BAOBOB is a 50-minute tale for young audiences that tells the charmingly epic story of the origins of the iconic African Baobob tree.
Using various kinds of puppets, traditional African instruments and some cool costumes, four actors tell the story of Amondo, a small boy who is the chosen one to bring water back to the community from where it's hidden under the Baobob tree. But to do this, Amondo must overcome a series of obstacles (a witch, a wiley baboon, etc.). Initially he falters in his challenge, but Amondo perseveres and (spoiler alert!) is triumphant in his task, providing not only water, but peace in the surrounding communities. Ndio!!
The IDEA of this show is fantastic. The IDEA of instruments turning into animals, and of shadow puppets being used for larger-than-life elements like the earth and the sun, and of the boy protagnoist being represented as a seriously cute marionette/hand-puppet are all creative and clever and beautiful choices.
The IDEA of a musician playing instruments on stage, performing a score for the play, and changing tone to reflect emotions, is fabulous and the IDEA of the actors intially coming into the audience to greet the children is cute and interactive.
But something in those ideas didn't translate.
Something intangible, that I can't quite put my finger on, didn't come together despite these great ideas being present, and despite the best efforts of Ralph Prosper, the actor who sang, danced and played most of the characters.
The energy waned, some staging elements didn't work and the on-stage chemistry lacked between all four actors. But Prosper was definitely a stand-out. He almost single-handedly carried the show and his fatigue, if there was any, never showed.
I'm probably being too harsh on BAOBOB. I think, recently, I've been spoiled by insanely intelligent theatre for young audiences, and while I liked BOABOB, I didn't love it.
But ultimately it doesn't matter what I think; as I was leaving, the excitement of the kids in the audiences was palpable. Who knows how often they experience theatre, and multi-cultural theatre to boot? If you want to expose your kids, your classroom or your daycare to fun, colourful theatre wtih a nice moral, it may not entertain you too much, but BOABOB is still a safe bet.
BAOBOB is playing now until May 17 at the Studio Theatre at Young People's Theatre (formerly Lorainne Kimsa Theatre for Young People @ 165 Front St. E.). For tix, call: 416-862-2222 or click here.
Stephen Guy-McGrath. Photo: Daniel Alexander
After removing my shoes and stepping on the carpeted stage at Young People's Theatre, I was immediately taken with the very tiny and very cool set design by Michael Gianfrancesco. You can see some of it in the picture on the lef; my crude description of it is this: a circular garden/dirt mound that's connected to "the sky" above it (ie. a circular hole above the garden where set pieces would drop down on wires as needed.) I'm really not doing it justice; it was creative, unique and served the fun, but fundamentally flawed play, of JACK & THE GIANT BEANSTALK extremely well. I say the production was flawed because there were some staging elements that didn't fully make sense and, while I'm aware that I was an adult watching a children's play, I still couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to support some of the action/staging that happened.
But while I found this disbelief frustrating as an adult, it was quite clear that the kids watching the show, ages approximately 4-6, didn't give a hoot about it. They were having a blast.
The effectiveness of the highly-interactive play of JACK & THE GIANT BEANSTALK rests not only on the imaginative set-design, but also on the shoulders of the two performers, Stephen Guy-McGrath and Dale Yim, with the majority of the responsibility on the shoulders of the former.
Let me tell you, Guy-McGrath ROSE to the occassion. He played four different characters with equal enthusiasm, energy and sweat (he's VERY energetic)), with my favourite being Squim, the Southern-accented female worm who lives in the earth and engages the entire audience, including the reluctant to-look-silly-adults, in a conga line. When's the last time I conga'd at the theatre? Answer: Never.
I cannot stress enough how much fun the kids were having. They loved shouting out answers when asked (and when not asked!), they dove right into the actions that went along with the story and they found almost everything hilarious.
Although age inevitabley removes the rose-tinted glasses we wear when we're young, there is something to be said about the fuzzy feelings an adult can have while witnessing children wear the same glasses. Their awe and amazement at what they're seeing is infectous and in no time, I found my own appreciation for silliness increase and I was laughing along with the 4 year-olds.
Awkward staging not not, it was silly fun, and I'll take it.
JACK & THE GIANT BEANSTALK is on until April 21 at the Young People's Theatre (165 Front St. E.).
For tickets click here or call: 416-862-2222.