BWW Reviews: First Stage Delivers Daring and Dynamic NANCY DREW at World Premiere
Daring, dramatic and dynamic. Words to describe the conclusion of First Stage's 27th season when the company presents a 50th World Premiere co-written by Artistic Director Jeff Frank and Associate Artistic Director John Maclay adapted from the classic series of mystery stories ghost writtne by Margaret Wirt-Benson in their play Nancy Drew and her Biggest Case Ever. Staged front and center in Milwaukee's Todd Wehr Theater, these three words, daring, dramatic and dynamic apply to the inventive theater company and their captivating new production featuring that famous feminine sleuth Nancy Drew.
In this world premiere, a magnificent set designed by Martin McClendon places Nancy Drew and her two chums, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, on stage surrounded by a monumental bookcase topped with a grand sized pediment etched with the name "Nancy Drew." The two tiered, stepped design resembles a oversized Victorian "cabinet of curiosities" filled to the brim with interesting objects used as clues, props and symbols of Nancy's and her father's, Attorney Carson Drew's, multiple interests and talents. To add suspense, Noele Stollmack's clever lighting design changes the backlit colors radiating from the bookcase where doorways and hidden passageways open and close.
On stage the audience returns to the 1930's, the original era of Nancy Drew, where the heroine battles with her old foe, Stumpy Dowd, who she meets in an opening scene while skiing in the mountains. This leads to her solving a mystery about two orphans' stolen inheritance after their mother dies and they are left under the care of their guardian, Jacob Aborn. In this exciting performance, secret caves lead to adventure, canoes overturn, ferries explode and Nancy will be kidnapped by two henchman.
These dynamic action sequences crucial to the production created by Matt Daniels and Joe Faust daringly demonstrate the "thrills and spills" encountered by the play's heroine. First Stage uses a Japanese Kabuki theater technique where "kokens" or people disguised within the production perform the necessary underpinnings to make the play's action come alive. An ensemble composed of ten young performers who literally move mountains, form waves in water and spin the wheels when Nancy drives her roadster convertible. Director Jeff Frank first incorporated this innovative technique several seasons ago, most notably in Peter Pan and Wendy, and over the past few years continues to perfect these movements in his Theater for Young Audiences.
Members of the Wirt Cast performed Friday night, which allowed the brunette Nancy Drew Madison Penzkover (showing no preferences, the other Nancy Drew Amanda Desimowich sports blonde hair) to command the stage with confident aplomb and ladylike assurance. To compliment her winning performance of the iconic detective, Elizabeth Robbins appeared as the tomboyish George while Abbi Minessale played the sweeter Bess in a performance where "sleuthing with chums always increases your chances of success."
Katherine Pollnow's warm Laura and Ella Tierney's charming Trixie team up to play the Pendleton sisters. Orphans duped by Stumpy Dowd and who engage Nancy Drew to help them find a map left by their grandfather that supposedly leads the way to a buried treasure. An abandoned boathouse on the Pendelton estate near River Heights where Nancy lives may hold the answers and a ghost that gives Trixie the scary 'jim jams." in this production that relies on gifted young performers in two alternating casts, First Stage has developed innumerable youths into actors who then work as professionals at their Theater Academy with remarkable success.
Completing the adult cast who also mentor the young performers and perform several roles, Niffer Clarke, Joe Faust, James Fletcher, Matt Daniels and John Glowicki give added weight to the dramatic production filled with enough suspense to keep two small girls sitting in the audience on the edge of their seats. Eyes wide open with wondering about Nancy Drew's fate and her ability to solve the crime that saves the day.
In a testament to the company's creativity, First Stage delivers the magical power inherent in theater art to their audiences while Willie Porter's original musical score heightens the performance's mysterious mood. A combination enticing audiences to revisit the enduring world of Nancy Drew, where chums are treasured, fathers can be your trusted friends, and independent, intelligent women like Nancy Drew truly appreciate all the men in their lives. Especially Nancy's boyfriend Ned Nickerson, where she explains instead of belonging to Ned, she prefers to believe "we belong to each other."
Discover these worthwhile dreams fulfilled by watching the courageous sleuth Nancy Drew, a woman of incredible talent and commitment that marries her kindness with sincere conviction. In the world premiere of Nancy Drew and Her Biggest Case Ever., the outstanding First Stage production illustrates for young women, and then young men, who will believe what Nancy Drew says at the opening of the play: "Work as hard as you can at something you love to do. You will become exceptional at this and then people just have to take you seriously."
First Stage presents the World Premiere of Nancy Drew and her Biggest Case Ever written by Jeff Frank and John Maclay at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center of the Performing Arts through June 1. For information, subscriptions to their 2014-2015 season or tickets, call 414.273.7208 or www.firststage.org.