BWW Review: A Few Qualms but HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE from Book-It is a Delight
Book-It Repertory Theatre already routinely manages the difficult task of presenting literature in the Book-It style and making it flow and engage in a theatrical way, but apparently they felt this challenge wasn't enough for them as now they've attempted to add in music to that mix with their new adaptation of "Howl's Moving Castle", currently playing at the Center Theatre. And while the result is still quite delightful, the insertion of music and lyrics into an already dense story in the Book-It style may have made the story a bit over complicated at times.
The original book by Diana Wynne Jones has already been converted into a much beloved Hayao Miyazaki animated film but now with an adaptation from director Myra Platt and Music and Lyrics by Justin Huertas it's a full-fledged musical where we meet Sophie Hatter (Sara Porkalob), the eldest of three sisters who feels stuck in her own life as she watches her younger sisters go out into the world. But when the evil Witch of the Waste (Kate Jaeger) turns Sophie into an old woman, Sophie sees her new look as an opportunity for a new life out in the world too. But on her journey, she runs into the infamous wizard Howl (Michael Feldman) and must join forces with him and several other magical beings in order to defeat the witch and break the curse.
The magical story as adapted by Platt is wonderful and filled with whimsy, and the songs from Huertas are infectious and fun but the problem comes in trying to cram it all in. This story is complex enough with tons of characters, each with their own motivation and backstory, so when thrust into the Book-It style which is then thrust into the musical style, the story can become a bit muddied. A few times I found myself a trifle lost about whom or what they were singing as it all moved so fast. Not to worry, you catch up eventually but it doesn't make for an easy show to just let wash over you. Then there's the other qualm of the show that will hopefully be much easier to fix and that's the microphones. I'm not sure if Book-It's ever gone for body mics before but it didn't go well with several instances of wig caps or costumes rubbing up against the mics or bad connections causing loud pops when people moved. I can overlook one or two instances but this was an ongoing issue all night so I hope they can correct it for the rest of the run or maybe do without them, the house isn't that big.
But even with those issues I still enjoyed myself immensely with a huge grin on my face throughout. Porkalob has no difficulties with the show squarely on her shoulders and makes for a fantastic Sophie at any age. And I must commend her for showing that change in age without any costume or makeup changes, just pure physicality and you knew exactly who she was. Feldman as the dashing Howl is at the same time stalwart and hilarious as he leads this band of magical misfits with a magnificent swagger. Jaeger brings down the house in both her characters the instance she sets foot on stage (but then she always does), whether as the malevolent Witch of the Waste or the bubbly Mrs. Fairfax who's the polar opposite of her witch. And that's just naming a few of the outstanding talents in this powerhouse ensemble each of whom takes their moment to shine.
With the qualms in mind it feels like the creators of the show were trying to do a little too much too soon but qualms aside it's still a fantastical, and splendid adaptation. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Book-It Repertory Theatre's "Howl's Moving Castle" a magical YAY. We can all use a little magic and whimsy and this has more than you can shake a walking stick at.
"Howl's Moving Castle" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre through December 30th. For tickets or information contract the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.