andrew moyes, jennifer walls, amanda leigh
I was sixteen when the movie Shrek came out and not only did I loathe it, I was also immediately impassionate in my offence and moral outrage by what I felt to be an attack on childhood innocence, not to mention its bastardization of feminism. I felt that Shrek, with its irreverence and irony and all post modernity’s love of showing how false and how hollow and empty and cold the world is, encouraging us to be so self aware and to disbelieve everything, was robbing our children of their innocence and of what I felt, what I feel, is every child’s right to a time when they can believe in magic, in happily ever after, in genuine goodness and solemnity. I knew, of course, not every child gets this, some unfortunately face adult traumas and circumstances far before they should, but it enraged me that the media should want to encourage children to make a mockery of the fairytales people for hundreds of years before them had held dear and cherished and learned from. I also knew that teaching children tough lessons is also important, but that such things required discussion, something I know, sadly, many parents haven’t the time or the inclination to do. Fairy Tale Ending: The Big Bad Family Musical which plays until January 16th, 2011 as part of the Next Stage Festival is not directly concerned with how the media warps our children’s tales, but it could be, and it is done in a wonderfully clever, enchanting, musical and deeply intelligent way.
Fairy Tale Ending begins inside a prison, with a line up of convicts including the Big Bad Wolf, Goldilocks and the Troll, a cop and a bewildered young girl named Jill who is trying to uncover the reason why all the fairy tales that her grandmother told her throughout her childhood suddenly have new, and harrowingly disturbing endings. The story unfolds in a simple convention of children’s theatre, as Jill begins to narrate each fairytale; it soon unfolds before our eyes, dramatized with gusto by the other performers. We are shown a “Three Little Pigs” where the wolf dines on pork chops, a “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” where the girl is rude, inconsiderate and refuses to apologize for her actions, a “Billy Goats Gruff” where the goats are blown up by an irate troll and a “Little Red Riding Hood” where the doctors are unable to save Grandmother from the wolf’s stomach.
It sounds terribly sombre and bleak, but the writers, Kieren MacMillan and Jeremy Hutton (who also directs) have wisely diffused much of the gloom by injecting a lot of humour into the dialogue, creating absurdly sinister characters and of course, peppering the show with music with is joyful, catchy and delightful. It becomes very clear that while this musical is appropriate for audiences of all ages (although, honestly, may upset some younger, more sensitive children) the book is clearly intended for adults. The script gets a lot of its humour from the disparity between who we know these characters to be versus the words that are coming out of their mouths. “He wept in defiance of the inconsiderate girl sleeping in his bed” is said of the Littlest Little Pig, “I have transient inner beauty” says the Troll. Each of the villains is given a production number, which nicely sums up his or her point of view. The lyrics are all tightly woven, while clearly expressing each character’s perspective in a manner that coincides perfectly to each one’s personality. The tunes are melodic, with great opportunities for backup singing from the trio of pigs/bears/goats and wonderfully fun choreography. I would have liked to see each song written in a more distinct style, but the lyrics and the way each character sings them still manage to set them apart.
All of the performers in this production have strong comic timing which also contributes to this show’s warm energy and sense of fun. J.P. Baldwin, Carl Swanson and Mike Wisniowski are larger than ridiculousness itself as the often bumbling trio of Biggest, Littlest and Middlest. Jennifer Walls is sassy as Goldilocks, a consummate Valley Girl whose catch phrase is, “I, like, totally don’t even give a care or whatever.” She sings a brilliant patter song to drive home her cavalier philosophy, which Walls executes with the ultimate in vigour. The only challenge that arises is that because the song is so fast and she does not have a microphone, her diction needs to be at its crispiest in order for the audience to catch every word she is saying, yet this Goldilocks, as a character choice, tends to mumble. I also thought some of the words she was given to say were a bit more grandiloquent than suitable for her character. Christina Gordon makes a robust cop, but one filled with compassion for the plight of our sweet protagonist. There is a wonderful Carol Burnett quality to Amanda Leigh’s Troll, who only wants to find someone who thinks she is beautiful. Her song, an infomercial selling beauty products made from the by-products of goats, wryly insinuates how contemporary societal ideologies have permeated into children’s tales. Andrew Moyes is the ultimate in dapper charm and suave delicious sleaziness (which disintegrates into hilarious pathos the moment his asthma attacks) as The Big Bad Wolf and he sings his song with such a dreamy voice, one admires the pigs for their ability to see beyond his glitzy exterior and into the blackness of his appetite.
Meagan Tuck makes a very endearing Jill, curious, fair-minded, smart and easily infuriated in the face of injustice, she is the epitome of a strong fairytale heroine. What makes Fairy Tale Ending such a strong show for me is that it is using these postmodern elements and deconstructing these classic characters to make a clear and strong point, a moral, if you will, that helps us understand the human condition (as morals are apt to do). As Jill grows up and begins to toil in “the real world,” her perception and understanding of these stories change; she herself is allowing cynicism to inform them.
While my incense over Shrek has softened (mildly) over the last ten years, I couldn’t help but see some parallels between what I worried was happening to our children a decade ago and this perceptive show. I think it would have benefited the ending if it had been clear how old Jill is, but the audience is able to presume that she is becoming a teenager, and thus her lack of innocence is ruining the stories, but the same could be said of children who grow up too fast for any reason, whether the contemporary media is perpetuating it or not. This I think is a pertinent issue in our society at the moment, and one that is artfully and cleverly explored in a fun, joyful, delightful little musical in Fairy Tale Ending.
This show plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) at the following times:
Saturday 15 7:00pm 8:15pm
Sunday 16 5:15pm 6:30pm
$15/ Evening Performances (7:00 and after start time)
$12/ Afternoon Performances (6:59 or before start time)
TO PURCHASE TICKETS IN ADVANCE:
VISIT http://www.fringetoronto.com or call 416.966.1062 or 1.866.515.7799.