Reviews: Lil’ Red Robin Hood, Anastasia, and Mary Poppins (at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.)

by Lynn on December 20, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Various musicals: Lil’ Red Robin Hood at the Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto, Ont., Anastasia, at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont., Mary Poppins at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.,

Lil’ Red Robin Hood, at the Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Matt Murray

Directed and choreographed by Tracey Flye

Set by Cory Sincennes

Costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco

Projections by Cameron Davis

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Musical director, Joseph Tritt

Cast: Evan Taylor Benyacar

AJ Bridel

Mariah Campos

Michael De Rose

Eddie Glen

Sara-Jeanne Hosie

Julia Juhas

Lawrence Libor

Robert Markus

Gray Monczka

Tyler Pearse

Conor Scully

Genny Sermonia

Daniel Williston


This is the annual Panto of fractured fairy tales produced by Ross Petty. Lil’ Red Robin Hood is written with smart flair by Matt Murray with lots of goofy jokes for kids and lots of sophisticated jokes for the adults in the room. The slashing of the education system by the government comes in for a lot of attention.


In this production a modern teenager nick-named Lil’ Red (Robert Marcus) is studying for a history test. Somehow he’s sucked into his locker and back to medieval times to the time of Robin Hood, in Sherwood Forest to be exact. There he meets Maid Marion (AJ Bridel).  Maid Marion is a devoted teacher married to Robin Hood (Lawrence Libor) but they are estranged. Their enemy is the Sheriffe of Naughtyham (Sara-Jeanne Hosie—an evil woman—who wants to confiscate all the books so that she will be the smartest person in the shire. Naturally as a committed teacher Marion wants to thwart the Sheriffe.


The Sheriffe sees that Lil’ Red has a book of the history of the world and realizes she can learn of history before it happens, become the smartest person in the world, and get control of the people. Times are fraught and the Sheriffe elicits many boos from the audience. We are expected to boo her every entrance. She is expected to fling invective our way. There is the force of good vs. evil.


These pantos play to a formula: humour is silly and yet topical; a youthful cast bops to modern pop songs of the day; there is an evil character the audience loves to boo; a love interest and a really impish, smarmy funny character here called Sugarbum (Michael De Rose); and there is a funny foil to the evil character, in this case he’s named Marvin (Eddie Glen), and in the end, good prevails. A fairy tale indeed.


I thought this year’s version of the panto did very well.   They really slammed the government’s cutting of education programs.  I did get a sense that the humour was mainly geared towards the adults, but there are those delicious moments when the whole audience of kids and adults boo the villain.


The Sheriffe of Naughtyham is played by Sara-Jeanne Hosie with great flair. She has that easy almost ad-libbing style that whips up the audience to boo more.  It’s a terrific cast of top talent lead by Robert Marcus as Lil’ Red—charm for days. AJ Bridel plays a sassy Maid Marion. Eddie Glen plays Marvin who works for the Sheriffe but is really a sweetie.  Lawrence Libor is a dashing Robin Hood. And Michael De Rose plays an outrageous Sugarbum with lots of double entendre. Friar Tuck (Daniel Williston) also makes an amusing appearance.


Tracey Flye directs and choreographs like the wind. The production moves and dances at a gallop, and it’s wonderful, silly fun.  It plays to a formula but the formula works.


Ross Petty Productions Presents:


Began: Nov. 29, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 4, 2020

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.



 At the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Terrence McNally

Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Picture from the play by Marcelle Maurette as adapted by Guy Bolton.Music by Stephen Flaherty

Music by Stephen Flaherty

Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

Directed by Darko Tresnjak

Choreography by Peggy Hickey

Music director, Lawrence Goldberg

Scenic design by Alexander Dodge

Costumes by Linda Cho

Lighting by Donald Holder

Sound by Peter Hylenski

Projections by Aaron Rhyne

Cast: Joy Franz

Brad Greer

Tara Kelly

Taylor Quick

Edward Staudenmayer

And many others.

It’s 1917 and the beginning of the Russian revolution when the aristocracy of Tzar Nicholas Romanoff II was overthrown and the whole Romanoff family killed, or so they thought. It seems that Princess Anastasia escaped and trying to find her occupied many. Two opportunists—Vlad, a one-time member of court and Dmitry—decided to pass off a young woman as the missing Princess and get the reward for finding her. The person who they tried to dupe was the Dowager Empress, Anastasia’s grandmother. She fled to Paris before the bloodshed began.

The two men meet a young woman named Anya who is a bit hazy on who she is. She can’t remember. She remembers waking up in a hospital. After that Vlad and Dmitry teach Anya about the Romanoff family, the workings of court, how to carry herself like a royal princess etc. It’s not clear if Anya knows she is being passed off as an imposter or she really believes she is Princess Anastasia. In true fantasy style, Anya and Dmitry fall in love. Will Anya convince the Dowager Empress that she is her granddaughter Anastasia? Will Anya find happiness with Dmitry? Questions, questions.

