DuffleBag packs lots of fun
JAMES REANEY, The London Free Press
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 8:38:42 EST AM
As it gets set to celebrate 20 years of mirth and merriment, DuffleBag Theatre is still finding new ways to have fun with its old friends from Orchestra London.
Tuesday morning’s collaboration on Cinderella was a fun-filled romp with four DuffleBaggers, the orchestra and stars plucked from the audience of schoolkids at Saunders Secondary School all having their way with the classic fairy tale.
But then the improv-happy DuffleBag Theatre is a bit of a Cinderella story itself. The London-born, Toronto-based fun factory has grown from its Victoria Park beginnings to constant touring as far off as Brunei and Vietnam with audiences totalling more than two million fans over the decades.
“It was supposed to be a five-day commitment and here we are 20 years later, still having fun and entertaining people across Canada and internationally,” artistic director Marcus Lundgren said Tuesday, looking back to DuffleBag’s first jests at the old Children’s Festival in 1992.
Lundgren, a Banting Secondary School grad, narrated Tuesday’s romp. Fellow DuffleBag “day one-r” Rod Keith, still a Londoner, is the company’s general manager, charged with keeping track of the 600 shows it puts on yearly.
On Tuesday, Keith had such roles as the royal messenger, charging about as if on horseback while the orchestra enjoyed its own romp with the William Tell Overture.
“Once you add Orchestra London to the mix, it just makes it an experience for the kids they’ll never, ever forget.” Lundgren said.
More recent DuffleBag arrivals are Meghan Brown, an Oakridge grad, and Oshawa-raised Steve Burley, a treat as the wicked — and ravishingly ugly — stepmother.
Brown was terrific as Cinderella’s mother and fairy godmother, who flirted and waved her wand at conductor Mitch Tyler, and a castle door. Brown knows her DuffleBag from back in the day. When she was a Grade 7 pupil at Pearson School for the Arts, DuffleBag dropped by. Brown became part of the great DuffleBag tradition of choosing the kids to play key parts.
That tradition continued on Tuesday even as the topical jokes have moved along to include jests about Lady Gaga, George Clooney and eHarmony.
This week’s shows are the fourth time the orchestra and DuffleBag have combined for a fractured fairy tale.
The orchestra was ready Tuesday to supply music from Rossini, Strauss and Star Wars to back the frantic action and improv.
DuffleBag can count on its young fans to supply catchphrases, door-knocking sounds and the show’s Cinderella and Prince Charming.
Six-year-old Emma Pais, in Grade 1 at St. Theresa Catholic elementary school, was one of two spirited Cinderellas at Tuesday’s late morning show.
Emma brought her own lines to the role. She answered with a loud and clear ‘No,’ to the marriage proposal from Prince Charming, played by home-schooled Londoner Gerrit Mulder, 14 and in Grade 9.
As narrator, Lundgren knew how to bring on the happy ending.
“Is that your final answer?” he asked the young Cinderella.
“Yes,” said Emma.
Ah, we have an acceptance, Lundgren announced.
So there was a Cinderella ending with applause, laughter and cheering.
DuffleBag has learned to be prepared in case any of its Cinderellas isn’t ready to accept her Prince as charming enough for marriage.
In that case, Lundgren said, they become friends on Facebook