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UPDATED MAY 29: Children's fest reviews

Gazette entertainment reporter Anna Borowiecki provides a front-row seat

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 10:30 am

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  • Intergalactic Nemesis is a melodramatic mash-up of comic books and early radio plays that combines music and sound effects with all the elements visible to the audience.
    Intergalactic Nemesis is a melodramatic mash-up of comic books and early radio plays that combines music and sound effects with all the elements visible to the audience.
    Supplied photo
  • WHALE-WIDE TRAVELS – Snail and the Whale tells the story of a snail that catches a ride on a whale's tail in order to see the world.
    WHALE-WIDE TRAVELS – Snail and the Whale tells the story of a snail that catches a ride on a whale's tail in order to see the world.
  • Ghungroos & Whistles
    Ghungroos & Whistles
  • A Touch of Light is a sensitive production that provokes viewers to see the world through a different lens.
    A Touch of Light is a sensitive production that provokes viewers to see the world through a different lens.
  • COLOUR INJECTION – Queen of Colors is a tale of a pushy, bored character named Little Queen who lives in a monochromatic universe until the Court Painter injects a rainbow of colours.
    COLOUR INJECTION – Queen of Colors is a tale of a pushy, bored character named Little Queen who lives in a monochromatic universe until the Court Painter injects a rainbow of colours.

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If there is one thing the Northern Alberta International Children's Festival does well, it is spark the imagination.

For the 33rd annual festival, organizers have brought in 10 very diverse main stage shows targeted to work the mind muscles for kids of all ages.

Expect to see a checkerboard of disciplines and watch your child's face light up with excitement, wonder and a few giggles thrown in for good measure.

The following reviews are a filter that will help you make choices best suited to your family's interests.

Tickets are $10 and are available by calling 780-459-1542 or online at ticketmaster.ca.

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth

Runs until Saturday, May 31
Save-on Foods (Arden Theatre)
Suggested age: eight years and over

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth, possibly the most talked about show playing at the International Children’s Festival, is a blast from the past.

It’s a melodramatic mash-up of comic books and early radio plays combining music and sound effects with all the elements visible to the audience.

The basic gambit is brilliant. About 1,250 comic book images are projected on a huge screen. Three actors voice all the characters. Also visible is a pianist creating an improvised score and one Foley artist making up hundreds of sound effects from everyday objects.

A throwback to 1933, the plot line is borrowed from an Indiana Jones or Star Wars template – heroes versus the mad, megalomaniac villains who are trying to take over the world.

Ace reporter Molly Sloan and her sidekick research assistant Timmy Mendez chase a story halfway across the world only to discover a greater mystery in play. Unexpectedly, they meet the enigmatic Ben Wilcott, a librarian with strange technological powers. Soon the three are trailing the evil Mysterion, a man with strong ties to the alien race of Zygonia.

The script is intelligently written, the action is full-throttle and the characters are delightfully familiar yet also quirky. The sound effects are inventive and jaw-dropping while the music always delivers the right mix of foreboding tension. 

For me the best and most exasperating part of this sci-fi fantasy escapade is that you see everything at once: the flipping images, the voice actors performing numerous roles, the pianist and the sound effects specialist working together.

There was so much happening I was constantly distracted, snapping my head back and forth to absorb as much as possible. It was impossible.

But mostly, it was a fun, awesome adventure that I’d like to experience a second time.

May the force be with you.

The Snail and the Whale

Tall Stories Theatre
Runs until Saturday, May 31
Save-on Foods Stage (Arden Theatre)
Suggested age: six years and over

Every year adaptations of children’s stories get more inventive. This year, the United Kingdom’s Tall Stories Theatre brings a tremendous amount of imagination, energy and just the right amount of playful sass to The Snail and the Whale.

It is adapted from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book of a little snail who wants to see the world, and thumbs a ride on the back of the whale.

In this endearing tale, a navy father is about to set sail. Like the snail that hitches a ride, his young daughter would like to go with him to see a world of shimmering ice, coral caves, shooting stars and towering waves.

Since she cannot go with him, the father sends a tape containing the snail story. All she has to do is replay the story and together they experience an incredible marine odyssey.

The deep bond between father and daughter is played out with a spectrum of emotions that enhances the themes of love and separation. The 45-minute show never looks down on children. There is very much a mature attention to every facet.

The set is quite imaginative as the bedroom with bed and accompanying furniture transforms into a whale swimming the high seas.

But this is not strictly a sit-back-and-relax show. The audience morphs into a class of children eager to help keep both creatures from destruction. Participation is mandatory and just desserts are served.

Like the little snail, this show has big ambitions and takes you on a journey to fresh horizons. 

David Bouchard

Runs until Friday, May 30
St. Albert 50+ Club
Suggested age: five years and over

Métis author and literacy advocate David Bouchard is on a mission to get kids reading books from their local libraries and listening to their elders’ stories passed down from generation to generation.

He wants kids to get hooked on books – one adventure at a time. In fact, Bouchard’s favourites are the Harry Potter books, a series he’s read four times.

At the children’s festival, the Order of Canada recipient brought a dozen flutes from his collection and played haunting, hypnotic melodies with nature themes while everyone filed in. It was a very powerful opening.

Once everyone was hooked on the music, Bouchard morphed into the persona of a colourful impresario telling personal stories about how books affect people’s lives.

At one point, he said, “You can see yourself in books and through books you can conquer the world.”

It was a catchphrase he repeated numerous times in various contexts.

Throughout his energetic 45-minute discourse, he held the audience, comprised mainly of aboriginal children and youth, in the palm of his hand.

