Hamlet… A Puppet Epic

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zip & shakes

There IS something awesome in the state of Denmark and that is Shakey Shake and Friends’ Hamlet… A Puppet Epic, which plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre through July 8th, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival and Fringe Kids. This is Shakey Shake and Friends’ fifth anniversary of presenting hilarious and child-friendly puppet shows based on William Shakespeare’s plays.

We are first introduced to Len, the Sesame Street equivalent of Avenue Q’s Princeton and his girlfriend Lucy, the Sesame Street equivalent to Avenue Q’s Kate, who are supposed to be going to see Hamlet at the Stratford Festival, but Len gets sidetracked by wanting to play Super Mario, so Lucy decides the best way to prove to Len that Hamlet is even more awesome than video games is to give him the chance to play the part. They are joined by a Guy Smiley- type Christopher Marlowe, who plays the evil Claudius, Shakes himself plays Polonius, child-friendly Trekkie Monster types play Rosencrantz and Laertes and we are introduced to the brilliant Guildentrunk, who is a muppet made from a trunk.

Tom McGee’s adaptation remains true to the plot of Hamlet, and uses short snippets of Shakespeare’s most famous, and beloved, lines, but largely the story is told in contemporary language, for the benefit of a young audience’s comprehension. While the children delight in the physical antics of the puppets, a running gag regarding ghost sheets and mermaids and curtains, a pie pun, and silly songs, most of the jokes in McGee’s adaptation are aimed at adults, especially those with a close affiliation with Hamlet. It explores Gertrude’s refusal to confront the truth about her marriage, even when the truth is staring her straight in the face. It highlights the absurdity of Polonius’ need to meddle in his daughter’s love life. It turns Claudius into a Super Villain and pokes fun at Hamlet, who is “sad about stuff” and Ophelia, who is trying to be a feminist about things but still ends up at the bottom of the lake. The play is narrated, largely by a Scooter-type character named Zip, who plays the sweetest Horatio you will ever see, and it is through Zip’s eyes that the children are being taught how to see, understand and think about Shakespeare, while being thoroughly entertained, which is much more than can be said about most other attempts to introduce young people to these plays.

Whether you are five years old or a hundred and five years old, whether you consider yourself a Shakespeare connoisseur, a Muppet connoisseur or a Sesame Street connoisseur, as long as you’re not Sam Eagle, I think you will love this play.

TWISI FRINGE RATING: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_starsHamlet… A Puppet Epic plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place) at the following times: 

show times
July 05 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 07 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 08 at 03:15 PM  buy tickets
July 09 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 10 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 12 at 11:00 AM  buy tickets

Corral Blue Can’t Dance

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amy zuch as corral blue

Corral Blue Can’t Dance, which plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre through July 11th, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival and Fringe Kids, invites its audience to an Awesome Possum Party full of drawings, dancing, singing, jokes and puppets.

Set at Corral’s Corral Corral Blue Can’t Dance is a pastiche of 1980s Canadian children’s television programs and the American Hee Haw all rolled into one, only much funnier. It features puppet pals Robo Horse (80s Robot, but a horse) and Tumble Weed, a Mr. Dressup-style drawing story segment (with Slumpy the Snake!), music from in-house cowboy Cactus (Kevin Henkel), Improvised sketches with Cowboy the Hat (Devon Hyland) and songs sung by Corral Blue (Amy Zuch) herself. It’s akin to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in its self-referential silliness that engages adults and children at the same time, on different levels, but it also has a perfectly endearing host in Corral Blue, and a strong, sweet message about not letting a perceived lack of natural talent stop you from doing the activities that you love.

Corral Blue is stopped in her tracks in the middle of planning her Awesome Possum Party when Robo Horse composes a new dance song because Corral Blue can’t dance. She has been intimidated by a dancer she saw once in the woods and has resigned herself to a dance-less life saying, “Unless you can dance like that, you have no business dancing at all.” With the help of her friends at the Corral Corral Blue learns an important lesson about the ways that we limit ourselves and allow others to shape our own self esteem.

Amy Zuch is adorable as Corral Blue; she has a vulnerable sensitivity, which lends itself well to a children’s show, but also a radiant silliness, and a sweet singing voice. Devon Hyland’s Cowboy the Hat is a charming complement to Corral, full of improvised jokes and sketches, while also gently pushing Corral to confront her fear of dancing.

The show is an ambitious one, with lots of different technical elements, from the live cartoon drawings to the robot horse, and there were a few bumps and glitches on Opening, which hopefully will get sorted out (and an awkward intermission that would benefit from having something onstage the entire time to engage the children while sets and costumes are changed). Yet, what strikes me most about what Zuch has created here is its potential. With a larger budget, these characters could find a home on Canadian television, and I think Corral Blue would make a fun addition to a network like CBC Kids. She is MUCH funnier and more genuine than most of the adults on children’s television, that is for sure. 

TWISI FRINGE RATING: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Corral Blue Can’t Dance plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place) at the following times: 

show times
July 03 at 05:00 PM  buy tickets
July 05 at 04:45 PM  buy tickets
July 07 at 03:00 PM  buy tickets
July 08 at 05:00 PM  buy tickets
July 10 at 03:00 PM  buy tickets
July 11 at 03:15 PM  buy tickets

Soaring Above Reality

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lucas wilson

If the crowd watching Lucas Wilson and Kelly Defilla’s illusionist magic show Soaring Above Reality at The Toronto Fringe’s Fringe Kids Festival, which kicked off July 1st at the George Ignatieff Theatre, were a little quiet and slow in their ovations it was only because everyone was so flabbergasted as their brains struggled to make sense of the impossible feats their eyes just witnessed. In the true sense of the word, this show is awesome. Wilson and Defilla will fill you with awe and bewilderment.

The show begins with Defilla in a cardboard box levitating above the stage and sees her permeate through ten metal rings, shrink so that it seems as though her body has completely disappeared, and then ends with a variation of one of the tricks that earned Wilson a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, escaping within moments, from a straight jacket and being placed in a chained, locked, wooden trunk. You have to see the tricks to believe them, and even then, you likely won’t believe your eyes.

Wilson has a sweet rapport with his young audience members, two of whom come onstage to assist him during the show, and he and Defilla create a safe, friendly, affable space for the children, which ensures that they clamber to come meet him after the show and enthusiastically want to purchase the magic kits and magic wands that he has for sale. Surprisingly for such a successful magician and illusionist, Wilson and Defilla don’t have the bravado often associated with buskers, and at times their unassuming affability is completely endearing, but sometimes it causes their more humorous banter to fall a little flat. There’s room for them to punch up their shtick a bit, and also to stretch a few performance ideas even further. For example, when Wilson takes his young volunteer back in time, there’s room to create that world of the past a little more, perhaps with a costume piece for the volunteer or some other marker to distinguish the beginning and end of that journey.

In all, however, Wilson and Defilla’s magic is so extraordinary, that it’s almost impossible not to leave this show both breathless and impressed.

TWISI FRINGE RATING: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Soaring Above Reality plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place) at the following times:

show times
July 03 at 01:30 PM  buy tickets
July 05 at 06:30 PM  buy tickets
July 06 at 04:15 PM  buy tickets
July 08 at 11:45 AM  buy tickets
July 09 at 05:00 PM  buy tickets
July 11 at 11:45 AM  buy tickets