‘Let the wild rumpus begin’

In only 10 sentences Maurice Sendak crafted a story involving adventure, mischief and — most of all — partying. Where the Wild Things Are, already one of the best-known picture books, was recently given new life in popular culture. After Spike Jonze’s film, hipsters flocked to Urban Outfitters in pursuit of Wild Things-themed home décor. It inspired a pricey fashion line by Opening Ceremony — wolf suits included. Indeed, understanding our desire to relive this childhood fantasy, corporations have tried to transform the book, ignoring the old adage “why mess with a good thing?”

A decidedly more authentic and grassroots re-interpretation hopes to show us why. Indeed, an interesting local rendition of Sendak’s book will take place this Friday when local pop-rock outfit Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers present The Wild Things, an original rock opera about Max, the little boy who dressed up in his wolf suit “and made mischief of one kind and another.”
So what is it about a story about a young boy and his monster friends that has inspired all of these creative thinkers? Jesse Krause, who arranged and composed The Wild Things alongside Darren Grunau, explains, “[Max] just starts off fucking shit up because he feels like it, and the book seems to encourage that [ . . . ] The book sort of encourages kids to be what they feel like they need to be, to be rambunctious, to be little monsters, just because.”

Indeed, at the beginning of the book Max chases a small dog with a fork, and is sent to bed without dinner. Then the real adventure begins. A forest grows inside of his room and Max travels for “almost over a year to where the wild things are.” Once Max tames these terrible beasts with their sharp claws and yellow eyes, the real partying begins. According to Krause, this party scene helped them adapt such a short book into a roughly 40-minute production.

“The wild rumpus takes up a good amount of time in the production. With just the general rumpusing, I suppose, and with all the instrumentalists it’s better,” he explains. “Some extrapolation is necessary and obviously we didn’t just lift the words out of the book into lyrics.”
Besides the obvious challenge of translating 10 sentences into a full rock opera, Krause also found the book’s popularity made it a difficult subject to approach.

“It’s kind of a tricky project because people have a lot of attachment and so we’re kind of representing our own reading of it, rather than the subjective reading that everybody should take,” he says. “But that’s kind of how it is with any kind of adaptation or, yeah, a rock opera.”
Krause found that Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers’ music was easily adapted into rock opera territory. “As a band, we are sort of into the theatricality of music. Last year we put on Jesus Christ Superstar with the Liptonians,” he explains. “That’s also the sort of thing we’re into for our own original stuff. We are definitely moving into that direction, towards more narrative-driven music.”

The band enlisted the help of other musicians and creative talent to bring the “40-minute spectacle combining dancers, dynamic set pieces, elaborate costumes and musical adventure” to life. For example, artistic help came from local artists Seth Woodyard, Megan Driedger, Chantel Mierau and Tera Dyck-Woodyard, all of whom were involved in set design, construction and the costumes for the show. The band will also be joined by two horn players and two other percussionists, as well and a bunch of students from Vincent Massey Collegiate High School.
Krause anticipates an “exciting and fun” show, even though the production has been difficult to explain.

“Every time we describe what we are trying to do to people in a hardware store or an art supplies store, people have these quizzical looks on their faces like we are speaking in Latin or something. Like when I said we built a boat in our living room last week,” he says. “I think it’s going to be extravagant and fun. Yes, that is what it will be.”

While tickets have sold out for the Feb. 26 performance at the Park Theatre, there will be repeat performances this summer at the Fringe Festival. The band is also planning on doing two more shows of Jesus Christ Superstar on March 31 and April 1 this year.