Jacob Two-Two is holiday theatre perfect for audiences young and old, on stage in Toronto
Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang is an absolute knock-out, packed full of theatrical goodies to please all ages. The Young People’s Theatre could not have found a better crown jewel for their 50th season, and parents who want to steer clear of the usual Disney-on-Ice holiday treacle should run straight to YPT’s busy box office; just get to Front and Berkeley, then walk in the direction of the extremely busy cash registers.
Mordecai Richler’s novel, still a beloved bit of Can-lit, puts six-year-old Jacob Two-Two at the centre. While running an errand, he gets busted for Offending the Sensibilities of a Grown-Up. After a brief trial in the chambers of Justice Rough, poor Jacob is committed to two years at the Slimer’s Island Children’s Prison. Will our hero escape?
Designers Dana Osborne and William Schmuck have gifted this production with outstanding costumes and set pieces: Larry Loser is delightful from the toupée on down, but the real treat emerges once Master Fish and Mistress Fowl appear by boat, and the costumes only improve from there. Silly, lively and fun, the production gets a ton of mileage out of their work.
And it does look like an awful lot of work! So much so that Jacob is double-cast, with young actors Drew Davis and David G. Black alternating in the role: YPT rarely uses real kids in their shows, but this story about a little person walking through a big person’s world needs that extra oomph, and Black roared through the night we attended.
The grown-ups are having an awful lot of fun, and it shows. Saccha Dennis does Justice Rough as a full-sized cartoon, paired perfectly with Darrin Baker’s hapless Larry Loser: Loser’s interview, which bleeds right into a courtroom scene, is an early high point in the show, and promises good stuff to follow.
Baker later shows up as the sinister Mr. Fox, joined by Jacob MacInnis as Artie Octopus, Kira Guloien as Mistress Fowl, and Matthew G. Brown as Master Fish. Together they run the awful island penitentiary, and this nasty bestiary positively crackles with energy and chutzpah, chewing the scenery and menacing the kiddywinks.
A lot of the heavy lifting is done by a four-member ensemble (Sarah Gibbons, Jeigh Madjus, Robert Markus and Sabryn Rock) who appear in nearly every scene in one guise or another: prisoners, jurors, siblings, or even as super secret duo Child Power. Each of them gets a turn in the spotlight, but their quiet background work is no less rewarding.
And Damien Atkins (or, to use his proper title, Bajillion-Dora-Award-Winner Damien Atkins) anchors the show as the titular Hooded Fang, playing against type and making the front row squeal in terror. Atkins is a lot of things, but “burly” isn’t one of them; the artistic decisions which play into his Hooded Fang are clever, efficient and pay off in the end.
As to those artistic decisions, hooo boy. If anyone doubted that the Johnson sisters (Anika and Britta, composers and lyricists) had range, here’s all the proof you need: Brantwood won over audiences with their explorations of teen trials and angst, but Jacob Two-Two is all colour and light, especially their Power Ranger-ish motif for Child Power. Their all-new score is rock-solid: a warm musical without any sappy songs.
And the directorial collaboration — YPT Artistic Director Allen MacInnis shares credit with Jen Shuber — leaves clear fingerprints all over the tiny wee stage, especially the moments when the entire cast works together. It would be fair to say that half the fun of seeing this show as a grown-up is catching all the curlicues and details that MacInnis and Shuber have laced it with.
But the target audience — the not-so-little people who identify most with Jacob — are the ones who’ll really love this one. Dazzling, colourful, smart and not in the least bit patronizing, there’s a lot of comic-book thrills and a worthwhile message packed into this 70-minute show.
- Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang runs at the Young People’s Theatre (165 Front East, near Front and Sherbourne) through January 3, 2016.
- Performances run throughout the week in the mornings, afternoons, and early evenings. See website for details.
- Adult tickets vary in price from $25 to $41; youth and senior tickets, $20 to $36. A small number of restricted-view tickets are available at most performances for $10 apiece.
- Discounts are available for school groups, and at least one performance is PWYC; see website for details.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416.862.2222), or from the venue box office.
- Be advised that this show involves use of theatrical fog and flashing lights.
- This show is specially-recommended for children ages 5+.
All photographs used in this review are by Cylla von Tiedemann. From top, then L->R:
- Damien Atkins as The Hooded Fang.
- David G. Black as Jacob Two-Two; Saccha Dennis as Justice Rough.
- Jeigh Madjus as the Intrepid Shapiro; Drew Davis as Jacob Two-Two; Sarah Gibbons as the Fearless O’Toole.