BWW Review: PRANCER at DreamWrights Center For Community Arts
The heart-warming story of Jessica Riggs and the reindeer Prancer first came to life in 1989 as a beloved film by Greg Taylor. In 2016, it was adapted for the stage, first appearing at The Rose Theatre. Now through December 22 you can catch Prancer on stage at DreamWrights Community Theatre.
In her Director's Notes, director Jessica Crowe invites us on a journey. "Let us transport you to the cozy little town of Three Oaks, Michigan, as we meet a girl, a very magical reindeer, and the people who were forever changed by this unlikely pair of dreamers. If you don't already believe in Santa Claus and the power of the holidays, it is our hope that you will by the end of our story."
The costumes (designed by Lori Gilbert), props (by Iris Lewin), lights (designed by Tony Fogle), and sound (designed by Dave Unger) come together beautifully to transport us to a cold winter in Michigan, just around Christmastime. The angel costumes in particular are adorable. The lighting design in the scene where Jessica and her brother Steve are trying to free Prancer is perfect-it really looks like car headlights. The reindeer sounds are delightfully realistic and timed quite well. The set, designed by Ray Olewiler, is magical, taking us from the woods to a cozy home to a town street. While the set changes were smooth and moved quickly, it was unfortunate that there was only one space for moving large set pieces on and off-some of the changes took a while out of necessity, and, while executed wonderfully, broke up the flow of the storyline more than I would have preferred.
I had the opportunity to see Company B perform on opening night. We meet a number of the characters in the opening scene at school. Miss Fairburn, played on opening night by Assistant Director Shaina Lucas, is firm but compassionate with her students. Of course, there are the children who aren't so nice to everyone and there are those who try to fit in with the "cool" crowd while feeling uncomfortable with how the "mean kids" are treating others. The ensemble of school children in this production of Prancer did a great job with their respective roles. The school kids were played by Abigail Weston, Ava Swift-Werner, Makayla Frey, Yvie Desautels, Azarianna Kelly, Lilliana Flickinger, and Justin Danner. Two younger children, Harriet and Sammy are played by Amelia Lewin and Ryelan Swartz.
Most of the roles, including the adult characters, are played by children and teens. The young actors who take on these older roles are remarkable. Caitlyn Barshinger is delightful as the kind-hearted police officer Dora Benedetti, who really shines in her scene with Prancer in the second act. Laney Poulin is very convincing in her role as Doctor Benton. In her scene with Jessica and Prancer in the first act, her anger toward Jessica and concern for both Jessica and Prancer are in conflict, and Poulin expresses both of those emotions beautifully. Young actors Coen Beamesderfer, Claire Beamesderfer, and Autumn Dickmyer take on the roles of Herb Drier, Jr., The Crew Worker, and Pastor Williams. Coen Beamesderfer has great stage presence and infuses the role of the butcher with a friendly, affable demeanor that instantly makes the audience like him. Claire Beamesderfer and Autumn Dickmyer portray their characters in such a way that we know right away what their character is.
Noah Youcheff and Hannah Kuhn play two of my favorite characters in this production-Tom Stewart and Mrs. McFarland. Youcheff's Tom Stewart is just as bold and excited as you'd expect a newspaper reporter with a big story to be. Kuhn is impressive in her role as Mrs. McFarland-perhaps one of the most difficult roles in the show. It is easy to forget that Kuhn is a high school student as she plays a woman in her 50s. She handles the varied emotions required by that role well and interacts convincingly with the other characters in the show.
Sarah Weston, Logan Rhoades, and Murphy Howard play Aunt Sarah, Steve Riggs, and John Riggs-Jessica's family-while Olivia Rill plays Carol Weatherby, Jessica's best friend. The way these characters interact with one another and with Jessica is heartwarming and genuine. The scene where Jessica and Carol go sledding is adorable, and encourages audiences to remember fun times with their childhood friends. Prancer, one of the stars of the show, is played by Bryan Brown, Alyssa Flinchbaugh, and Katrena Wagner. It's never easy to play a non-speaking part, especially one that involves a puppet. Brown, Flinchbaugh, and Wagner work together smoothly as they bring Prancer to life-the scene with Prancer in the kitchen is one of the most enjoyable in the show. Sara Youcheff portrays Jessica Riggs with the perfect blend of enthusiasm, hopefulness, and determination. Her reactions to the other characters are authentic, and she easily draws the audience into the story.
Prancer is a story about hope and belief, and seeing the production at DreamWrights is sure to make you believe in the spirit of the holiday season. Get your tickets today at www.dreamwrights.org.