Munsch on this theatre-goers

By Jael Wong

Ah, the Paper Bag Princess. I don’t remember when I first came across the Robert Munsch book as a kid, but I’m sure my first reaction was, “Whoa, is this ever different!”

A real keener as a child, I considered myself an expert on Hans Christian Anderson and, if memory serves, in most of his stories the hero/heroine usually ends up with the person of his/her dreams, except for The Little Mermaid (note to Disney fans: no, she doesn’t end up with the prince, sorry). It was a real change for me to read The Paper Bag Princess, not only does she not end up with the prince, but she also calls him a bum. Good heavens!

As an adult, I find the tale cheeky and refreshing. None of that mushy love-at-first-sight, happily-ever-after stuff, no siree. The Paper Bag Princess has an edginess setting it apart from your average fairy tale. It is for this reason Tara Blue, founder and artistic director of The Blue Collar Dance company, decided the story would be something her company would love to dance to. The Paper Bag Princess: A Musical is being presented at the Engineered Air Theatre through October 19.

For those of you not familiar with the story, it is about a princess named Elizabeth engaged to marry Prince Ronald, until a dragon destroys her castle and carries him away. With nothing to wear but a paper bag, Elizabeth outsmarts the dragon and rescues the prince but, rather than thanking Elizabeth, Ronald ridicules her for the way she looks. Unfazed, Elizabeth rebukes him and doesn’t marry him after all.

The story was first told by Munsch in the early ’70s and has charmed kids and their parents ever since. Munsch also wrote the very popular Love You Forever, which you’ve no doubt come across at some point, as well as many other children’s books.

The Paper Bag Princess is a simple story and as I discovered doing my “research” for this piece, takes only a couple minutes for an adult to read. According to Joe Slabe, who wrote the music and script for the production, the challenge was to turn the 580 word story into an 8,000 word play.

“[Munsch’s] books are so funny, so preserving the humour was really important for me,” he says.

To turn the story into an hour-long musical, Slabe added three ladies-in-waiting who accompany Elizabeth on her adventure and scenes for Ronald and the dragon. With music by Slabe and choreography by Blue, the result is a funky production with catchy tunes that will have you humming for days.

The cast sings and dances with spunk and energy and obviously has a lot of fun. It includes University of Calgary alumni Catherine Hergott and Lisa O’Brien, who play ladies-in-waiting. Blue, who also plays a lady-in-waiting, is a University of Calgary alumnus, as is Slabe. Jamie Lee Tognazzini is perfect as the plucky heroine, Grant Tilly as the prissy Prince Ronald plays his role with an air of arrogance and smugness that is just marvelous to behold and Donald Jones, singing in a sultry bass, makes for one smooth dragon.

The Paper Bag Princess appeals to kids and grownups alike. Children who have read the book will be thrilled to see the story brought to life and, for those who haven’t read it, who doesn’t like a good story with a dragon? He actually blows smoke out of his nose!

According to Blue, the real test came when the cast entertained a group of grade ones, whho sat still for the entire performance.

“They didn’t budge,” she says.

Adults will enjoy the production as well.

“Parents will have just as much fun as the kids,” says director Marilyn Potts, adding that there are some things kids will enjoy that adults might not get and vice versa.

Many of the songs, like the inspired “Face Your Dragons,” contain lyrics that, as you might guess from the title, work on two levels.

So bring your friends, your family, anyone really, to see this musical. This is one production you won’t soon forget. All hail the Paper Bag Princess!

The Paper Bag Princess runs through Fri., Oct. 19 at the Engineered Air Theatre. For more information, call 708-8124.

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