Anastasia also works to a Broadway musical formula in a sense and it’s not a good thing. The text has been sanitized to give the barest facts of the time and the Romanoff family and the history of the revolution and context all but ignored. (The Americanization of Russian history?)  That the unremarkable book of the show was written by Terrence McNally, who has done such good work elsewhere, is startling. The score by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is shockingly forgettable considering these two are Broadway stalwarts. Director Darko Tresnjak has created the big picture of flashing video images to suggest the passage of time and distance (a scene on a train is rather impressive) but it’s at the expense of clarity. This must be the new ‘thing’ for Broadway—to use video and animation for sets (this is ‘so ten years ago’ in London). Next they have to learn how to temper their use so that our senses are not bombarded—or perhaps that’s the point.

Few in the cast suggested any sense they were playing Russians. Tari Kelly as Countess Lily and Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad are the worst in that they so overplay their supposed comic characters. Comic relief? They were not funny and only when they were off stage was it a relief. A refreshing change is Taylor Quick as Anya who has a light voice and a keen sense of the hidden royalty that Anya might be. Quick was the understudy for the lead on the opening night. Brad Greer plays Gleb a man on a dangerous mission. He was also an understudy and he displayed a nice sense of the courtliness of the character. Rounding out this group is Joy Franz as the Dowager Empress. Again she is regal and projected a strong sense of the Russian royalty that her character was. I was grateful for their presence in this flashy, unfortunate production.

David Mirvish Presents:

Opened: Dec. 4, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 12, 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.


Mary Poppins

At the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

Book by Julian Fellowes

Based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film

Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

New songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe

Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh.

Directed by Megan Watson

Music director, Craig Fair

Choreography by Stephen Cota

Set by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Projections designed by Jamie Nesbitt

Sound by Brian Kenny

Cast: Christy Adamson

Hayden Baertsoen

Ben Carlson

Alexis Gordon

Deborah Hay

Phoebe Hu

Jan Alexandra Smith

Giovanni Spina

Mark Uhre

Abi Verhaeghe

Sandy Winsby

Robert Yeretch

Have you ever read any of the Mary Poppins series of books by P.L. Travers? She was one prickly writer. I never read them as a kid. I began reading them as what I laughingly call an ‘adult’ when I saw the show in London. I remember reading the first book in the series and my jaw dropped when Mr. Banks said to Mrs. Banks that she could either have a clean house or children, but she couldn’t have both. Woow. Along came the children: Jane and Michael.

While P.L. Travers sold the rights to Mary Poppins to Walt Disney, she hated the resultant film. It was too sweet; it didn’t have the edge the books had. Cameron Mackintosh convinced her to let him have a try creating a musical that would be true to the books. Apparently the results pleased her.

Mr. Banks is a harried banker. He does not share his worries with his wife because he doesn’t want to worry her. He has no time for his children and more often than not finds them an intrusion while he tries to do work at home. Michael in particular pines for his father’s affection. Affection of any kind seems to have been thrust out of Mr. Banks by cold parents and a horror of a nanny. Jane and Michael in turn see a quick turn-over in nannies who are hired to take care of them. Jane and Michael focus on bedeviling each nanny until they just quit. Until Mary Poppins arrives. Miraculously and mysteriously. She arrives even before the job is posted. Mary Poppins takes over caring for the children with confidence and attitude. She specializes in dysfunctional families, working with them (unbeknownst to them) to dispel the ‘dys’ in ‘dysfunctional’.

Mary Poppins (she’s always referred to by both names) believes in order, good manners, consideration for others, playing and fun. She is never sentimental, for the most part; always looks out for the good of her wards but is not overly cloying about it. And when she is no longer needed, she just disappears into the air.

Lorenzo Savoini has designed a stylish set of the Banks’ home that suggests the size and the homeyness of it. The house is projected (?) onto the curtain with a projection of a wonderful tree with swaying leaves and branches in front of the house. Loved that detail.

Director Megan Watson is such a fine director: economical with inventive images and staging; relationships are beautifully established with her fine cast.

If I have a concern it’s that the sound/amplification is ear-splitting at times and the sound level needs to be brought down a lot. Again both the unseen orchestra is amplified and so is the cast. TOO MUCH!

Deborah Hay is splendid as Mary Poppins. Her back is straight; she is matter-of-fact with the children and has no time for bad manners. She corrects bad behaviour with a quiet but firm voice and never lingers on a reprimand. Everybody she comes in contact with, loves her it seems. But she is stingy with her affection. When Michael (a sweet Hayden Baertsoen) says, “I love you, Mary Poppins” at the end, Hay looks at him with a tight smile and a glimmer of a tremble of emotion at such a comment. She never says she loves him back because it’s not what he really needs. He really needs to fly kites with his father. Mary Poppins’ humanity, thanks to the shimmering work of Hay, is never in doubt.

As Mr. Banks, Ben Carlson is stodgy, on the cusp of being careful with his anger and frustration and harried. As Mrs. Banks, Alexis Gordon has that look of anticipation along with an effort to being unobtrusive. Mark Uhre as Bert is honey-voiced and good-natured. Uhre is so present and joyful in the part. Jan Alexandra Smith is a wonderful horror as Miss Andrew, Mr. Banks’ nanny. Phoebe Hu is an irreverent Mrs. Brill and Giovanni Spina is a well-intentioned klutz as Robertson Ay.

With imagination, talent, wit, compassion, understanding and kindness, this is a terrific production of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins.

The Grand Theatre presents:

Began: Nov. 26, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 29, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.

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