Robin Hood: Fifty Shades of Green
"Men in tight jerkins" sings the handsome troubadour Alan a Dale to open "Robin Hood: Fifty Shades of Green," the new holiday Pantomime at the Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, New York. This thirteenth annual edition of the classic British-American troupe of players who tackle politics, humor, music and cross-dressing (men as women; women as men) every year at this time have ended the Presidential election year with a delectable confection that lets you laugh at many of the things that disturbed and possibly amused you during the past six months.
Characters are broadly drawn and played and situations that are all too familiar from years and years of books, movies, plays and television shows about Robin Hood take on a new and hilarious apparel.
Dressed to literally kill in the brilliant costumes designed by Joanne Maurer, this group of eleven merry-makers turns the twelfth century English forest into the camp-ing grounds of 21st century comics. In the title role of Robin is an actress named Anita Mandalay-Pronto (also known locally as Cathy Lee-Visscher).
She brings us an all-too masculine Robin, able to ably and nobly defend his lady with one hand while cursing his foes with the other one. He can calm Maid Marian’s fears and still leave her trembling with sensual responses to his tenderness. Lee-Visscher (for so we must call her) plays this role with a humorous vitality and a handsome pride.
His (or her) Maid Marian is played to perfection by Nora Lenderby (or Johnna Murray). Dressed in virginal red, Murray is the pretty child whose devotion to the purest love imaginable is personified in her vision of "Tomowwow," a solo which allows her to drop into a blues riff that would turn Nina Simone white with envy. Murray, who usually takes a male role, is both alarming and surprising as a young woman but makes it all seem just that much more honest and real as the story unfolds.
As Marian’s maid Maude Lynne -- at least nine months pregnant in this play -- Monk Schane-Lydon turns in a stellar performance bumping and grinding his way through "I’m a W.O.M.Y.N." in the performance by his alter-ego Ophelia Rass.
The evil, dastardly Sheriff Cockalorum of Nottingham, is Sally McCarthy as a slenderly mustachioed man meant more miserly, mightily mean-spirited and miserable. McCarthy makes him a mite loveable when she sings, especially in cahoots with his mother, Baroness Dona Trumpet, whose comb-over is very recognizable and, in the interpretive hands of Tamara Snotherday (or Tom Detwiler) is hilariously sinister. Snotherday gets the best costumes, but Detwiler is also the director of this rowdy affair so, supposedly, deserves the most jewels and the best satins.
Joanne Maurer, disguised as Emeril Chef Boyardee, plays Much the Miller’s son and much is made of her appearance here as one of Robin’s merry men. Most of her time is spent in duet with Dan Druff (or Michael Meier) whose strong tenor voice adds a great deal to the proceedings here as he plays Little John -- a character always played by the biggest man in any troupe.
Meier is the impregnator of Maude Lynne, but he is morally married to her even if they haven’t yet wed. Meier is the picture of upright morality and Maurer is the minuscule monitor of merriment. They are great together and apart.
Creator Judy Staber (Dame Amanda Reckonwith) plays Friar Tuck. She is much commended here for letting the show takes its time, lasting nearly 90 minutes, and for her onstage work in this complex character.
Harry Merkin (in the interpretation of Matthew W. Coviello) plays the Baron Getrich of Newton, a taxing role through whom the concept of the 47 percent, the 99 percent and the 1 percent is thoroughly exploited. This is a debut role with the Loons and it is a fine introduction for PantoLoon audiences to a talented individual who should have a long career with this company.
Lastly, we have the Pauls. Their roles in this play are many-shaded and mainly amusing. Paul Leydon (a.k.a. Mel O.D. D’Amour), as Alan a Dale makes announcements, plays the piano accompaniment, encourages the action and interaction and strums a mighty guitar in a manly manner.
His romantic vis-a-vis, Warren LeBuffet, is played by Roman Oliver DeForest (better known as Paul Murphy) and there are too many secrets in the off-table buffet to safely reveal here; you have to find them for yourself in order to understand the strong undercurrent of the show (but if you remember the "advances" made in many states during the recent election you can possibly guess toward which aisle this duo is headed and what terms are redefined by 800 year-old laws).
All of this undoubtedly seems silly, but what’s wrong with silly, amusing entertainment in these hard days of holiday shopping? Lighting and settings are expertly handled by Bill Camp (yes, that’s his name and not his style).
The lyrics for the twenty familiar tunes with music by Burt Bacharach, Irving Berlin, Jerry Herman, The Gibb Brothers and a host of others, are among the best created by the Loons and their former loony partner Ron Harrington.
Detwiler’s stage direction is clever and suitable and as well-choreographed as any show about Mormons, millionaires and mitre-cut maniacs has been this entire year.
If you need a good laugh, or good cry about the state of the state of things, spend two hours in Ghent, New York and try to remember everything you see and hear at this practically perfect peach of a playhouse performance. I’d see it again if I could.