By Mary Boyle
Most people know of Robin Hood, the English outlaw/hero who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Countless ballads, tales, books, plays, and movies tell the story of this nobleman who left his wealthy life to live with the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest; now, First Stage is taking a stab at it, with hilarious results, in their World Premiere of Robin Hood.
Written by Joe Foust and John Maclay, who also act in the production, this new version of a celebrated classic stays very true to its roots, while being entirely engaging to today's audience. Fight scenes, non-stop humor, and a brilliant cast makes for a perfect play that the entire family can enjoy.
In this version, Robin Hood (Dominique Worsley/Domonique Champion) and his Merry Men, led by Little John (James Fletcher) and Friar Tuck (Tommy Novak), are training a band of kids who wish to become Merry Men, themselves: Geoffrey (Jack Burns/Ben Kindler), Kate (Grace Berendt/Zora Allison), Joan (Taylor Loomans/Camara Stampley), Much (Nicholas Doermann/Jonathan Neustifter), and Elizabet(Anna Fitzsimmons/Jennie Babisch). Far from being a damsel in distress, Maid Marion (Allie Babich) is just as much of a match as Robin against the evil Archbishop of York (Joe Foust) and the Sherrif of Nottingham (John Maclay), who are quite possibly the most brilliant and entertaining evil duo ever to cross Todd Wehr's stage.
There are two odd characters who manage to steal the show with the few lines they have: the Deputy to the Sherrif (Elliot Brotherhood/Jacob Badovski), and Sir Thomas, the Silent (Teddy Esten/Benjamin Sturcyz). As you might imagine, Sir Thomas really doesn't have much to say, and so his part requires a lot of body language. Teddy Esten, a senior at Cedarburg High School, plays Sir Thomas in the Sherwood Cast, and Robin Hood will be his final performance with First Stage.
"Robin Hood has been very different from most of the other productions I've been in, and I think most of it has to do with the maturity and experience level of my cast," Esten explained. Many shows I've done have a large mix of younger and older performers, so you get a large skill gap within the group, where many of the younger kids don't understand exactly what the director wants. With this cast, there was a lot of immediate response from people. They all worked very hard and were very focused while rehearsing, but still knew how to have fun when on breaks; not to mention, having the playwrights in the cast with us was certainly interesting -- we would never know if lines were going to stay, because we kept adding and cutting different pieces as we went along, which is normally against copyright laws."
"Bittersweet" was the word Esten used to describe his last production with First Stage. "It's amazing to think that I've been a very large part in this amazing community that is First Stage, but also really sad I won't be returning as a Young Performer at the Todd Wehr. I have absolutely loved every moment of working with this company, to the point where 'company' is a much less fitting word than 'family' is. The people there are absolutely one of a kind, and I doubt I will run into another group so dedicated to changing lives through theatre. I'm very proud of all the work I've done at First Stage, and I hope to return in a number of years as a part of the adult cast."
While Esten intends to pursue a career in theater because of his experience in First Stage, he said that he learned so much more than acting. "Life skills through stage skills is more than just a motto or catch phrase at First Stage, it's a guarantee," Esten said. "The amount of things I have learned through my many classes that are applicable to my life is astounding; perhaps the most important being a skill many people my age don't have: the ability to be myself. I never have to put on a mask to go in public, or to school, or anywhere; I'm just me. [Furthermore], I find myself using more intelligent English than many other people, due to my experience with Shakespeare. I find myself raising my hand and not being afraid to offer a counter opinion to something I don't agree with. I find myself able to stand up to someone who is harassing or mistreating another person. These things all come from what I do in theatre, which is to feel for other people."
First Stage, like most theater, hopes to bring current events and important discussions to people in the way only theater can. Director Jeff Frank explains that, underneath the grand adventure of Robin Hood, there are important questions asked within the play about what actions we take in the face of corrupt authority, whether it is acceptable to break a law to right a wrong, and what makes a leader. "[We've created] something quite wonderful that speaks to days of yore, but also reflects the issues that still plague us today."
Robin Hood will have you laughing out loud while you simultaneously discover profound truths. As Robin says, "We must always strive for kindness...kindness can change the world."
Robin Hood runs through March 12th at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater in Milwaukee (929 N. Water St.). Tickets can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center Box Office, by calling (414) 273-7206, or online at www.firststage.org.
About First Stage
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in the 2016-2017 season, First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young audiences and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs use theater to promote active learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students throughout southeastern Wisconsin each year. In 2012, First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. First Stage is the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award in 2013 and 2015, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education, and the arts. First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, and Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).