Bouchard came across as a mesmerizing speaker, a man obviously proud of his Métis heritage and a strong Canadian ambassador of literacy.

Ghungroos & Whistles

Blue 13 Dance Company
Runs until Saturday
May 31, CN Stage (St. Albert Curling Club)
Suggested age: five years and over

It may be unnecessary to say the non-stop rain has dampened the International Children’s Festival. However, Blue 13 Dance Company’s Ghungroos & Whistles is trying its best to bring out the sun.

The Los Angeles-based dance troupe specializes in contemporary East Indian dance and has created a unique hybrid, a Bollywood style that explodes with a wide palette of colour and energy.

What makes this ensemble stand out is the attention to detail. It features a blend of East Indian folk dance that swiftly and smoothly transitions into hip-hop, break dance, jazz and ballet movements without breaking stride.

Designed with an educational format, Ghungroos & Whistles is a series of short dances sprinkled with dialogue.

The athletic eight dancers of multi-ethnic backgrounds twirl and leap onto the stage in sparkly, eye-catching traditional costumes. However, their powerful rhythmic footwork with bell-clad ankles quickly becomes an intoxicating assault.

The finale, a scene from their Fire & Powder collaboration dips into Romeo and Juliet’s world of doomed love. Plaid-kilted dancers as Bollywood Montagues and hip-hop Capulets burst on the stage. It is a scene where Bhangara battle B-Boys in a dance drama filled with excitement, love and tragedy.

The dance is so fast and furious that, by the end the discharge of energy left dancers with a slick sheen on their bodies.

As one woman chuckled while filing to the exit, “They made me tired just watching them.”

A Touch of Light

Train Theatre
Runs until Saturday, May 31
Standard General Tent (Millennium Park)
Suggested age: six years and over

It is easy to assume that a blind person cannot see. However, in A Touch of Light we enter the world of a sightless boy who has the power to see far beyond his less impaired brethren.

Train Theatre has recreated the life and times of Louis Braille, a young French boy who lost his vision at the age of three. Yet as a teenager, this highly motivated visionary developed a code of dots that formed an international system of reading and writing for the blind.

The 55-minute production, a dark world where shadows overtake light, is framed in a set that contains a box of shifting sand, candles and paper puppets.

Through the set's visual simplicity, the audience sees Louis' joys at discovering a tactile environment, his sorrows at experiencing rejection and a private resolution to learn to read and write.

The paper world re-imagines a flickering lightness similar to a wispy memory from Louis' mind. Through his mind's eye, we rediscover the world.

The very talented Patricia O'Donovan, the sole puppeteer, both narrates and voices all the puppets ranging from Louis and his family to a village priest, teachers, soldiers as well as various birds and animals.

A Touch of Light is a quiet, gentle and sensitive production that achieves the festival's primary aim. It provokes us to see the world through a different lens and breaks barriers we sometimes put up without realizing.

The Queen of Colors

Compagnie Les Voisins
Runs until Saturday, May 31
École Father Jan School
Suggested age: Preschool and kindergarten

On the surface Queen of Colors is a pretty basic story about a petulant, bossy Little Queen. She commands her subjects to paint the realm according to certain whims – until she discovers too much of good thing backfires.

However, it is the method of storytelling that dominates the imagination, a skilful mix of shadow puppetry, music and painted projections.

In this 45-minute production, Compagnie Les Voisins uses a screen and shadow puppetry to give Little Queen substance. At her beck and call are two courtiers: Court Musician and Court Painter.

As Little Queen strolls through her kingdom, she commands Court Painter to embellish her domain with colour. First red, then blue, then yellow.

Court Painter complies with on-the-spot sketches while the Court Musician improvises different musical tones on his accordion.

It is a show that encourages children to express themselves in fresh ways, colour outside the lines and unearth new meanings.

A Year With Frog and Toad

St. Albert Children's Theatre
Runs until Saturday, May 31
CN Stage (St. Albert Curling Club)
All Ages

Most musical theatre productions have a story arc.

But St. Albert Children's Theatre latest festival offering, A Year With Frog and Toad, feels more like a patchwork of scenes glued together.

But if you suspend your disbelief, little can detract from the company's high-energy performances, quirky characters and, of course, some pretty snappy songs.

Based on the Frog and Toad children's stories, the musical follows a year in the life of a worrywart toad and his friend, a happy-go-lucky frog.

As the one-hour musical opens, the two pals are awakening from winter hibernation. Spring is in the air and all the woodland creatures are a-buzzing with song and dance.

There are 17 songs in the score, many requiring triple threat performances.

For instance, the full-cast showstopping opener, led by three birds attired in feathery cocktail dresses and a tux with tails, swing right into a jazzy-ragtime vibe.

He Will Never Know is a delightful soft-shoe hoofer duet with Toad and Frog each using a lawn rake as a partner, while Snow Ballet creates an enchanted winter wonderland.

But it's the bog creatures that worm their way into your heart. Max Aisenstat as Toad, an amphibian with an over-active imagination, is a perfect foil to Kaden Wilson's perky Frog.

Cole Stevenson, as the Large and Terrible Frog, delivers an eye-popping scene that brings back memories of Darth Vader even as Sasha Kahn's loose-lipped Turtle with attitude adds a bold edge.

But the big charmer is Gellan Parraguez as Snail, the snail-mail letter carrier who gradually comes out of his shell. Parraguez's slow-motion Snail tries so hard to do the right thing, and it's this universal determination that captures our hearts.

A Year With Toad and Frog is a solid buddy tale that reinforces the importance of friendship and what makes each individual special.


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