Munsch's work comes to stage

Tina, played by Eliza Switzer, tries on a pair of colourful socks in a scene from the Robert Munsch story Smelly Socks. It is one of seven fun stories in the Lyric Theatre's Christmas production of Munsch stories aimed at children of all ages. More Merry Munsch opens on Dec. 13 and there will be 12 performances over two weekends.

The funny and imaginative stories of popular children’s author Robert Munsch will come alive on the Lyric Theatre stage for several performances over two weekends in the run-up to Christmas.

More Merry Munsch is the second production in the Lyric Theatre's 2019-20 season of the Sparks in the Dark live theatre series.

Last year’s inaugural Sparks in the Dark season included a production of six Munsch stories during the Christmas season that was very popular with audiences.

The Lyric Theatre's Artistic Director Gordon McCall has adapted seven other stories for this new production, which will be perfect entertainment for families and those young at heart during this festive season.

“This is family time of the year, and also the children are out of school,” he said. “It’s a beautiful experience to have with the family, and the show is short enough in its length that the attention span of children is well-served.”

Almost the entire run of last year’s production of Munsch stories sold out, and McCall received positive responses from audience members.

“One set of parents said they still read the Robert Munsch stories to their children and when they got to the stories that we put on the stage last year, the little kids got up and acted them out,” he recalled. “So it was an amazing, wonderful response to the stories and this is more of the same spirit, but they’re different stories. So it’s little bit different. We have a boat in the show, we have various other things, but it’s the world of Robert Munsch.”

For McCall the appeal of these stories is a result of the author’s ability to understand the everyday experiences of children.

“In this production one of the stories is Smelly Socks and we live that experience in our homes,” he said. “We have one that says Good Families Don’t and that’s about farts. Another is about going to a special restaurant with your grandmother on your birthday and having just an amazing experience, which involves ducks.”

The Munsch stories also appeal to adults, because they might have heard them the first time when they were young or they have read them to their children.

“So it spans generations,” he said. “This storyteller is universal and he’s got longevity. He will be with us forever.”

McCall is responsible for adapting, designing and directing this production. The seven stories in More Merry Munsch will be very close to the original books and the author approved the adaptations.

“We don’t get the rights to perform this unless he approves the adaptation,” McCall noted. “So he has approved the adaptation both years that we’ve done this. I stick very, very closely to the story, because I think they’re wonderful and I respect him and the writing so much. I don’t have a desire to move it elsewhere.”

As director he has a lot of freedom to dramatize each story and to bring it to live on the stage, which adds excitement and even more appeal to the original story.

“We’re telling the story literally,” he said. “If you listen to the show, it would be like you’re listening and having someone read it to you, but it would have an energy and an animation that it might not normally have. When you open your eyes, you’re seeing it come to life.”

He selected the seven stories to provide several different experiences to audiences during the performance, but each one has that characteristic Robert Munsch touch.

“That’s the uniformity of the experience,” he said. “Seven is a good number, because the stories are all five to eight minutes in length. So we end up under an hour and it’s got momentum for the children.”

He directs and designs the production due to his extensive experience with live theatre, but also because of the small staff component at the Lyric Theatre.

“We don’t have a staff of designers or the money to afford it,” he said. “So I’m happy to take on those tasks. If we had a much bigger operation, I wouldn’t take on all those tasks, but I’m lucky I have experience in all of those fields.”

At the same time, he is using this production as a training opportunity. Blayne Anderson, a recent high school graduate, is assisting with sound and stage management.

“The future for our theatre is to develop more people in our community, and then those tasks will become their tasks,” McCall said.

Heather Christie, who acted in the first production of the current Sparks in the Dark season, is assisting with props and costumes. The cast members of More Merry Munsch are Joey Donnelly, Desiree Leonard, Verena Marsden, Dillon Reil, and Eliza Switzer.

McCall did not feel the smaller size of the Lyric Theatre stage was a challenge, but rather an interesting way to approach this production. He compared it to building a jigsaw puzzle and figuring out where all the pieces will fit.

“It triggers our imagination and saying why don’t we do it this way,” he explained. “Instead of having a clothesline, why don’t we just hold the socks up on a rope or why don’t we use the ladder for a rooftop. It’s a wonderful group experience of figuring out how to make some of these things work in a smaller space, and quite frankly, I love the compression that it brings to the stories and it will also stir the children’s imaginations to say ‘I could do that at home.’”

There will be 12 performances of More Merry Munsch. Opening night is Dec. 13, when the show starts at 7 p.m. There will be performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 14, and afternoon performances at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Dec. 15.

The Dec. 19 performances will be at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and on Dec. 20 there will be an evening performance at 7 p.m. The Dec. 21 shows are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and the final two performances on Dec. 22 will be at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. 

Doors will open 30 minutes before each show. Tickets are available at Pharmasave. Tickets are $20 each for adults $20.00 and $5 each for children (12 and under).

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