ROBIN HOOD: THE LEGENDARY MUSICAL COMEDY by Kieren MacMillan, Jeremy Hutton, William Foley, Jesse MacLean, Kevin MacPherson and Kate Smith (Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle). To January 26. $25, stu/srs $15. 416-978-8849. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The year is still young, of course, but of the couple of dozen shows I've seen so far, the biggest theatrical surprise of 2013 has been this pee-your-pants-funny musical version of the Robin Hood story.
Featuring the same irreverence as Monty Python and the South Park team, this silly story about the tights-loving hero (Daniel James), his Merry Men (not all of them men, but most of them merry) and that dastardly duo of Prince John (Kevin MacPherson) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (William Foley) leaps from the stage with a clever book, catchy songs and more inspired choreography (by Ashleigh Powell) than shows with much bigger budgets. (We're looking at you, Wizard Of Oz.)
Originally produced by Halifax's Shakespeare by the Sea in 2005 and then tweaked and sharpened in 2007-8, the show takes aim not just at the timely story of a bandit stealing from the 1 per cent to redistribute among the overtaxed masses, but at the musical comedy genre itself. That explains the Les Mis-style act-one closer - complete with flag-waving - and one song that seems an homage to Team America: World Police's I'm So Ronery.
Most of the gags in the book hit their marks, and the lyrics are frequently inspired. I particularly liked the play on "ingénue" and "ingenuity" in a duet between Maid Marian (Jennifer Morris) and Will Scarlet (Kelly McCormack). The varied score is harmonically rich, especially the title number, which, like the rest of the show, is performed by the band with verve.
Jesse MacLean's direction is sharp and precise, and he gets solid work not just from his principals - MacPherson and Foley make an ace comedy team as the bumbling baddies, while James is suitably self-involved as the title character - but from the chorus, too, many of whom quickly morph from generic "poor people" to "goons" to bandits whose names include Len, Glen, Glen (yup, there are two) and Sven (scene stealer Simon Rainville).
With any luck, some savvy producer will pick up this Hart House Theatre production for a remount. With a few nips and tucks, it could enjoy a long life.