After centuries of ballads, poems and other folklore culminating in dozens of movie treatments does the world need another recounting of the Robin Hood legend? The answer is a resounding “yes,” when it’s the imaginative and rollicking “Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood!” receiving its world premiere at The Old Globe.
Robin Hood (Daniel Reece, who could make you forget all about Errol Flynn) is presented in a fresh light courtesy of a compelling back story about how this once irresponsible youth became the champion of the downtrodden. There’s also new-found appreciation for Maid Marian (Meredith Garretson) whose derring-do and fighting skills are a match for any man, including Robin. Narrating the saga is the ample and appealing Friar Tuck (Andy Grotelueschen). Little John (Paul Whitty) is imposing as a fighter and endearing when he tenderly plays a mandolin that, given his statute, looks to be the size of an avocado in his hands. Doerwynn (Suzelle Palacios) is an orphaned peasant girl and the lynchpin setting in motion Robin’s sense of duty as well as setting Little John’s heart aflutter.
Villains remain appealing villainous: The ambitious and calculating Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Manoel Felciano); evil incarnate Prince John (Michael Boatman) and, for comic relief, the Sheriff of Nottingham (played by rubber-faced Kevin Cahoon) manages to steal every scene in which he appears.
Scenic designer Tim Mackabee renders Sherwood Forest through the arrangement of thick ropes dangling from a heavy canopy of leaf cover. The ropes also serve as swinging vines and are transformed when drawn together and secured center stage into a mighty oak tree around which the Merry Men gather. Facile arrangement of wooden packing crates on the otherwise bare stage conjures up castle banquet hall, fortress parapet, prison tower, outdoor tournament reviewing stand and the scaffold of a gallows. Lighting designer Jason Lyons adds the finishing touches.
Nary a scene unfolds without some form of swordplay, quarterstaff altercation or archery. In the intimate confines of the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre of The Old Globe, audience members will find themselves involuntarily ducking and bobbing every convincing blade thrust and parry. Excellent work courtesy of fight director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum.
Voice and dialect coach David Huber ensured the cast’s mastery of British accents (with Rolling Rs that could topple bowling pins) as well as extended French and Spanish dialog. Original music by Fitz Patton features era-worthy trumpet announcements that give way to toe-tapping Appalachian-like melodies and a smattering of lively pop music thrown into the mix. Patton’s impressive sound design adds credibility when bow strings are pulled back and arrows forcefully find their mark. Director Jessica Stone masterfully brings it all together and to life.
Playwright Ken Ludwig is no stranger to The Old Globe. Two years ago his “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” was a hit. “Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood!,” which comes to the stage as a commissioned work by The Globe, has an equally bright future.
By Lynne Friedmann