If you've had your fill of Nutcrackers and Scrooges and were hoping to branch out a bit theatrically this holiday season, there's a branch well worth seeing in Beverly Hills: it's the one Robin Hood swings and leaps from in the Wallis' production of The Heart of Robin Hood. Not a traditional Christmas play by any means (in fact, the holiday is barely mentioned at all), but the adventure, exuberance, excitement, and spectacle of this retelling of the old tale make it an event worth squeezing into your busy holiday schedule. I brought a tween and a teen (no easy audience), and they were delighted—particularly by one unexpected feature.
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the performing Arts is easily LA's most interesting new theater complex; in the four years since it opened in the old 90210 post office, it has brought a memorable and bold variety of programming to an arts-loving side of town. From family concerts to artsy fringe shows to large scale touring productions (not to mention regularly scheduled free dance classes with the one-and-only Debbie Allen), the Wallis is all about variety. It's also all about family friendly entertainment that doesn't feel like kids' programming—of which this is a shining example.
This Marion is no maid.
The Icelandic touring production of The Heart of Robin Hood turns the traditional story on its head, making Maid Marion the tale's adventurous heroine, risking all for what is right, to help others, and for love. Robin Hood is a far less sympathetic fellow, hanging in trees with his macho pals partying and taking whatever he wants from whomever he wants. Against the current gender climate in particular, the story strikes a chord, as Marion helps to bring about more than one epiphany and change the reality around her for the better.
There is, however, nothing preachy about this show. It is non-stop action, with physical feats one rarely sees on stage outside of Cirque du Soleil. The cast includes athletes and gymnasts whose impressive stunts create an exciting, irresistible world, and the original music swings right along with them, becoming part of the action in delightfully imaginative ways.
Above all, though, the star of the show for our kids was the set—and that's not something I've ever written in a review. The sharply sloped backdrop inspired the most exciting, entertaining, and unexpected entrances and exits I've ever witnessed on stage, causing even a pointedly blasé 14-year-old to squeal aloud and proclaim that he wants that set for Christmas.
Marion and Robin, feeling like star-crossed lovers...
As far as content, the recommended age for The Heart of Robin Hood is 10 and up, and that struck me as fairly on the mark for most families. The production pulls no punches, with some fairly visceral violence (including an impressively staged decapitation), sexual innuendo, and occasional coarse language. It's a definite PG. That said, all of the baddies get their come-uppance, and the people who should live happily every after get to. All in all, a fine family tale for the holiday season.
Photo by Luke Fontana for The Wallis
The Heart of Robin Hood runs through December 17, 2017 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Use the discount code FAMILY to get 40% off tickets.
Photos by Kevin Parry for The Wallis unless otherwise noted