BWW Review: MSMT's Enchanting SLEEPING BEAUTY Offers a Fresh and Relevant Perspective on a Classic Fairytale
MSMT opens its Theatre for Young Audiences with three performances of Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark's musical retelling of The Brothers Grimm fairytale, Sleeping Beauty, in a striking visual production, performed with energy, conviction, and style by a company of young actors. The hour-long musical version puts a contemporary spin on the familiar story and subtly raises issues and values which seem remarkably current, despite the fact that the show was written more than twenty years ago.
As do all of Robin and Clark's musicals, this Sleeping Beauty, while adhering to the architecture of the original storyline, modernizes the characters and consciously alters the messaging. In this case, Princess Amber is a tomboy; Prince Hunter is a nerdy young man who is a psychological prisoner of his allergies; Magenta is the vengeful presence whose past hurts humanize her; the three sisters, Ruby, Marigold, and Periwinkle, are all delightfully quirky and each embodies a virtue. Add to these a bumbling King Lapis, a wise and witty talking owl, Sienna, and a fire-breathing dragon, and you have the ingredients for a winning concoction.
The book is tight and fast-paced, replete with lots of humor to punctuate the dramatic moments, and the lyrics are catchy, poignant and memorable by turns. The score is lyrical with some of the creators' most challenging and beautiful songs. But perhaps what is most inspiring and makes Robin and Clark's works have lasting appeal is the skillful reshaping of the story's values compass. In addition to challenging stereotypes about gender, this Sleeping Beauty is very much about the power of love which can transform hatred, revenge, racial prejudice, and intolerance.
Curt Dale Clark directs and choreographs with an obvious commitment to the material and the performers. He understands how to shape both the humor and the poignancy of the story, and he knows how to orchestrate the cast's interaction with the young audience. The result is a spirited, polished completely delightful production. Music Director Patrick Fanning at the piano, elicits a lush lyricism from the musicians and shepherds the singers through their sometimes complex vocal music with a sure hand, while Assistant Music Director Curtis Reynolds on keyboards, and Jake Smith on drums comprise the pit band.
The costumes by Travis M. Grant are imaginative and especially attractive, demonstrating a keen sense of fabric texture, color (so important thematically in this show), and detail. While the musical is - of necessity - performed within the confines of the Always, Patsy Cline set, MSMT has by means of a black drop and elaborate props - (the prancing, pink skeletal dragon with expressive eyes is a highlight) - creates an entirely new ambiance. The atmospheric lighting by Joe Clavell (after the original design by Matthew Moran), and the well-balanced sound and creative sound effects by Rachel Boissevain all manage to reimagine the space and create the necessary magic. Laura Scott supplies the seamless stage management.
The cast of talented young professionals performs with élan. Ali Sarnacchiaro is a vivacious, determined, strong-willed Princess Amber, who finds the right blend of yearning and rebelliousness in "Colors of the World." Cameron Wright is a winning Prince Hunter who convincingly makes the leap from timid, frightened, allergy-prone young man to a boyishly courageous rescuing hero. His rendition of "Allergies" is endearingly funny, and he demonstrates his strong vocal skills in the tenderness and thrust of one of Robin and Clark's most beautiful songs "Explanation and Decision." Similarly, Emily Davis delivers a powerful vocal-dramatic performance as Magenta, singing a rousing "Revenge" and making a moving contribution to "Explanation/Decision." She also plays this commanding villainess with relish, credibility, and a dash of redeeming vulnerability.
Taylor Gervais gives Sienna the Owl just the right blend of tongue-in-cheek and warm humanized qualities, while Sean Arsenault is convincing as the well-meaning, if blundering King Lapis. Mel Bills as Ruby, Meg Ward as Marigold, and Liz Kershenbaum as Periwinkle each creates a distinctive "good sister" character. Bills' Ruby is appropriately motherly and bossy, and she delivers a moving ballad, "My Wish Is for Love." Ward's Marigold is the cynical, plain-talking realist of the group who sings of her wish for wisdom, while Kershenbaum's Periwinkle is the giddy sister prone to fainting and flights of emotion, whose wish is (ironically) for courage.
There are few people who know how to fashion theatre for young audiences and for their young-at heart-adults better than Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark. And this latest in MSMT's Theatre for Young Audiences series speaks to how far in terms of artistic quality the company has taken these productions in recent years. Looking around at the full house of smiling, wide-eyed, completely engaged children (and their chaperones), one could feel a palpable sense of magic in the air.
Photos courtesy of MSMT
Sleeping Beauty runs at MSMT's Pickard Theater on June 14 at 10:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and June 17 at 11:00 a.m.