Manuel Felciano (left) and Daniel Reese in "Ken Ludwig's Robin Hood!" Photo by Jim Cox
The exclamation point at the end of the title of the world-premiere comedy at the Old Globe – Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood! – is very much intentional. This new depiction of legend’s most famous robber of the rich and giver to the poor is closer to Mel Brooks’ mid-‘70s TV parody “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” than it is to Russell Crowe’s brutal 2010 film “Robin Hood.” But coming as it does from the skillful pen of playwright Ludwig (Lend Me A Tenor, Crazy For You and Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, the latter seen at the Globe two years ago), this Robin Hood tale is a delightful improvement on either of those extreme interpretations. Its comic antics never sink to the level of lowbrow, nor do its moments of noble earnestness ever take themselves too seriously.
Director Jessica Stone has a rogue’s gallery of Ludwig-spawned characters to frolic and sword-fight on the Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White stage in the round. To complement the requisite dashing Robin (Daniel Reece), there’s a Maid Marian (Meredith Garretson) who wields a bow and arrow like Katniss Everdeen, a bawdy Friar Tuck (Andy Grotelueschen) who’s about as devout as a hambone, a towering Little John (Paul Whitty) who doubles as a musician, and a nefarious Prince John (Michael Boatman) who “quotes” Shakespeare … who wasn’t even born at the time this story is set -- the 12th century. Robin’s chief nemesis is Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played with Harvey Korman-like villainy by Manoel Felciano, with the doltish Sheriff of Nottingham portrayed by Kevin Cahoon, just as hysterical here as he was in the Globe’s Love’s Labor’s Lost last summer.
Besides boasting its roundly talented ensemble, this production proves inventive in staging derring-do in such compact confines: a 200-foot castle wall is “climbed” – horizontally; a rousing archery tournament is held, with invisible arrows flying; and the swordplay throughout is vigorous and strictly in fun.
Like so many new comedies for the theater these days, this one is perhaps 10 to 15 minutes too long, but the merriment of this show’s merry men – and women – is contagious, making Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood!’s exclamation point well deserved. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/2/17.)
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David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.