BWW Review: THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX at Berkeley Repertory Theatre is PigPen Theatre Co.'s stunning re-imagining of the award-winning book and film.
The Tale of Despereaux - A New Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by PigPen Theatre Co.
Based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo and the Universal Pictures Film
Directed by Marc Bruni and PigPen Theatre Co.
There's no better Holiday treat for adult and children than PigPen Theatre Co's astoundingly magical, eye-popping musical delight The Tale of Despereaux, a must-see inventive old-fashioned fairytale parable so very in tune with our current time. Old-fashioned in its themes of love, courage, bravery and redemption, the creative team from PigPen infuse the work with cerebral humorous dialogue and a Broadway score for the adults with stunning visuals, acrobatics and shadow puppetry that had the little girl seated behind me gasping in wonder.
Who are the creators of this dazzling piece of art? The seven members of PigPen Theatre Co. (Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Matt Nuernberger, Ryan Melia, Dan Weschler and Arya Shahi met as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. Since then they're originals plays have earned them critic's picks from The New York Times, Time Out New York, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, and many more, ranking them in the top ten theatrical events of 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2016. They were the first group to win the NYC Fringe Festival's top honor for a play two years in a row (2010/11) and have gone on to win IRNE (2012, 2015) and Jeff Awards (2014) for their theatrical productions Astute musicians, PigPen's debut album, "Bremen", was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post's 2012 Grammy preview sending PigPen on tour playing to sold-out crowds across the country. [From PigPen Theatre Co. press].
Adding to the troupe are Dorcas Leung as the courageous Despereaux, the tiny, big eared mouse who shows that even the smallest voice can change the world. Betsy Morgan in a trio of delicious roles, John Rapson as the maligned rat Roscuro and Yasmeen Sulieman as the Princess Pea. All provide strong vocal and acting performances in this very physically athletic production. A total collaboration by this unique theatre company credits direction with the troupe and Marc Bruni, Tony, Olivier and Grammy Award-winning director of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. An Indie band by trade, PigPen has written a delightful score that embellishes the storyline and with their unusual string and percussions instruments, sounds both modern and, well- fairytale-ish.
The storyline follows DiCamillo's Newberry Medal-winning fable of a brave mouse shunned by his family and fellow mice for his inquisitive nature and lack of fear of humans. He meets and falls in love with a Princess, coming to her aid when a dastardly rat kidnaps her. There's a silly Knight, a jealous scullery maid, a grieving King and a storytelling narrator that engage and entertain in a way that only fairytales do. Again, the cast is phenomenal at switching roles and instruments and skillfully utilizing anthromorphism to give human traits to the mice and rats that populate the land of Dor.
There are so many fabulous theatrical moments in Tales that must be seen; from the gorgeous set design by Jason Sherwood, the spectacular lighting of Donald Holder, Anita Yavich's period costuming, Nevin Steinberg's sound design, Jennifer Jancuska's fight choreography, Christopher Jahnke's musical direction and the very special shadow sequences and puppetry design by Lydia Fine and Nick Lehane. This is a true collaboration with heart and soul where every technical component contributor adds to a glorious greater sum.
The witty script is full of charm and wisdom. When the mice are eating pages out of a book due the lack of crumbs, Despereaux's brother says it's the words on the page that gives it its flavor. The dragon-sized problems they face can bee seen as a metaphor for our own personal and societal challenges. When the characters speak of love as "wonderful, powerful and ridiculous", we all can agree on that fact. In today's world who couldn't use more wisdom, forgiveness and courage. Tale of Despereaux premiered at The Old Globe in San Diego in July and now graces the Berkeley Rep stage with its magic. Perhaps Broadway is next?
The Tale of Despereaux continues through January 5, 2020 at the Roda Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. Tickets available at www.berkelyrep.org or by calling 510-647-2949.
Photos by Kevin Berne