Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Ludwig has been the pen behind such frequently produced plays as Lend Me a Tenor, Leading Ladies, Moon Over Buffalo, The Game's Afoot, Baskerville, A Comedy of Tenors and he has written the book for several musicals, including Crazy for You and An American in Paris.
Ludwig's latest farcical romp is Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, directed at Cleveland Play House by Adam Immerwahr. Prior to the lights dimming it is strongly suggested you take a short history lesson by reading the one-page article "Normans and Saxons and Crusades Oh My!" in the program. This will help set the time frame and give you a much needed back story to help understand the show.
It is 1194 in Nottingham, England, which borders Sherwood Forest. King Richard the Lionhearted (Price Waldman) is the rightful ruler, as he is a direct descendant of William the Conqueror who came over from France to conquer the Saxons, descendants of the Germanic tribes that beat the Romans. Unfortunately, while Richard was gallivanting around the world during one of the many Crusades he was captured in Austria and is being held for ransom.
Richard's brother, Prince John (Price Waldman), is in no hurry to pay the ransom because he and his henchmen, Sir Guy Gisbourne (Josh Innerst) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Steven Rattazzi), have a good thing going and are living the high life on the backs of the peasants.
Robin of Sherwood (Zack Powell) has grown up in privileged circumstance on the estate that borders Maid Marian's (Amy Blackman) family. She convinces Robin that all is not merry in "merry olde" and he needs to do something about it. The pair are soon joined by Friar Tuck (Doug Hara), Little John (Jonah D. Winston), and Deorwynn (Andrea Goss) and with the help of the people plunder and pillage the rich in order to redistribute the wealth, which does not sit well with the baddies.
As with all of Ken Ludwig's comedy farces, you must view the show with a sense of detached disbelief. The comedy is as broad as it is long, with lots of pratfalls, swordplay, flying arrows, and the breaking of the fourth wall. In a word, it is controlled chaos.
Director Adam Immerwahr has taken his experience from The Game's Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays), A Comedy of Errors, and Baskerville and given the show a medieval slant.
The amazing set by Misha Kachman should get its own billing. It consists of a massive tree surrounded by ramparts, platforms, circular stairs, a sliding pole, and a revolving stage that gets a lot of ingenious uses. The fight scenes choreographed by J. Allen Suddeth are an absolute delight, causing the audience to cheer and laugh along with their favorites.
As for the cast, there is a predetermination as to who is good and who is bad as the audience is goaded into cheering for their heroes while booing and hissing the villains. Zack Powell as Robin has a rugged Hollywoodish appeal. While he may spend a bit too much time sermonizing on the plight of the poor and could use a few more zingers in his dialog, he nevertheless gives a good Errol Flynn-ish representation of his character. His partner in crime, Amy Blackman, gives Maid Marian a modern feminist slant as Robin's equal and perhaps better.
The champion of physical comedy for this show is Jonah D. Winston, who does wonders with the role of Little John. Doug Hara as Friar Tuck acts as narrator and guide for the rollicking evening. Josh Innerst is so good in developing his evil persona as Sir Guy of Gisbourne that he was actually booed during the curtain call. The same goes for Steven Rattazzi as the less evil but still funny Sheriff of Nottingham.
Sometimes theater simply needs to supply us with a break from the seriousness of life. Sherwood certainly fills the bill for that. Just like the classic swashbuckling movies of the 1930s, this play is a great escape from the humdrum. Come share a laugh or two.
Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, through February 24, 2019, at Cleveland Play House, Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square, 501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.clevelandplayhouse.com or by phone by calling 216-241-6000.