Somewhere after Fred Penner, Sharon & Bram, and the Wiggles on the list of World’s Greatest Children’s Musicians you will find the (thankfully) fictional group, Hootenany. This duo, played wonderfully by Kate Smith and Will Somers, bring life to a clear and intentional satire of children’s entertainers on levels that develop obviously in the subject matter of the songs, and subtly in the subtext of the fictional performance they enact for us.
The stage personas of Hoot and Anny crumble slowly before us on the stage, as we witness the disintegration of an “iconic” act. The performance I watched had an additional layer of coming-apart, as the video projections that apparently feature prominently in the show didn’t work due to technical issues. The performers did a great job managing this issue, and I think this was actually an interesting development that fits into the show very well, so I am going to discuss it as though this performance went exactly as planned.
The show began slightly late, and there was some pseudo-calm frantic movement around the stage, and the booth. One of the technicians asked the crowd if there was a laptop they might borrow. Then Smith emerges on stage as Anny to apologize, tell us what was going on, and begin the show. This sets the scene extraordinarily well for the explosion of Hoot and Anny’s rehearsed act into a personal contest that barely keeps up the pretense of professionalism. Smith and Somers improvise their way through what is supposed to be a humorous sequence of interviews with Hootenanny’s young fans. I think this bit worked the best of the abandoned videos, as the duo took turns impersonating and responding to the children, who had ostensibly asked these questions via this video several hundreds of times in different performances. The show must go on, and we see Hoot and Anny’s struggle to live up to the polished image of fame they’ve built for themselves.
If this element of meta-failure (which was turned into a success through the performance) could be incorporated with believability into the planned show, I think it creates another interesting and potentially fruitful way of developing the story and characters. As it was, Somers and Smith had an a unique opportunity to explore their characters outside the bounds of their usual script, which really brought them to life.
I thought this show was strong on a number of other levels as well. The vocal work done by both Smith and Somers is excellent, and incorporated for good comic effect when played against the Canadian ears of the audience in a song like “My Uncle’s Deck.” The songs are also hilarious, and Somers and Smith justify their characters’ reputations as musicians again and again. The script builds from subtle conflict by parry and feint into a truly moving climax. I’m going to stop lauding it now, but only because I think you should go see it for yourself, and I don’t want to tread on the toes of your enjoyment.
Venue 1 Arts Court Theatre
Created and performed by Kate Smith and Will Somers
Directed by Melanie Karin
Videography by Cory Thibert