BWW Review: HETTY FEATHER at Delaware Theatre Company
The performing arts has many siblings, many guises, many mutations on a theme. Is HETTY FEATHER a drama, is it a musical? Or is it a creative hybrid with no discernible niche?
Taken from a hugely popular UK children's novel, the production was adapted into live performance first in the West End. DTC Director Bud Martin was entranced and brought it here to stage with its first American cast. The words imaginative, original and whimsical come to mind.
A pr release from Delaware Theatre Company suggests 'Charles Dickens meets Orphan Annie'. Aisle Say will go with that.
It is 1880 Victorian England. A century before a philanthropist founded The Foundling Hospital for homeless children. Afraid her child would die, a penniless and unwed mother gave her baby over. To protect identifies, the hospital gave each child a new name. Hence, this child was named Hetty Feather. At a young age the children were then sent to foster homes in the country. They would be returned to the Foundling Hospital at their fourth birthday. There they were given a full education and trained in music.
As Hetty later explains to the audience: "My name is Hetty Feather. Don't mock. It's not my real name. I'm absolutely certain my mother would have picked a beautiful, romantic name for me".
The audience is first met in the lobby by eminently entertaining Victorian minstrels Josh Totora and Liz Filios. When the play begins the two become the onstage orchestra as well, playing percussion, accordion, drums and a panoply of other instruments. That achievement alone is noteworthy.
Our heroine, the radiant and charismatic Clare O'Malley as Hetty guides us through her life experience of imagination, idealism and adventure. "When you don't know who you are, you can be anyone you wish to be". O'Malley brings exuberance, drive and wide-eyed joyous wonderment to Hetty.
The other members of the ensemble, Dave Johnson, Michael Philip O'Brien, Karen Peakes, Terry Brennan and Rachel O'Malley play many other characters, each sculpted to project a completely discerned individual.
This production is wildly fantastic. Aerials play a major role and the titian red silks bring luster and fantasy to the production. Brennan and Rachel O'Malley are the two experts but Hetty does vigorous gymnastics turns as well.
The entire creative crew were as eccentric as the play. While one assumes Director Martin saw the original performance in the UK and used that as a template, his mission statement to all of them must have been 'let's create something totally strange and fantastical. Cleanse your mind of the word 'normal'. Think like Hetty thinks'.
Scenic and costume designer Katie Sykes created a 3-story circus complete with trapeze and dangling silks a la Cirque de Soliel. The minimal but ingenious props provoked the audience to use their own imagination. Lighting designer Andrew F. Griffin used every pastel in the pallet to bathe the stage in a never-ending kaleidoscope, so very much in concert with the circus atmosphere.
Hetty Feather's Victorian England is a magical place. Give your children or your grandchildren a gift. Watch their faces throughout the production. Their eyes will light up and your heart will be warmed.
Photo by Matt Urban of Mobius New Media
Through May 14 DelawareTheatre.org 302.594.1100