There’s a reason that Robert Munsch is one of Canada’s top storytellers for children — he’s able to tap into so many childlike qualities: the love of play, the enjoyment of wacky movements and silly noises just for the fun of it, and kids’ natural flair for exaggeration (why shouldn’t somebody order 200 pizzas for a birthday party?)
Fourteen of Munsch’s best-loved tales have been adapted for the stage in the Sudbury Theatre Centre’s Christmas family production Bunch of Munsch. The premise of the show involves four children who just can’t wait for Christmas morning, so they sneak into the living room to check out the presents. To make the time pass more quickly they decide to tell each other stories, and before you know it, they’re acting out one zany Munsch tale after another.
STC Artistic Director David Savoy has done a terrific job adapting the stories for the stage, with just the right mix of narration, business, and gratuitous slapstick. The cast of Lili Connor, Iain Stewart, Adam Proulx, and Stephanie Wilson supply an impressive amount of energy bringing the dozens of characters to life, and they get a real workout, running all over the stage, in and out of doors, and making more quick costume changes than I’d care to count.
Stage Manager Eamonn Reil and the backstage crew also deserve a whole lot of credit — Bunch of Munsch involves more exits, entrances, costume tweaks, and prop placements than half a dozen other plays, and they come off perfectly.
The show requires the four cast members to switch characters an astonishing number of times, which usually means taking turns with the narration of the stories, too. Yet the scenes are arranged, staged, and executed so well that all this seems natural and effortless. That’s a testimony to a whole production team firing on all cylinders.
The production also includes original songs by Randy Vancourt, and they’re a great addition — catchy and bouncy with well-crafted lyrics. In fact, I liked some of the songs better than the stories they were inspired by.
The young members of the audience laughed loudest at the stories with the zaniest noises and business, like Mortimer and his irrepressible singing, and the sleepwalking Dad in 50 Below Zero, not to mention the infamous story about the indiscretion that “better families don’t have” (let’s call it the other F-word). But they might well come away remembering any of the other stories just as fondly, or more so.
There’s an excellent chance they’ll also come away with a love of live theatre that will last a lifetime.
Bunch of Munsch runs for only one more weekend at the Sudbury Theatre Centre. The box office number is 705-674-8381 ext. 21 or go online to www.sudburytheatre.on.ca.
Scott Overton is the morning show host on Rewind 103.9 and author of the thriller Dead Air. He writes theatre reviews for Northern Life.