BWW Review: MCT'S Elegant GREAT EXPECTATIONS Empowers Audiences
In an impassioned, almost poetic adaptation of Charles Dickens' masterpiece Great Expectations, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) opened Gale Childs Daly's evocative interpretation in the Cabot Theatre last weekend. Composer Andrew Crowe, premier violinist, added an original score to haunt and mesmerize audiences sitting in the theatre as he waltzed through every scene. Daly's adaptation literally leaps off the pages of the 1861 novel, and the cast under Director Molly Rhode incorporates actual books as props for meat pies or rhythm instruments to miraculous effect each step of the way through the main character Pip's coming of age and maturation.
While the production spans approximately two and one half hours, the luminous cast combined with a proficient technical team (Scenic Designer, Lisa Schlenker, Lighting Designer, Jason Fassl, Costume Designer Jason Orlenko, Fight Choreographer Ryan Schabach) sustains a mysterious ambiance on stage for Dickens's tale about a seven year old orphan named Pip brought up by an abusive sister. The results create a unique theatrical experience to be remembered and savored for the summer ahead.
A stellar cast includes debuting actor Josh Krause playing the innocent little boy changed into wiser man Pip, continually holding on to dreams and optimism. His honest, warm persona embodies an emotional centerpiece for the entire production, again breathing life into Dicken's classic tale.
Surrounding Krause, a host of Milwaukee's favorite actors bring Dickens' iconic characters to life. Chiké Johnson portrays the lovable blacksmith Joe lighting up the stage with a smile. Deborah Staple embodies Miss Havisham (in a fabulous Orlenko costume) to Karen Estrada's beautiful, yet cold hearted Estella, who charms audiences despite her aloofness. Jonathan Gilliard Daly arrives mainly as irascible Magwitch and Mr. Pumblechook, a delight in each part alongside Zach Thomas Woods' amiable Herbert Pocket, Pip's friend.
Musician Crowe magically moves amid the cast, a joy to watch when possibly taking one's eyes away from the actors, and rotating bookshelves to imagine London in this epic novel with electrifying results. Each actor has a primary role, in the playbill named "narrator", and then doubles in smaller cameos with effortless ease. Six actors represent 17 characters, where each actor also narrates parts of the production similar to Pip's first person narrative in Dickens' novel.
What surprises audiences in MCT's adaptation might be the subtle humor amid Pip's poignant growth into manhood. Scenes where Pip attends a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet resound with humor. The scenes between Pip and Miss Havisham (Krause and Staples), especially when she finally dies, or Pip and Joe (Krause and Johnson) master genuine emotion without over sentimentality. In this production, shining through Dickens' treasured novel audiences experience the human condition balanced with compassion and empathy when confronted with fateful reality--attributes ultimately returned to Pip when he needs encouragement himself.
While Dickens' original novel bore another ending, Daly chose the second, more redemptive ending Dickens' wrote for Estella and Pip, well earned for either character. The entire evening revisits Dickens' great message paying forward kindness while persisting in one's dreams or expectations although faced with life's setbacks. Rhode astutely captures these themes with drama, eloquence, grace and humor providing an enchanted literary and theatrical evening.
In the Cabot Theatre lobby on a folding screen, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre ponders several questions perhaps posed by Dickens: For what do you hope? For what do you dream? Had you the power to grant someone else a dream what would you give them? In this exceptional, superb adaptation of great literature, the must-see Great Expectations empowers audiences to reconsider these questions with critical relevance for the immediate and far reaching future.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Gale Childs Daly's adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theater Center through April 30. For further information regarding season tickets for 2017-2018 or tickets to this production, please call 414.421.7800 or visit: www.milwaukeechambertheatre.com.