I was wary when siting down to see Empire of the Magic Beanstalks (Vampire Frog Productions) playing at the Palmerston Library Theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival FringeKids! series. I find there to be a tendency in children’s theatre for the acting to be over-exaggerated and the script to hold far too many lines beginning with “Did you know?” For the most part this was, thankfully, not the case with this show.
The storyline is a spoof on The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk. In Daniel J. Karpenchuk’s version though, things aren’t as magical and blissful as they left off in the original stories.
The goose who lays the golden eggs has died, so Jack Colby and his mother have resorted to growing magic beans to maintain their riches. Though the beanstalks are valuable resources they are also causing economic havoc to the land. The seas are becoming polluted and the earth’s temperature is rising.
Jack’s mother Agnes and her potential prince investors don’t seem to care but Rapunzle, leader of the economic rebels, is outraged at the growth of the beanstalk industry. Mermaid princess Kaia is also distraught by the sickness the beanstalks have brought to her people. Both women set out to stop the Colbys from continuing to damage the land.
Though the underlying theme of Empire of the Magic Beanstalks is heavy, the script strikes a good balance between serious and fun. Many a time I found myself cackling with laughter. I’m not sure if the kids in the audience fully understood the humor but looking around the room they were all upright in their seats and glued to the action.
From both watching the show and reading the program it is clear that the cast had a variety of experience levels. Some performers seemed more at home on the stage than others but this did not distract from my enjoyment of the show. There is definitely some theatrical potential among the cast.
It is Karpenchuk’s script that is the true gem of the show. He has written a work that is easy to follow for younger audiences yet not dumbed down to accommodate their knowledge base.
I also appreciated his inclusion of strong roles for his leading ladies. The princesses are spunky and determined and the guys like them for it!
I’m not sure if kids will follow all of the ecological references made, but I could definitely see the metaphors used in Empire of the Magic Beanstalks leading to some eye-opening discussions at the dinner table tonight.
- Empire of the Magic Beanstalks plays at the FringeKids venue – Palmerston Library Theatre, 560 Palmerston Ave .
- Friday July 6 at 6:15PM, Saturday July 7 at 11AM, Sunday July 8 at 2:15PM, Tuesday July 10 at 11AM, Wednesday July 11 at 4:30PM, Friday July 13 at 11:15AM, Saturday July 14 at 7:30PM.
- All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only). Tickets are also available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.