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Director gives Jacob Two-Two a makeover

Jen Shuber
Jen Shuber

Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang was one of the first plays Jen Shuber ever saw. Now, she’s co-directing a new production of it for the Young People’s Theatre’s (YPT) 50th anniversary season.

It’s a very special feeling because my parents took me to see everything at YPT,” she says. “But that was the first thing I ever saw, and I remember it so clearly.”

Mordecai Richler’s now classic children’s book is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. Richler also wrote the play, which premiered more than 30 years ago at YPT – that’s the production Shuber saw back in 1984. While YPT has since mounted it numerous times, it’s getting a makeover for 2015.

Shuber and her co-director Allen MacInnis, who’s also YPT’s artistic director, worked closely with sisters Anika and Britta Johnson for eight months as they created new music for the show.

“We decided that if we were going to bring it back, we needed to find a way to make it resonate with modern audiences,” Shuber says.

The Johnsons penned a score that’s filled with pop and hip-hop influences. The now-iconic Jacob Two-Two story, however, remains intact. And Shuber knows it’s still resonating with kids.

After the first few performances, children were humming the music and talking about the play as they left the theatre. “That’s really the litmus test of doing my job,” she says.

With a cast of 12, YPT brought on two kids – Drew Davis and David G. Black – to share the title role in alternating performances. This is a rarity for YPT because despite producing children’s theatre, it usually features only adult actors.

“We really felt that for this particular piece, it would be important to have a child playing the lead role,” says Shuber.

Along with co-directing, Shuber’s the choreographer. She was also the choreographer for YPT’s James and the Giant Peach last year and earned a Dora nomination for her work.

Enjoyable for both children and adults

Shuber graduated from New York University’s Tisch School with a BFA in acting and also attended the National Ballet School of Canada. She’s now both a director and a choreographer in Toronto and she’s recently worked with companies including Harold Green Jewish Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille. She’s also the program director of the Composium workshop for Theatre 20, which is dedicated to developing new Canadian musical theatre.

As for Jacob Two-Two, Shuber stresses that it’s enjoyable for both children and adults. “I think one of the amazing things about YPT is they put together productions and they assume that kids are smart and inquisitive, and it’s a very high level of entertainment,” she says.

As in all YPT shows, children can interact with the actors in a question-and-answer period following each and every performance.

This production is suitable for ages five and up. And, despite its ominous sounding name, it’s not scary at all. Rather, it explores subjects relevant to youngsters as well as those who are young at heart.

“It deals with all kinds of themes, like secret heroes and the importance of friendship, standing up to bullies,” Shuber says.

“But I think the one theme, the one that resonates the most with kids is that the show is about child empowerment.”

Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang runs until Jan. 3, 2016 at the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto. For tickets, visit youngpeoplestheatre.ca or call

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