Review: THE KING OF HEARTS at The Alchemy Theatre

Embrace the insanity and join the hero’s journey at the Whisenhunt at Zach Theatre!

By: Jun. 03, 2024
Review: THE KING OF HEARTS at The Alchemy Theatre
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Review: THE KING OF HEARTS at The Alchemy Theatre King of Hearts is a musical comedy-drama based on a 1966 French film of the same name. It's written by Steve Tesich with music by Peter Link and lyrics by Jacob Brackman. The story is set in 1918 during WWI, in the fictional French town of DuTemps. It follows Private Johnny Able on a whimsical quest of self-discovery. On the eve before the war's end, Johnny volunteers to defuse a bomb threatening the village. He hopes to return home a hero, but upon arrival, he discovers that the town is deserted except for the residents of the local insane asylum. Seeking shelter in the asylum, Johnny inadvertently leaves the gates open, allowing the residents to take to the streets and assume the roles once held by those that are sane. In their unique and wonderful way, they make their case for sanity and ultimately declare Johnny their king.

King of Hearts isn't your typical musical — it requires some context to fully grasp its message. Originally conceived as an anti-war piece, its themes resonate with any hero's journey: self-sacrifice, life-altering decisions, mortality, and the transformative power of love. In this story, we question the notion of sanity. Are the inmates of the asylum truly insane when all they seek is to live and love? And is the rest of the world truly sane when it engages in wars that strip away its humanity?  

This is a quirky yet captivating theatrical production that requires keen focus and attention to detail. Directed by Michael Cooper, the show makes clever use of the intimate setting at the Whisenhunt Theatre. The staging (Corey Green / Lucky Giraffe) is simple yet stunning, with clever set pieces and projection screens (Zackary Read) that enrich the storytelling. A lone pianist (Dr. Ellie Jarrett Shattles) on stage serves as a one-woman orchestra, while the lighting (Zackary Read) casts an antique glow over the entire performance, complementing the beautifully designed costumes (Stephanie Slayton) that transport us back to the WWI era.

Patrick Regner shines as Private Johnny Able, with an over-the-top characterization of a simple Southern young man that fits the style of the musical. And let's not forget his surprising tap dancing skills — because who doesn't love a good tap number?

Each actor delivers a remarkable performance that demands attention. They remain deeply immersed in their roles, skillfully portraying their characters' stories through nuanced gestures and movements. While mostly pretending to be townspeople, each patient finds love, friendships, and family in their assumed roles. In rare moments of clarity, they reveal their backstories, unveiling tales of grief, loss, discrimination, and misunderstanding. Their pain draws us in, fostering empathy as we gain deeper insights into their lives.

Sebastian Vitale delivers a standout performance as Genevieve — a man with a woman’s name; "his mother was a woman, so why wouldn’t he have a woman’s name?" Vitale captures Genevieve's essence with mannerisms that effectively convey the character's grief over the loss of his wife, concealed beneath the mask of insanity. 

Sarah-Marie Curry enchants as Jeunefille, a vulnerable woman in desperate need to find love as she was confined to the asylum at a young age after the tragic loss of her mother. Curry brings poignant authenticity to her character's journey of resilience and sorrow.

Chelsea Lane delivers a captivating performance as Madame Madeleine, exuding both sensuality and raw emotion, as she demonstrates in her rendition of “Somewhere is Here.”

Review: THE KING OF HEARTS at The Alchemy Theatre
Sarah-Marie Curry (Jeunefille) and Patrick Regner (Johnny Able)
King of Hearts
PC: The Alchemy Theatre

Completing the talented cast are Nicholaus Weindel as the schizophrenic Bishop, Leslie Hethcox as a timid transsexual barber. Sara Zare Ranjbar as the Duchess, Tim Blackwood as the Duke and German General. Christopher Saenz as Demosthenes, the Mute, Max Green as Lieutenant Cooper/Patient, Rachel Ditzig as Patient/American Soldier, David Dech as Underground Barber/Patient/German Soldier, and Noah Steele as Commandant Kost/Patient.

While not every song advances the plot, several pieces elevate the production. From the entrancing "Déjà Vu" to the intriguing “Promenade”, the heartfelt "Nothing Only Love", and the introspective "Close Upon the Hour," as well as the jubilant title track, these musical gems punctuate the narrative with emotional depth and resonance. Kelly Hasandras' elegant choreography serves as a compelling storytelling tool, effectively conveying the essence of the narrative, sometimes even surpassing the impact of the lyrics themselves.

The unique plot, show’s aesthetics, and strong cast make the trip to the Whisenhunt worth it, but once you're there, let the story sweep you away and take you on a hero’s journey. You'll find that your time is well spent with The Alchemy Theatre's production of King of Hearts

King of Hearts

Directed by Michael Cooper

Music Direction by Ellie Jarrett Shattles

Choreographed by Kelly Hasandras

Produced by Marnie Near

The Whisenhunt Stage at Zach Theatre

Now playing through June 16, 2024

Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30pm

Sundays at 2:30pm

Saturday June 15th, Show is at 1:00pm followed by a Post-Show Cast Talk back

Age Recommendation: 12 and up (based on adult situations & violence)

Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes (including 1 intermission)

Note: This musical contains depictions of warfare. With consideration for the intimate audience, artillery fire and explosions will be carefully simulated.


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