Corral Blue Can’t Dance, which plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre through July 11th, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival and Fringe Kids, invites its audience to an Awesome Possum Party full of drawings, dancing, singing, jokes and puppets.
Set at Corral’s Corral Corral Blue Can’t Dance is a pastiche of 1980s Canadian children’s television programs and the American Hee Haw all rolled into one, only much funnier. It features puppet pals Robo Horse (80s Robot, but a horse) and Tumble Weed, a Mr. Dressup-style drawing story segment (with Slumpy the Snake!), music from in-house cowboy Cactus (Kevin Henkel), Improvised sketches with Cowboy the Hat (Devon Hyland) and songs sung by Corral Blue (Amy Zuch) herself. It’s akin to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in its self-referential silliness that engages adults and children at the same time, on different levels, but it also has a perfectly endearing host in Corral Blue, and a strong, sweet message about not letting a perceived lack of natural talent stop you from doing the activities that you love.
Corral Blue is stopped in her tracks in the middle of planning her Awesome Possum Party when Robo Horse composes a new dance song because Corral Blue can’t dance. She has been intimidated by a dancer she saw once in the woods and has resigned herself to a dance-less life saying, “Unless you can dance like that, you have no business dancing at all.” With the help of her friends at the Corral Corral Blue learns an important lesson about the ways that we limit ourselves and allow others to shape our own self esteem.
Amy Zuch is adorable as Corral Blue; she has a vulnerable sensitivity, which lends itself well to a children’s show, but also a radiant silliness, and a sweet singing voice. Devon Hyland’s Cowboy the Hat is a charming complement to Corral, full of improvised jokes and sketches, while also gently pushing Corral to confront her fear of dancing.
The show is an ambitious one, with lots of different technical elements, from the live cartoon drawings to the robot horse, and there were a few bumps and glitches on Opening, which hopefully will get sorted out (and an awkward intermission that would benefit from having something onstage the entire time to engage the children while sets and costumes are changed). Yet, what strikes me most about what Zuch has created here is its potential. With a larger budget, these characters could find a home on Canadian television, and I think Corral Blue would make a fun addition to a network like CBC Kids. She is MUCH funnier and more genuine than most of the adults on children’s television, that is for sure. 4/5 Stars
I never expected to see improvisation at the Toronto Fringe Festival’s FringeKids! Now that I’ve seen Corral Blue Can’t Dance, I’ll be looking for it—though it only composed one part of this multifaceted kids’ variety show by Off Model Studios.
Just the atmosphere around George Ignatieff invited me, an adult reviewer, into the wonderful world of FringeKids! where magicians show off tricks and puppets greet audience members on their way to the box office tent.
Inside, Corral Blue (Amy Zuch) and her friends Cowboy the Hat (Devon Hyland) , Robo-Horse (yes, a part-real, part-animated robot horse), Tumble the Weed (a lovable, but oddly blue tumbleweed puppet), and “Cactus” Kevin Henkel, encouraged audience participation through song, dance, improvisation, live animation, humor, and puppets.
Corral and Cowboy asked for audience suggestions for skits and animated sketches, invited one audience member up on stage, and of course, started a theater-wide dance party—even as someone skeptical of participation, I wanted to shout out suggestions and boogie.
More importantly, the kids in the theatre couldn’t wait to participate. In fact, during the second round of Cowboy the Hat’s sketches, some tried to shout out their own punch lines to the jokes instead of waiting for his— I would have loved to hear their versions.
The improvisation and Corral Blue’s live animated cartoons were my favorite sections of the show. Song and dance have proven themselves as cornerstones of children’s entertainment, but these two new tools prove that Corral Blue and her corral are developing something new.
In the second half of the show, Corral Blue and Cowboy the Hat started a improvisation skit. As a stereotypical rich person, Cowboy the Hat began the scene by kicking Corral Blue off his lawn.
Instead of going along with the scene, Corral Blue challenged him to pick something different. She couldn’t make anything funny or positive with his mean rich person.
So they started over. How often does that happen? How often do talented Second City-trained performers demonstrate the rules and creation process behind their craft—especially for young audiences?
I don’t know if the kids understood the lesson they taught, or if it was intended, but as someone normally terrified of improv, I loved seeing the gears turning and performers embracing a do-over, live on stage.
I picked this show for the promise of live on-stage animation. Corral Blue’s drawing didn’t happen as smoothly and wasn’t integrated into the story as I expected, but it did engage the entire theatre.
Corral Blue Can’t Dance performs at its best when it puts story first, whether through demonstrating improvisation while creating a sketch or using the audience’s suggestions to live animate a cartoon story.
But for me, any show that ends with giggles and everyone dancing in the aisles is a hoot.