A hit with the kids: WOW Factor
It's often said that kids make the toughest audiences. Not tough, as in overly critical, but as in honest. In the most innocent sense, kids have minimal patience and sympathy for the creative process; when they go to the theatre, they're unlikely to forgive any loose ends.
So, it was fantastic to see the Canadian Opera Company's latest production for young people, WOW Factor: A Cinderella Story. The new English libretto is by Joel Ivany (of Against the Grain Theatre), and it's set to a Rossini-based musical adaptation by Stéphane Mayer. Anna Theodosakis directs this story of Cindy, the shy girl with the secretly great singing voice; when hit singing TV show WOW Factor comes to Cindy's school, she builds up the courage to show her stuff, against the stiff competition of her more extroverted classmates.
WOW Factor has all the stuff of a great kids show: a vivid set, costumes that draw the eye to detail (both designed by James Bolton - honestly, I wanted Cindy's wig), and near-constant motion.
An audience of kids also tests the temperament of the folks onstage. WOW Factor is cast with current and past members of the COC Ensemble Studio, and it was specifically the new members who impressed with their versatility. I had seen bass-baritone Joel Allison in the COC's stark production of Eugene Onegin, and it was a hoot to see him turn a full 180 as the buffo-for-kids Mr. Magnifico. As Cindy, Simona Genga had a calm air about her, one that seemed familiar and empowering, a true character to emulate. Simone McIntosh, Lauren Eberwein, and Anna-Sophie Neher made for the vaguely Mean Girls-inspired trio of Tisbe, Phoebe, and Chloe; Charles Sy and Samuel Chan were a laughably hip pair as WOW Factor host Lil' Charm and his right-hand man, Tiny Dan. And Lauren Margison was very Bonnie-Bedelia-in-Parenthood as the earthy Principal Fée, who gets the best out of her students without them even knowing it.
Like a good Disney movie, WOW Factor has stuff for grown-ups to appreciate, namely the great singing that was never compromised. A highlight is Tisbe's audition song - a popified version of "Una voce poco fa" for which Mayer and McIntosh both deserve many kudos.
The biggest marker of success: I brought my one-year-old to the show, and he watched the whole thing, all ~50 minutes of it. (!!!)
It is a bit of a shame that the COC's productions for young people no longer tour to schools, but stay stationary and bring the school audiences to their home at 227 Front St. E. But at the very least, the COC is taking advantage of the permanence, with a larger performance space, more adventurous set and costume design, and a controlled environment to make great music.