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BWW Review: MIRETTE at Music Theatre Wichita

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The production runs until June 20, 2021 at the Century II Convention Hall

BWW Review: MIRETTE at Music Theatre Wichita

Mirette is based on the Caldecott Award-winning book Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. The musical runs June 16-20 at the Century II Convention Hall, with excellent socially distanced seating. If you have children, RUN, don't walk, to purchase tickets for this delightfully charming treasure. It's the kind of show that will turn children into lifelong theatre goers. The story is simple, the characters are timeless archetypes, the message is positive, and the artistic value is high despite the impositions of strict COVID19 restrictions.

Director Wayne Bryan originally saw Mirette at the 8th Annual Festival of New Musicals, presented by the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, in 1996. It lived in the back of his mind all these years, and we are fortunate it resurfaced as a choice for this season's post covid transition - he chose this piece after giving careful consideration as to how he might keep a cast small and distanced onstage and off. He also had to consider the size of the orchestra in relation to the orchestra pit and felt the score was perfect, since there was an option to use a beautifully written score for two pianos. Bryan also indicated the show held a special place in his heart because he had learned to walk the tightrope in Tennessee for a production of Barnum. He also reprised the role on a cruise ship. He said he learned a very valuable lesson, which he thinks is the underlying message in Mirette - Trust you have the skill to navigate where you are going! This is not only a great message for children to hear, but a message to take with us as we navigate through this historic pandemic.

Mirette is a short, tight, and concise piece, with the book by Elizabeth Diggs, lyrics by Tom Jones, and score by Harvey Schmidt. Jones and Schmidt were creators of The Fantasticks, I Do! I Do!, and 110 in the Shade. It's set in a boarding house in turn-of-the-century Paris where an eclectic group of music hall performers dwell ­- a juggler, dancer, trapeze artist, clown, Russian singer, and a pair of acrobats. A mysterious stranger arrives and when Mirette discovers him practicing on the wire, she begs him to teach her.

The beautiful backdrop projections, designed by Jordan Slusher (MTW, Ballet Wichita), depict myriad sumptuous storybook settings. The windows seem to glow with sunlight during the daytime, and the streetlights glow in the moonlight! The high wire set piece was very clever, and quite effective. Costumes were designed by Melissa Penkava Koza (Wichita State) and gave us a perfect first impression of each character and their occupation. Lighting by Don Fox (University of Arizona) was quite effective and complimented the minimalistic set without washing out the projections. David Muehl's sound design and subsequent execution was spot on, yielding up a rich, clear mix of voices and pianos.

The cast was superb in their interpretation of this sonorous score. Chuck Koslowske (Oklahoma City University) does an outstanding job as musical director for Mirette. The voices of the small ensemble blend beautifully, and the playing of the score by both Koslowske and Jesse Warkentin (American In Paris) on twin grand pianos is a piece of heaven. The result is a rich, enveloping sound.

The acting in this piece was quite pleasantly unadorned, in the most beautiful way. We are introduced immediately to our heroine, Mirette, played by 13-year-old Wichita native Kaitlyn Lemon. Her voice is clear and free of trendy gimmicks, and she plays the role with great grace, never losing Mirette's childlike wonder and spirit. It was a very inspired performance, and I can't wait to see what she does next. Playing Mirette's mother, Madame Gateau, is MTW veteran Karen Robu. Karen's rich voice and strong presence adds intelligence and gravitas to the proceedings, especially as a single mother trying to advocate for Mirette's best life.

One by one we meet the inhabitants of Madame Gateau's boarding house, and they reveal their essence to us. There is Madame Rouspenskaya, a Russian Opera singer, delightfully portrayed by Darcee Datteri. Datteri's Felix Ungar style throat clearing exercises and crisp enunciation in her comic song Irkutsk were particularly humorous. There is Tabac, a struggling juggler and comic, capably played by Pittsburg KS native and Penn State graduate Will Jewett. Tabac goes through some tough times, and his friend, Camembert the sad clown, played by MTW regular Steve Hitchcock Jr., tries to convince him he must not give up. Hitchcock imbues Camembert with a comic grace in his song The Show Goes On, double teaming with Mirette to build Tabac's confidence, insisting he must not give up in his quest to find gainful employment.

Paul, the mysterious stranger who rents the basement apartment from Madame Gateau, is trying to conceal his identity - the Great Bellini - the most famous tightrope walker of all time. He is training Mirette to walk the tightrope. When Madame Gateau finds out, she is incensed and insists Paul stop teaching Mirette at once. Michael Dikegoros, who has stood out in many small comic roles at MTW, steps into a leading role and renders a very solid portrayal of Bellini, giving us an honest and sincere look at a man at odds with himself. He sings the song She's Not You with Karen Robu, two strong souls advocating for what's best for Mirette. It was a very powerful moment.

Immediately following, in stark contrast, we have some comic relief. Carter Tholl is priceless as Gaby, a beautiful and ambitious young dancer. She steals the show with The Great God Pan. Her super girly voice combined with serious operatic chops, comic timing, and general overall cuteness, coupled with clever staging make this one of the comic highlights of the evening.

Rounding out the Ensemble are Koko Blanton, as Claire, and Darron Hayes, as her partner Clouk, the acrobats. Koko is a Wichita native with a gorgeous voice, and studied Musical Theatre at Wichita State. She was seen previously in MTW's productions of In The Heights and Hairspray. Darron is from North Carolina and a recent Penn State Grad. They worked beautifully as a pair, creating seamless transitions, adding dance and acrobatics to the proceedings. Finally, we have MTW veteran Tim Robu, who plays Max, the Music Hall impresario everyone tries to impress. He reveals Paul's identity, with great gusto, in his song The Great Bellini, helping the show speed on to its conclusion.

A few closing thoughts - I loved the music in this show. It had a wonderful American in Paris feel to it. The show reminded me of my childhood, watching a Sunday afternoon movie musical with marvelous music. The audience was extremely engaged, and an audible gasp was heard at a pivotal moment in the action. I loved that there were so many philosophical statements sprinkled throughout the evening. "If you look down, then down is where you'll go!" "When you cease to believe in your career, do you run away?" "Paralyzed by fear, you see who you still could be." I'm not going to give it all away, but SPOILER ALERT!!! I was very satisfied there was a happy ending for both Mirette and Bellini.

Please go and take as many children as possible. You will not be disappointed.

Mirette runs 85 minutes with no intermission, and is rated G, suitable for the entire family. Remaining shows are Friday 6/18, Saturday 6/29, and Sunday 6/20 at 8pm. Social distancing and mask-wearing will be required in the Convention Hall at all times. Tickets are available by calling 316-265-3107 or visiting on the web at MTWichita.org

The next show up? Red, White, and Broadway - A Star Studded Tribute to America at the Capitol Federal Amphitheater in Andover, KS. Get your lawn chairs ready!


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