Mercer Opera recently produced Seymour Barab’s opera, “The Toy Shop.” It is a one-act opera aimed at children, so all of the words are in English and the subject matter is a little more toned down than what typical opera-goers are used to. As I sat in the audience, this was evident before the show even started: it began an hour before typical shows do on this campus, and the set was wild with toys and primary colors.
The story tells of a childless Toy Maker (Eric Medlock). He has created two dolls that stand in as his children, Paul (John Jenkins) and Pauline (Leah Parris). The Toy Maker is a typical father figure, and Medlock did well to make the character endearing. He has a fantastic voice, and was a great performer to start the show.
The Toy Maker tells the dolls that, because it is their birthday tomorrow, he is making them a new friend: Paulette (Lizamar Nieves). He then leaves the room to continue work on the new doll, and Paul and Pauline come to life.
It is Paul’s dearest wish to stay with his father and be loved for eternity. Jenkins did a great job of taking a very one-dimensional character and turning him into someone that the audience loves.
Pauline, on the other hand, wants to travel. She wants to be a real girl and emote, but realizes that there isn’t much of a way to do that. She also becomes increasingly jealous of the new doll and begins to think that her father doesn’t love her anymore. Parris won my heart as Pauline. She was the perfect mix of cute and sassy, and had great moments of emotion as well as the comedic “bits” that both dolls had. Parris also choreographed the show, and the dance the dolls performed was cute.
As The Toy Maker is busy in the back room, in comes the magician, Aaron Blunder (Ryan Kirkconnell). He is the villain/comic relief in the show, and as anyone who has seen Kirkconnell can tell you, he fit the bill perfectly. He has the kind of physicality and comic timing that the part requires, and looked rather dastardly in the cape/tuxedo combination of his costume.
Through a series of hijinks and misadventures, the opera concludes happily and surprisingly. Paulette is a gorilla doll that hugs instead of dances. She chases the magician through the audience (to the great delight of the children), and eventually everyone gets their happy ending. The cast and crew had a talk-back with the children after the show, which I thought was a great touch, and I can’t wait to see the next opera in January.