BWW Reviews: World Premiere of STONE SOUP is a Delicious, Family Friendly Treat
SummerStock Austin has a long tradition of producing one musical specifically written for the under 13 set every year. I was introduced to this tradition back in 2012 when I went to a performance of SummerStock Austin's production of A Year With Frog and Toad. As a childless twenty-something guy, I was the only adult in the audience who was unaccompanied by a kid. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show and praised its ability to please all audience members, regardless of age. The next year, I attended The Bremen Town Musicians, and was pleased to see that, once again, the show spoke to adults and children. It's no surprise then, that history's repeating itself with SummerStock Austin's production of Stone Soup. In its world premiere production, Stone Soup pleases kids and adults alike and easily entertains from beginning to end.
The musical is an adaptation of the folk story of the same name. A traveler named Alex (Vincent Hooper) stumbles upon a city made entirely of stones where its citizens have been taught by their evil Mayor (Sarah Yoakley) to trust no one and fear everything. Alex eventually unites the citizens, gets them to work together, and teaches them to confront their fears, all by convincing them to help him cook his world famous recipe for stone soup.
Much of the success of the production is owed to Allen Robertson. It's clear that Stone Soup is Robertson's brain-child. He serves as composer, lyricist, director, co-book writer (with Damon Brown), and co-choreographer (with Jenna Carson and Vincent Hooper). Though wearing five hats could easily make anyone over-extended, Robertson is a true renaissance man. His score is joyous and features a mix of styles varying from funk, pop, Latin and Broadway sounds, to name a few. The eclectic nature of the tunes is a wise and effective choice. It keeps the audience engaged, something many children's shows struggle to do. The book is full of one-liners that reach to all audience members, regardless of age, and incorporates messages about teamwork, fear, and friendship without beating them to death.
As with all of SummerStock Austin's shows, every member of the ensemble gives an all-out, high energy, and professional performance. Noah Villereal, Ronan Melomo, and Monica Oliva showcase their comedic prowess as the Three Stooges-esque Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod, as does Gray Randolph as a hysterical, Russian-folk song singing mamma with a menagerie of children. Sarah Yoakley gives a commanding performance as the villain, Mayor Imperia. She's tyrannical and glamorous, and her vulture-inspired costumes by Pam Fletcher-Friday are absolutely stunning. Kalie Naftzger is sensational as Nadia, the sole citizen who dares to criticize Mayor Imperia. Naftzger sinks her teeth into the role of the heroine. She's headstrong, feisty, and sarcastic, and her delivery of the Disney Princess-spoofing tune "Wishing" is a highlight of the show. As Alex, Vincent Hooper excels as well. Hooper owns the stage. His comedic timing is outstanding, and his spirited dance moves evoke the memory of a young Michael Jackson.
SummerStock Austin has a 10 year history of excellence, and Stone Soup is a welcome addition to that legacy. An energetic, high spirited crowd-pleaser, Stone Soup is mmm mmm good.
Running time: 1 hour and 10 minutes, no intermission.
STONE SOUP, produced by SummerStock Austin, plays The Long Center for the Performing Arts (701 W Riverside Dr, Austin 78704) now thru August 10th. Performances are 8/2, 8/6, 8/8, 8/9, and 8/10 at 10am and 8/3 at 2pm. Tickets are $5 children and $10 general admission. For tickets and information, please visit www.summerstockaustin.org