Michael Dufays pushes his Horne – with great results.
THE FORBIDDEN PHOENIX by Marty Chan and Robert Walsh (Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People/Citadel at Lorraine Kimsa, 165 Front East). To March 11. $15-$20. 416-862-2222, lktyp.ca. See listings. Rating: NNNN
The Forbidden Phoenix lives up to its mythical name and brings back to life an unhappy episode in Canadian history, that of Chinese labourers brought here to build the railroad.
Marty Chan and Robert Walsh's striking retelling of the story incorporates Chinese folk tales, martial arts and Peking opera in a thrilling, eye-popping family show.
When Sun Wukong, the tricky Monkey King, angers the tyrannical Empress Dowager, he's forced to leave his son, Laosan, behind and head for the West. There, he's hired by unscrupulous railway builder Horne, but soon transfers his loyalty to the Phoenix, whose daughter Horne keeps captive.
This summary can't do justice to director Ron Jenkins's exuberantly physical production, filled with song, dance and some mighty athletic performances. John Ullyatt's Sun Wukong (Richard Lee now plays the role) captures the role's clownish aspect, but he gives the character heart, too, and Shannon Kook-Chun's Laosan radiates compassionate tenderness.
Lori Nancy Kalamanski's fluid-moving Phoenix brings nobility to the magical title bird. Michael Dufays's Horne and Nadine Villasin's Empress Dowager offer different aspects of villainy: he's frenetically devious and eminently hissable, while she, a towering, pearl-laden figure, handles her subjects with condescending manipulation.
The visually rich production highlights Leslie Frankish's gorgeous costumes, a red-lacquer set and high-colour makeup drawn from Chinese theatre. There's even an iron dragon, suggestive of a Chinese New Year's celebration gone robotic.
The show's only misstep is Walsh's score, an intentional blend of Eastern and Western styles. In musician Peter Moller's live performance, the Eastern sounds accentuate the story, but the pop-style Western melodies are gratingly unsuccessful.