Friday, May 26, 2017

Trademark Theater Impresses with Premiere of The Boy and Robin Hood

An impressive debut from a dynamic new company, The Boy and Robin Hood is an engrossing play and marks Trademark as a company to watch


Photo by Rick Spaulding

What would you create if you could create anything?

I've thought about that question many times. I like to fancy myself an artist of sorts, but at the end of the day I haven't really ever built a major project. Sure, I have some sketches and paintings and scribbles here and there, and I have this blog (of course), but I've never really taken on a visionary project and assembled it from start to finish.

You know who has created something marvelous? Tyler Michaels, who launches the premiere performance of his new company Trademark Theater this weekend with The Boy and Robin Hood, showing at the Ritz Theater through June 11. Michaels is joined by Tyler Mills, who pens the plays, and Michaels' wife Emily Michaels King, who handles their (beautiful) social media and graphic design (I mean really, their program is inspired! And their website is worth a peek as well). So, the Trademark gang founded a company; why not write, choreograph and score a completely brand new show while they were at it too? #ambitious

Photo by Rick Spaulding

The result is the familiar yet singular show The Boy and Robin Hood, which covers a very new perspective on who Robin Hood (and the rest of the infamous constellation of characters around him) really was. This is a much darker Robin Hood than you may be used to; there is no attempt to oversimplify the story or to lionize his myth. We come to Robin through a boy named Much, who escapes into the forest after he witnesses the Sheriff of Nottingham commit a murder. Much quickly adapts to life with Robin's crew (particularly Robin's right hand man Alan) and through Much's curiosity, we learn many stories about how Robin came to be in the woods, watch him rob the king, and settle into the familiar story. Things take a dark turn when Much informs Robin that Robin's mother is the woman he saw the Sheriff kill, and the ensuing action not only breaks the merry band but little Much and Robin himself. It's a powerful cautionary tale about the vagaries and corrosive capabilities of power, both in the sense of popularity and wealth, and it couldn't be more timely. Accompanied by a gorgeous score from local composer David Darrow, The Boy and Robin Hood is a full circle theatrical event with something for everyone - friendship, sword fights, heartbreak, action, laughter, and everything residing in between.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

This cast could be a little more diverse, and the show unfortunately doesn't pass the Bechdel test, but don't let that discourage you from going; these actors are excellent and clearly well rehearsed. The entire show clips along without a pause in the action, and although it's two and a half hours in length it never drags or feels long. This is thanks mainly to the gorgeous choreography from Tyler Michaels and fight choreography from Annie Enneking, and the painterly lighting from Mary Shabatura. This piece will truly have you gasping in your seat at some of the cinematic dioramas and nimble footwork, and the excellent attention to the minutest detail keeps the story feeling fresh. All of these elements make it feel like you're living inside of the story, and The Boy and Robin Hood really wraps you up into the fold.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

Riley McNutt swaggers on stage like a lanky Tony Goldwyn as Robin, and his fiesty spirit is perfect for the part. He is well matched by the rest of his merry band - Paul Rutledge (holding down the role of John with gravitas); Theo Langason (loveable as Friar Tuck and radiating a Questlove level of warmth from the stage); Ryan London Levin (a firecracker as the energetic Will; he really reminded me of The Princess Bride's Inigo Montoya); and Nathan Barlow, who absolutely steals the show as Alan, Robin's right hand man. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Alan is really the hero of the show entire - brave, strong, kind, thoughtful, surefooted, and Barlow plays him with such strength and vivacity that it is impossible to look at anyone else while he's on stage. He's an inspired member of a very strong cast, and worth the show alone.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

Jason Rojas and Dan Hopman are deliriously devilish as the rotten Sheriff and his hired assassin Guy of Gisborne, respectively. Hopman in particular brings a Game of Thrones level darkness to his baldly bad guy, and he provides an excellent antithesis to Robin's bands' relentless positivity. Kendall Anne Thompson is inspiring as Marian and the Hermione of the Hood; Thompson is wonderful in her part, and I wish she had another woman on stage to interact with throughout the show to play up that singular female strength. Peder Lindell is a clear Michaels apprentice as the boy Much, and he gives a lively performance that helps us to truly see this world, warts and all, through a child's eyes. Lindell is quite the ingenue; keep an eye out for him in future productions around the Twin Cities.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

I don't usually list out members of the pit or chorus, but I really loved the music here and I'd be remiss if I omitted them. The dissonant, expansive vocals of Anna Beth Baker, Tim Beeckman Davis, Benjamin Dutcher, Elizabeth Hawkinson and Lars Lee provide the ideal backdrop for the riveting action on stage, and their beautiful canticles are destined for a cast recording (but really guys, can you record this stuff? It's glorious). There are only four instrumentalists backing them up - Nic Delcambre on piano, Kris Anderson on guitar, Jack Barrett on bass, and Matt Barber on percussion - something you might be surprised to know considering how lush the soundtrack is. And I'd be neglectful not to mention sound designer Nicholas Tranby as well. This is one of the first live shows I can think of where I noticed an extraordinary attention to detail in each sound effect, down to the sharpening of a sword or the tapping of a finger, and it really stood out.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

I was so ready to see something like The Boy and Robin Hood. The world is a scary place these days, the news seems to grow darker and drearier by the hour, and I had had enough. I needed a mystical universe to disappear into for a few hours and come out refreshed with a new perspective. What a blessing that in addition to providing deep societal respite, The Boy and Robin Hood has a rich set of lessons to offer as well. There is a parable for everyone here, and we need it. Some of my favorites?

  • Never let your anger get the best of you. 
  • Even alleged villains have hearts and goodness in them. 
  • Beware lionizing your heroes; you will likely find they will disappoint you in the flesh. 
  • Don't believe everything you hear in fairy tales (aka the fake news). 
  • Face your fears head on and you will have nothing left to dread. 
  • Preserve your innocence, as you can never get it back once it's lost. 
  • Listen to the women in your life. 
  • And best of all: love harder, look deeper, and expect more of the world around you; if we all did that, maybe we'd be a little better off like the Merry Men of Robin's forest


The Boy and Robin Hood is a rich, rewarding retelling of one of British mythology's favorite legends. It's a crowdpleaser for audiences of all types, particularly those who like swashbuckling swordfights, but may be a little scary for young kids. The Boy and Robin Hood is a truly impressive debut, particularly considering the fact that it's an epic, originally authored piece, and I can't wait to see what else Trademark comes up with.  Kick off your Memorial Day weekend right with a viewing at the Ritz Theater; more information and tickets (ranging from $15 - $20) can be purchased by clicking on this link.