The legend of Robin Hood has been around since the 12th century, inspiring countless books, radio dramas, films and TV shows about the adventures of the exiled nobleman who tried to shift the balance of power by stealing from the wealthy and giving to the poor with his merry band of friends.
The new musical ‘Hood’, which opened Saturday at the Asolo Repertory Theater after a two-year delay due to the pandemic, brings these stories into the 21st century in smart, spirited style with the Oscar nominee’s book. Tony Awards Douglas Carter Beane and the music and lyrics of her husband, Lewis Flinn.
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Inventively staged by Mark Brokaw and choreographer Ellenore Scott, it’s also a playful, exuberant production that should help lift spirits worn down by news of inflation, war, racial strife and threats to democracy.
In fact, some of these contemporary issues carry over into the story, but somehow they seem less problematic when presented in Adam Rigg’s modern twist on medieval costumes and a score music that ranges from period melodies to rising ballads and a rhythm and blues number. designed to recall both “Dreamgirls” and the Schuyler sisters of “Hamilton”.
Rigg also designed the tiered scaffolding-like set that becomes a playground of surprises for the cast and orchestra with the help of lighting designer Japhy Weideman. The musicians, led by musical director Brad Simmons, are scattered above the stage.
The 12-member cast are joined by giant papier-mâché puppets designed by Nick Lehane (and manipulated by cast members), depicting some of the evil royals and religious leaders trying to take advantage of their subjects. .
The human cast is led by the charismatic Anthony Chatmon II as Robert of Loxley, who is banished from the kingdom after Prince John temporarily takes over Nottingham and the sheriff kills Robert’s father. He finds refuge and inner strength in Sherwood Forest, where he becomes the reluctant hero Robin Hood, ever ready to help the needy.
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Chatmon’s energetic teams with various friends and relatives who encourage his efforts. They include towering little Jean (Zachary Francis Stewart); the likeable Meg (Aury Krebs), the orphan Much (Billie Aken-Tyhers), Gamble (Imani Youngblood), Friar Tuck (Jamen Nanthakumar) and the campy Will Scarlet (the often hilarious Luke Antony Neville). We don’t really know a whole lot about some of them, but they make a terrific fighting and singing ensemble.
Beane’s story focuses on Robin’s efforts to get revenge on the Sheriff (Nick Rehberger), who captured his beloved Maid Marian with marriage intentions. Robin has always loved Marian and hopes she feels the same.
The Marian portrayed by Savy Jackson is not a sweet young girl. She’s a sharpshooter with her bow and arrow and a cunning saboteur, who finds ways to outsmart the sheriff. She also has a slender and powerful voice.
Word of Robin’s endeavors spread across the kingdom by Daniel Lopez as comedic minstrel Alan A’Dale, whose songs exaggerate Robin’s antics and make him a folk hero. His songs can get boring, but they serve to spark a joke or two.
As fun as the show is now (and there were apparently plenty of changes made over a 10-day preview period), the show still needs to be punchier and more enveloping. I wanted to love him more than I really loved him. Some potential subplots don’t really develop, like a relationship between the troubadour and Lady Anne, and just as you expect a build-up to a roaring finale, it gently drops you before moving on to a different approach. and more lively that doesn’t quite have the impact it needs.
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That’s what this Asolo Rep production of this still-in-development musical is for. It follows a 2017 staging of an earlier version of the musical in Dallas, and it’s featured with enhancement money from two Broadway producers, Hunter Arnold and Tom Kirdahy, who work with the creative team to help it flourish and grow after Sarasota.
They’re largely right, and you can’t help but feel a little inspired by the message that we each have a hero within us who must be unleashed to help right the wrongs in the world around us.
Book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn. Directed by Mark Brokaw. Revised June 11, Asolo Repertory Theater, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Until June 26. 941-351-8000; asolorep.org