BWW Reviews: Majesty At Its Peak at Harwich Junior Theatre
Since arriving on the Cape for the summer theater season back in May, I have seen quite an array of shows grace the stages of many wonderful theaters; from comedies to less-than-comical plots and everything in between, there was always a new production that entranced me with an exciting story that took audiences away from the at times humdrum nature of life, if only just for a few moments. There is something so wonderful about moving to a new place (as I did this summer) and discovering that its theaters, with their bunches of immensely talented actors, intimate atmospheres and an abundance of stars floating above in the night sky, have sort of become places of sanctuary for me; I feel so hopeful and amazed at what "theater-people" (for lack of a better term) have dedicated their entire sense of being to. What better way to emphasize this wonderful vision of what beauty looks like if it were made into a tangible thing than to speak of the Harwich Junior Theatre in West Harwich.
Before I comment on the group's current production of Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, I can honestly say that the fact this theater exists is a blessing to the Cape Cod community. As HJT prides itself on both its performance and educational facets, providing classes to children of all ages so that they may find a place to hone their skills upon the stage (a place that undoubtedly must become a second home for many), this group is simply amazing. Just watching the children more times than not outshine the adults on stage, demonstrating such skill in the face of difficult staging and the bringing of a storyline to life in a way only HJT can, is something amazing. Thus I felt the need to begin my review with an ode to this theater that manages never to disappoint; it exceeds expectations with each and every show, and this time around is no different.
As part of a very impressive sixty-forth summer season, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon makes its Cape Cod premiere with Harwich Junior Theater's current production...and what a clever idea it was to bring such a heartwarming story to its stage! Written by Grace Lin, adapted by Jeannine Coulombe and directed by the magnificent Jane Staab (an HJT alumna herself), the one word that came to mind when thinking of how Where the Mountain Meets the Moon can be described is "majestic." Telling the story of a young girl who embarks on a quest to find the mystical, omniscient being who can reveal to her the secret of wealth, this Newbery-honored novel is transformed into something Staab has made beautiful to behold on stage.
Through a wonderful mixture of stories (each told with a different lesson in mind) does our heroine Minli learn more than she ever bargained for, and the perils and uncertainty involved with her journey result in a production which truly brings out the emotion after emotion associated with a young girl's desire to improve the lives of her ailing family. There is something amazing about how each of Lin's stories - from the greed of the tyrannical Magistrate to the tale of a perpetually happy family that can never feel otherwise - are soon discovered to no longer be wild tales told be Minli's father, but actualities that become intertwined with her reality and therefore only strengthen her belief that the Old Man of the Moon exists and can, indeed, help her. To watch how the fantastical becomes interspersed with reality enough so to change it really brings to fruition for both children and adults the means by which we should all live our lives: we should live with the radical hope that there is something beautiful waiting just beyond the familiar, and it is the duty of each of us to know whether or not to believe in it.
As I alluded to before, there is so much that happens on HJT's stage that it is hard to pinpoint just one fascinating detail among; but, to say that this production, from the elaborate costumes to how a rather large cast of [mostly] children came together so fluidly to tell Minli's story, really went above and beyond is a complete understatement. Staab directed this piece in such a way that the audience never ceased being mesmerized by the lighthearted yet heavily significant facets of our heroine's journey. From leaving her home to the point when she is able to return, there is such joy in watching children come together so perfectly to perform in this production, and perform it to a degree that I would go and see it again. I'm not quite sure how HJT makes each production better than the last, but Staab has continued the tradition of bring exceptional theater to a Cape Cod audience under her direction, and her knack for the depiction of great storytelling truly made this show great.
What would a great show be without its actors, and although I cannot unfortunately name them all here (although I'd like to!), just know that everyone involved brought a smile to an audience member's face in some way. Caroliine Workman*, already with a rather impressive resume behind her, is who I wish I could have been as a child and absolutely shines as Minli. Her character's fortitude and optimism never falter, and the way she is able to remain the extreme sense of hope that remains plastered on her face and evident in her voice for the show's duration really brought Minli to life. She really is a beautiful actress, and I'm thinking only good things will come to her down the road. Michael Tow as Ba, Jade Schuyler as Ma, B. Christopher Williams as Dragon, Jenn Pina* as Jade Dragon (and others) and Jack Coughlin as Magistrate Tiger all deserve mention as the crux of this show; without them, the rest of the cast (all those very talented children!) would not have been able to tell Minli's story. Everyone in this cast made the show spectacular, and also those who are not seen on stage: from Melissa Miller (Costumer), Laurel Conrad (Choreographer), James P. Byrne (Lighting), Matthew Laure (Scenic Design), Dewey Dellay (Music and Sound Design) and of course Nina Schuessler, this show really came together well.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon at Harwich Junior Theatre, located at 105 Division Street in West Harwich, began performances on August 7th and will continue thru August 23rd. Tickets are available either in person at the box office, by calling (508) 432-2002 or by visiting http://www.hjtcapecod.org/. The performance schedule is as follows: Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4 PM; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7 PM. HJT has many more exciting shows coming up, even though the summer is dwindling, so be sure to check them out! It's always worth it.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Nicole Ellen Photography