BWW Review: Book-It's Remount of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE Brings Clarity to the Charming Show
Back in 2017, Dear Readers, Book-It Repertory Theatre brought us the highly anticipated musical adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones beloved book, "Howl's Moving Castle", adapted by Myra Platt with music and lyrics from Justin Huertas. The show was certainly a charmer but, personally, I found the storytelling confusing and muddled. Platt and Huertas have now remounted the piece with some welcome additions. Still a few confusing bits and superfluous elements but this new adaptation brings so much more of the story to life making the evening of fantasy even more charming.
They've, of course, not changed the story but much of the cast has changed. We still focus on Sophie Hatter (Rachel Guyer-Mafune), a young woman, but the eldest of three sisters. The eldest who's not expected to amount to much. But when the evil Witch of the Waste (Andi Alhadeff) turns this young woman into an old crone, Sophie flees her home in search of a place to belong and ends up at the fantastic moving castle of the wizard Howl (Nicholas Japaul Bernard).
As I said, the show is much clearer with smoother transitions from location to location and concise bits of exposition, for the most part. I still think that opening number is way to repetitious, especially since it's repeating a statement of fact and not emotion. We got the fact, but how do you want us to feel about the land? And the bit with the Scarecrow was introduced and abandoned making me wonder what it was for. But beyond those minor qualms, the piece is leaps and bounds clearer than before allowing the audience to dive into the fantasy without getting mired down trying to suss out the details. Huertas and Platt have honed in on the story quite well and kept the staging quite magical.
The cast is, once again, stellar, especially with Guyer-Mafune leading the group as the cursed Sophie although before she played Martha. They don't bother with actually aging her, but rely on her stunning abilities to convey that age physically. And beyond that, she's got a magnificent voice, tremendous comedic timing, and just plain owns the stage. You can't help but watch her. Also returning are Tyler Rogers in multiple roles including the dog, Percival, and Randall Scott Carpenter as Howl's young assistant Michael. A delight to watch, Roger's transformation from dog to human and back are fantastic as is his brief stint as Mrs. Pentstemmon, Howl's former teacher. And Carpenter has made his portrayal of Michael even more likable with his adorably eager ways.
Among the new guard we have Alhadeff who has a belt like you won't believe, and who takes he Witch's songs into the stratosphere. Adam Fontana is wonderful as the fire demon Calcifer, especially with his gorgeous physicality bringing the fire to life. And the remaining ensemble, taking on many hats (literally), makes this vibrant town appear right before our eyes.
But now I have to mention the elephant that was in the room last night. Bernard has taken on the role of the smooth and dashing wizard Howl. However, he suffered from an illness recently that has put him on vocal rest. So, while Bernard acted the part, just off stage we were treated to the composer, Justin Huertas, speaking and singing for him. And obviously, if anyone can convey this piece, it's Huertas. But even ill and silent, Bernard managed to portray every mood, meaning and nuance of his character beautifully, and after a while, we simply forgot it wasn't him speaking, sort of. Personally, I was disappointed we didn't get to hear him sing the role. I recently saw him in a production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and know how insanely amazing his voice is. And while Justin is great, the key of the show had been modulated for Bernard and I wish I could have heard him do it. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery for Bernard so the audiences for the rest of the run will be treated to his incredible pipes.
With a few minor qualms and one last minute substitution, the show has grown so much since it's last incarnation. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Book-It Repertory Theatre's production of "Howl's Moving Castle" a "clarified and utterly charmed" YAY+. A superb treat for the holiday season.
"Howl's Moving Castle" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre through December 29th. For tickets or information contact the Book-It Repertory Theatre box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.