s direction, this post-modern pastiche unfolds with verve, gusto, brio and panache. He keeps the show moving and keeps taking you to surprising places. The actors do, too.

As this is a large-cast production, here are just a few highlights.

Chatmon’s Robert/Robin grows into the legend. Truth be told, he’s a second-rate archer. But he’s an excellent leader and strategist. The people need him. He becomes the hero they need.

Jackson’s Maid Marian is no damsel in distress. As noted, she’s a first-rate archer in this retelling. When the bad guys threaten the people she loves, Marian’s aim is always true.

Luke Antony Neville’s Will Scarlett is a badass who’s good with his fists. (Imagine Paul Lynde after extensive training with Rocky’s fight coach.) Nick Rehberger’s naughty Sheriff of Nottingham chews up human lives but doesn’t chew up the scenery. (Like most bad guys in real life, he thinks he’s the good guy.)

“Hood” is a moving musical, in more ways than one.

Ellenore Scott’s choreography is artful and sophisticated but looks natural and spontaneous. Although the troupe is seriously trained, their dance moves evoke what simple country folk could do. Scott’s approach helps you relate to the musical’s characters. They’re human, just like you.

Caitlin Humphreys, Savy Jackson and Erin Krei emote in Asolo Rep's production of "Hood." (Photo: Frank Atura)

Speaking of dance, Flinn’s merry tunes give Robin’s merry band a reason to move their feet. In a weak musical, songs are a lazy gimmick to telegraph plot points. You quickly forget them after the curtain closes. In a strong musical like “Hood,” you’ll be whistling them on the ride home. Tunes like “There’s a Hero” and “I Say Yes” could stand on their own as pop hits (and probably will). Music Director Brad Simmons does them justice.

Adam Rigg’s inventive set design makes the magic work. His set is a tangle of scaffolding. Dimly lit, it’s Robin Hood’s tree-fort community in Sherwood Forest. A push of a button brings LED lights to life and transforms it into the cold geometry of castles and dungeons. Rigg’s clever costumes also undergo metamorphosis.

Before the show starts, you see the cast in 21st-century gym clothes, doing stretching exercises on stage. As the story unfolds, they gradually put on doublets and breeches. The musical’s alternate history takes shape before your eyes. Pretty cool! And only one of many cool, creative touches.

Nick Lehane’s puppetry and shadow play are two of my favorites. Lehane’s oversized puppets aptly portray corrupt members of the ignoble mobility. They’re hilarious. And convenient, if you want to turn a corrupt bishop upside-down.

But some puppets are no laughing matter. Towards the musical’s end, a giant effigy of Prince John looms over the stage. It’s monstrous and terrifying — the perfect image of corrupt, absolute power.

But don’t get the wrong idea, folks. Merriment, not horror, is this musical’s default setting.

Expect plenty of laughs, and just a few gasps.

This is a smart, fun show — and a fresh take on an ancient tale. I’d assumed the legend of Robin Hood had been done to death. “Hood” proves there’s life in the legend yet, and I was happy to be proven wrong.

 

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