Trademark Theater’s debut, 'The Boy & Robin Hood,' is in sync

Rick Spaulding

Rick Spaulding

“I’m in the band?” Yes, dear boy, you’ve made the cut for Robin Hood’s Merry Men: a five-guy fraternity of bandits who also resemble a boy band, choreography and all.

The Ritz Theater

The Justin Timberlake of this Sherwood Forest is Robin Hood himself (Riley McNutt). Will (Ryan London Levin) could pass for Chris Kirkpatrick. The faithful Friar (Theo Langason) has got to be Joey Fatone, and the quietly sexy John (Paul Rutledge) is the group’s JC Chasez. Everyone loves Alan (Nathan Barlow), so of course that makes him Lance Bass.

They all star in The Boy & Robin Hood, the debut production from Trademark Theater. The new company’s logo is a black square bearing the initials “TM,” which also stand for the names of both Tyler Michaels (the company’s artistic director, and the director of Robin Hood) and Tyler Mills (the company’s artistic associate, and Robin Hood playwright). David Darrow contributes songs to this play, now in its premiere run at the Ritz Theater.

The artists, Michaels explains in a program note, were inspired by the earliest versions of the Robin Hood legend — before the woodsman became enshrined as a selfless warrior fighting for the downtrodden. This darker Robin is a dangerous, sociopathic killer whose twinkling eyes can instantly turn icy.

Unfortunately, in this show that’s something we’re told (mostly in flashbacks narrated by Kendall Anne Thompson’s Marian, now Robin’s disillusioned ex) rather than shown. For the most part, the Robin we see is boisterous yet bland, a father figure to the orphaned boy (Peder Lindell) of the play’s title.

A more dramatic departure comes in the character of the Sheriff, played by Jason A. Rojas as a hapless, fundamentally kind-hearted functionary who only pursues Robin because the king commands it. The real villain is the monstrous Guy of Gisborne (Dan Hopman), a brutal killer who seems to have wandered in from Game of Thrones.

The rest of this Robin Hood feels less like Westeros than like Shakopee, home of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. An ensemble of garland-wreathed singers deliver folksy ballads and wordless new-age vocalizations while the Merry Men and the king’s men do very deliberate battle: The slow-motion body count is staggering. When one of the Merry Men dies, his fellows share heartfelt memories while the band grooves on, in what Jimmy Fallon might call a “slow jam the eulogy” segment.

Yes, it’s all a little silly, but the script is well-structured and Michaels proves himself a sure-handed storyteller. Nicholas Tranby’s sound design and Mary Shabatura’s lighting conduct the action from town to forest while effectively, if unsubtly, highlighting the emotional stakes. The production’s comic creativity peaks during a May Day competition among outrageously costumed archers, a sequence that demonstrates what Michaels and Mills can do when they drop the thematic freight that’s just too much for this uneven show to carry.

The Boy & Robin Hood
The Ritz Theater
345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
612-436-1129; through June 11