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Review: A Boy with Big Dreams: MSMT's JACK & THE BEANSTALK

Closes this evening!

Review: A Boy with Big Dreams: MSMT's JACK & THE BEANSTALK

Maine State Music Theatre opened its Theatre for Young Audiences series with a delightful, energetic, and amusing production of Robin and Clark's JACK AND THE BEANSTALK that drew a crowd of enthusiastic youngsters, their teachers, parents, and grandparents for the four performances on June 13.

This hour-long musical version with book, music and lyrics by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark is a fast-paced, engaging, and interactive retelling of the familiar fairytale that keeps its freshness and appeal. The plot follows the traditional fairytale very closely, though the creators have added a touch of romance and a bit of contemporary wit. The songs are characterful with infectious melodies that range from romantic ballad to rap song, all with savvy lyrics. And perhaps, best of all, Robin and Clark's script briskly breaks down the fourth wall and welcomes the young audience into the play.

Betsy Puelle directs with a keen mastery of pace and tone. Her staging is extremely kinetic; she uses the space fluidly and encourages the actors to bring a vibrant energy to their roles. Mikayla Jane Clifford completes this vision with her choreography that includes a charming dance for Jack and his bovine companion, a rollicking company rap number, and amusing sequences for Ogra.

Puelle has also designed the very lovely scenery, which - though it is contained within the set of the main stage show - has a beauty and integrity of its own. Using a patch quilt proscenium and a back scrim for atmospheric projections that suggest Jack's house, the giant's castle, and the vistas of the clouds and adding a few attractive props, Puelle gives depth, dimension, and fairytale allure to the ambiance. Tristan King's lighting adds to the sense of magic and mystery. Katie Dowse supplies the attractive period costumes that give the nod to the story's 18th century origins, using hues of mauve and green and warm earth tones for Jack's family and bolder colors for the giant's realm.

Music Director Matt LaBerge plays the score with élan, accompanying the singers sympathetically, and supplying the musical interludes that connect the scenes. Benvolio Montmagny creates the effectively balanced sound design with the requisite special effects for the Giant and for Jack's hewing down of the beanstalk. Stage Manager Anthony Panarello aptly anchors the production.

Review: A Boy with Big Dreams: MSMT's JACK & THE BEANSTALK The six-person cast creates a dynamic rapport with the audience. Noam Osher makes the perfect Jack - a cockeyed optimist, naïve but charming, sweet and yet a little daring. His is a very physical performance filled with loose-limbed energy, tumbling, and boyish antics, and he also makes the most of his vocal moments, including a strong-voiced solo, "Dreams in a Real World," and a gently sung love duet. Lizzie Hall plays the Princess Miranda with a mix of sweetness and determination, and she uses her soprano to fine lyric effect in her songs. Caroline Davis is convincing as the harried Carlotta struggling with the hardship fate has dealt her. Angus the Cow (Lizzie Hall and Ciara L.Neidlinger inhabiting the winsome costume) has show-stealing moments throughout, especially when she dances with Jack.Review: A Boy with Big Dreams: MSMT's JACK & THE BEANSTALK

Ben Clouse plays the Giant as a dim-witted, arrested child trapped in an oversized body, and the subtle humor he brings to the role helps to tone down anything too dark that might frighten a youth audience. Ciara L. Neidlinger, as his wife Ogra, is big-voiced, brassy, and bold, and she appropriately lets its rip in her number, "Ogra's Lament." As the Mysterious Man, Patrick Livingston gives an animated performance and delivers both his vocal solos ( "Magic Beans" and "Exposition Rap") with aplomb. He is masterful in interacting with the audience, and it was obvious from the shouted replies and squeals of delight that he had the youngsters in the palm of his hand.

Indeed, in JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, the audience itself plays a vital role in the production. Invited in at the start and nurtured along the way by the actors who seek the children's participation at crucial points in the plot, the audience laughs, shouts responses, sometimes calls out unsolicited comments to the actors. But these are powerful evidence of their complete involvement in the story and the experience. When the Mysterious Man solicits the audience's help, asking if they believe in magic beans, the affirmative chorus is deafening. And looking around at the wide-eyed wonder in so many little faces, one can see not only today's audience in a moment of merry magic, but also envision these joyful faces as the audience of tomorrow.

Photographs courtesy of MSMT, Ally Collins, photographer

JACK & THE BEANSTALK performs at 10 am, 1pm, 4 pm, and 7:30 pm at MSMT's Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd. , Brunswick, ME Tickets for the remaining shows or others in the series available at: 207



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