Young People’s Theatre’s new musical version of Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang is fun and silly in perfect tune with the original book by Mordecai Richler, which marks its 40th anniversary this year. The new music by Britta and Anika Johnson is catchy and pretty, especially as sung by the excellent cast.
My Theatre Award winners Damien Atkins and Kira Guloien ham it up hilariously as secret good guy the Hooded Fang and the deliciously malicious Mistress Fowl (Guloien’s bird physicality was my favourite thing in the production by a mile) and both highlight the score with character-based vocals resting on solid technique. Many of the great ensemble members (like Saccha Dennis who kills it as Judge Rough) are a little bit wasted in Richler’s under-developed supporting cast but David Gregory Black ably proves that a real kid can absolutely carry the lead. For practical reasons, it’s rare to see stage children played by real children but Jacob Two-Two would be inherently hypocritical unless it was led by real Child Power and eleven-year-old Black is the perfect hero for this adventure about misunderstanding, underestimation and the rights of children to not just blindly accept adult rule.
The design by Dana Osborne (set) and William Schmuck (costumes) is clever and engaging and co-directors Allen MacInnis and Jen Shuber keep the action moving well with great transitions. I can’t help but wonder at the lack of dancing, though. Shuber’s choreography is sparse and simple, which I think is leaving a good deal of fun and excitement on the table. Especially with a mostly adult cast (and therefore little obligation to simplify the demand on the performers), fast, fun choreography could have made the fantastic world Jacob enters when he leaves home feel wilder and more exuberant. It also would simply give the kids something exciting to look at, breaking up some of the longer dialogue sequences and driving home one of the fundamental elements that makes musical theatre a cool, worthwhile storytelling medium.
Richler’s themes are strong and his lead character is a great hero. If the YPT production made a few moves to help his world building and supporting characters be just as memorable, this new version of Jacob Two-Two could really make the classic story new again.