kris siddiqi, angola murdoch, kayla lorette
A member of the comedy community once looked at me sardonically regarding my habit of referring to comedians who do Improv as “Improvisers,” which I do simply to differentiate them from those who do sketch, stand-up or something else entirely, saying: “Improviser! Pfft! What does that even mean? There are no kids who dream of someday growing up to be an “Improviser.” And yet, if there are children out there with just such a rare and honourable dream, I would suggest that you snatch them up quickly and take them to The Second City to see Maravilla: The Heroic Monomyth which plays May 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th at 11am.
Maravilla: The Heroic Monomyth is a musical written for children that was created by seven comedians/improvisers and is directed by Daniel Shehori. The story is centered on twelve year old Karen Hale whose perfect day is disrupted when she learns that her parents are about to be divorced and that her life will now consist of her travelling back and forth between her house with her mom and her father’s new house in the city. When Karen sets off to get an early start to visitation with her father, who she has not seen in months, she ends up becoming lost and making friends with a homeless guy named Goozer who is on a quest to save his city from the evil, corporate development of Monstros City that threatens to block out their sunlight. Karen learns that her father is involved in this development project and she must journey through the tumultuous city with Goozer to develop her appreciation for it so that she can convince her father that, despite its imperfections, the people who live there deserve to be able to stay in their homes and enjoy the sunlight, which is for everyone.
Maravilla is written with sophistication, and sometimes big words and concepts are used that most of the children in the audience are unlikely to understand. The play, for example, begins with its charming British narrator speaking about Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero with a thousand faces. In less dexterous hands this could be alienating for the children, but all the actors have such deft physical comedy and hilarious facial expressions and voices that the children remain engaged while the adults are able to relate to the story from a different perspective. The children immediately respond to Karen and her quest to bring justice to the city, while the adults revel in the constant cleverness the cast has found in drawing wry parallels between this world and our own. From the Itty Bitty City Committee, to Club Land Zombies who have to be “This High” to enter the Club and the neighbourhood where everyone is Fabulous and flying their rainbow flags at continuous parades led by the Prime Queen Miss Direction, Maravilla magically sends messages of tolerance, safety, equality and integrity without being at all didactic.
Chris Gibbs is hilarity and charm combined as the Masterpiece Theatre Narrator of the story, who often rambles, directs attention to himself by interrupting and commenting on the action of the play in a meta-theatrical way that always elicits giggles. Gibbs’ facial expressions are also particularly delightful. Ashley Botting is brilliant as Sophia, the extraordinarily stereotypical tiny Italian marionette. Kris Siddiqi shines brightly as Goozer, a street smart guide for Karen but with a strong heart of gold. Kayla Lorette’s Karen is entirely loveable, combining the innate warmth of a child with a serious caution toward weirdos. Lorette’s signature awkward noises and nervous laughter provide the perfect comedy for Karen and she shows off her astute timing in a particularly hilarious scene involving too much Espresso.
The musical is enriched by Nicholas Lemon’s magnificent puppet creations, all of which look like they made the visit to Maravilla from Sesame Street and Angola Murdoch’s portrayal of the monkey for which she uses acrobatics and her talents as an aerialist to swing, scurry and hang upside-down from a trapeze and silks. She gives a breathtaking performance and the acrobatics, like the puppets, are woven seamlessly into the narrative of the play so that they don’t require a large suspension of disbelief to be appreciated.
As a musical, Maravilla’s songs, written by Jay McCarrol and performed by the Maravilla Orchestra (James Robertson, Jack Wiktor, Dan Goucher, Neil Guise and Jason Hay) are entirely functional, but not all that memorable- although, impressively, the lyrics are not at all cheesy or trite. The orchestrations provide a sense of grandeur to the piece and Lorette, Siddiqi and Aurora Browne (as Mrs. Hale and Miss. Direction), taking into consideration that they are comedians and not musical theatre actors, have very pleasant voices, although I would recommend that they sharpen their diction as their words are easily swallowed up by the acoustics in the theatre.
In all, Maravilla is the perfect play for precocious children. It is genuinely funny, whimsical, yet clever and deliciously magical. Perhaps it is true that not many children dream of one day becoming an “Improviser,” but if anything can spawn such a dream in a child, Maravilla will.
Maravilla: The Heroic Monomyth plays at the Second City Mainspace (51 Mercer Street) on May 1st, May 2nd, May 8th and May 9th at 11:00am. For more information or to book your tickets please visit this website or call 416.343.0011.
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