BWW Review: MSMT's JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Brings Magic to Young Audiences
Robin and Clark's musical theatre version of Jack and the Beanstalk, which plays three performances this week at MSMT's Pickard Theater, is a colorful, clever, catchy retelling of a familiar story designed to enchant the entire family. Directed/choreographed by Curt Dale Clark, cast with an ensemble of energetic young actors, and staged in a striking visual production, this delightful fairytale creates magic for all.
Jack and the Beanstalk was the second creative collaboration by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark, both of whom have written together book, music, and lyrics for some fifteen musical theatre children's shows, and it remains engaging and fresh almost twenty-five years later. Among the secrets to the success of their shows is the remarkable ability to pare the book and staging down to the essentials, to trim the tale to children's attention spans (about an hour), to encase the story in memorable melodies and lively choreography, and to add contemporary twists to the characters and book - all of which make the show accessible, entertaining, and, in the subtlest manner, educational. All of these qualities are on display in Jack and the Beanstalk, together with a felicitous flair for rhymes and lyrics, a mischievous sense of humor, and an endearing and heartfelt simplicity of message: that nothing is impossible if you dream.
The book is trim and tight; the action frequently breaks proscenium, and in this production, uses the aisles and house as well, to interact with the audience. The story is punctuated with well-placed songs in a variety of styles from Jack's wistful "Dreams in a Real World," to Ogra's tongue-in-cheek Broadway belt, "I Want To Sing, I Want to Dance" to Miranda's yearning "Once Upon a Time" that segues into a romantic duet with Jack, "Now I Know What Love Is," to the Mysterious Man's upbeat "Magic Beans" and his second hip hop number. Performed to a recorded soundtrack, the work is imaginatively orchestrated and underscored through all the scenic transitions with fine instrumentals, and Music Director Patrick Fanning's sure hand is visible in the fine vocal performances.
Director/choreographer Curt Dale Clark's obvious identification with the material, his expert eye for both detail and the large stage picture, and his keen sense of pace lend this production charm and appeal. Moreover, Clark elicits from the cast just the right balance between making these storybook figures larger than life and retaining their essential humanity, genuineness, and heartwarming innocence - and it is especially these last three qualities which speak to the adult audience as well.
Using the framework of their set for Ghost, MSMT adds some beautifully painted drops designed by William Mohney (with artful props by Ashley Flowers), to create the two worlds of the play: Jack's home and the kingdom of the giant. Sean Cox creates the impressive beanstalk, which produces gasps of delight as it magically grows and then precipitously falls. Travis S. Grant designs the vivid costumes and wigs, which take their cue from the 18th century origins of this English folktale. Using a palette of neutrals for the humans and more vivid hues of purple, orange, turquoise for the fantastical characters, he evokes the contrasting realms of the play. The giant on stilts with huge bushy beard makes an especially imposing figure to delight (and startle) the young audiences. Nathan Dickson handles the fluid sound design (based on Matthew Moran's original) effectively, while Heather Reynolds contributes a fine complementary lighting scheme to add to the atmospheric color and boost the brisk flow of the work.
MSMT's cast is comprised of all young local actors, who demonstrate their professionalism and infectious stage appeal. As Jack, Eric Berry-Sandelin lights up the stage with his boyish charm, kinetic stage presence, and sure ability to deliver a song. He makes an endearing hero, more of a dreamer than a dolt, wide-eyed and open-hearted, and entirely embraceable in his youthful enthusiasm. Ali Sarnacchiaro gives his mother Carlotta a believable combination of tenderness and exasperation, and she, too, impresses with her vocal delivery. Molly Keane-Dreyer attacks the meaty role of Ogra, the Giant's wife, with gusto. She portrays a woman who is by turns self-pitying, put-upon, boisterous and shrewish, and she demonstrates her pizazz in her humorous song-dance number, "I Want to Sing, I Want to Dance." Matthew LaBerge is a compelling giant, towering above the others on stilts and booming in a resonant bass, but one who, despite all efforts to inspire fear, is a really an overgrown, clumsy child. Together, he and Keane-Dreyer find the sly humor in this dysfunctional marital relationship. Rachel Grindle possesses a lovely cultivated soprano and she brings just the right mixture of determination and fragility to Princess Miranda. Taylor Gervais, completely hidden in a winsome animal costume, creates a loveably anthropomorphic Angus the Cow, and manages to use his body language to capture the audience's hearts. Rounding out the cast is Cameron Wright in a charismatic account of the Mysterious Man; Wright endows this elusive figure with an undercurrent of wit and wisdom, and he uses his strong voice and fine dance skills to lend panache to two of the show's liveliest numbers.
MSMT's Jack and the Beanstalk offers a delicious opportunity to introduce youngsters to live musical theatre or to share the magic of the experience together as a family. As MSMT begins its second year of their expanded Young Audiences series with two full-scale productions, one can only congratulate them on this vital effort to offer youngsters a musical theatre experience that stimulates their imagination, touches their hearts, and encourages them to think about the timeless lessons contained in these stories.
Perfectly conceived, pitched, and presented this production of Robin and Clark's Jack and the Beanstalk rekindles the child in all of us while, at the same time, it reminds us what is so magical and transforming about the power of big dreams.
Photos courtesy of MSMT, Olivia Wenner, photographer
Jack and the Beanstalk runs for three performances only at MSMT's Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME on Wednesday, June 15 at 10J0 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. and on Saturday, June 18 at 11:00 a.m. The Saturday performance is followed by a meet and greet for children with the costumed cast. Tickets: www.msmt.org or 207-725-8769.