Children’s Theatre Review: A welcomed version of Sleeping Beauty with Storybook Musical Theatre
If you are looking to expose your young children to live musical theater, look no further than this production of Sleeping Beauty.
Sleeping Beauty, presented by the professional, non-profit Storybook Musical Theatre company, was the first live theater production I took my children to see. They are 4 and 5 and a half years old and I was waiting for the right time to introduce them to the magic of a live stage show. I love theater and I wanted to pass that passion onto my children without fear of disrupting the proceedings on the stage. This was the perfect show for that.
I didn’t know what to expect from a children’s theater production. I have performed in and seen community theater with child-friendly times, but I never attended a show created from top to bottom for youngsters. Naturally, my preconceived notions of what the show would be like were immediately dashed when we walked into the cozy theater and saw a simple flat of the bewitched forest with a fancy room set peeking out from the back and a lone synthesizer in front of the stage. It then occurred to me that kids don’t care about fancy sets or orchestras. They want to be told a story and if there’s music involved, even better!
The show opens with Topher Layton’s leprechaun-channeling Woodsman delightfully setting the mood with a jaunty song and dance about the woods. Prince Bryon, portrayed by Chris Monaco comes along fearing he is lost stating he is on a quest to save a princess. The Woodsman then tells the tale of the princess who has been asleep for one hundred years. The forest scene gives way to an elaborate throne room where a King and Queen are celebrating the birth of their daughter, Briar Rose. Christine Petrini and Jeff Reim play the King and Queen with just the right tones. The King is a little goofy and the Queen is the source of logic but both are expressive and with a parental air that probably rings true in most kids’ minds. Aileen Goldberg as Joycelyn the good fairy and Vanessa Sterling as her evil fairy sister Evileen both stole any scene they were in with their over-the-top performances that the characters demanded. Goldberg’s perky but somewhat ditzy performance brought a lot of giggles from the audience while Sterling’s Evileen was the right amount of scary and camp. When the story moves on to Briar Rose’s 16th birthday, Erica Cochran as the teenage princess gives the character the right mixture of sweetness and innocent rebellion that little people with a newfound independence streak will find relatable. Of course, this leads to her ultimate succumbing to the curse, so maybe the children also learn to LISTEN TO THEIR PARENTS about not talking to strangers. A parent can dream!
After a 10-minute intermission, that was not altogether necessary considering the short run-time of the show, the story continues with Prince Bryon determined to fulfill his destiny of finding the princess and waking her from the curse. The second act pretty much belongs to the Prince. While Monaco carries the responsibility well, he was a little understated in his portrayal relative to the other actors. Having said that, his well-performed songs throughout allows the audience to forgive a somewhat nuanced performance. The Woodsman, who turns out is an elf placed by Joycelyn to watch over the forest, gives Prince Bryon a magic shield that proves handy when he encounters more than one trap set by Evileen. Once the evil fairy has been rendered powerless thanks to the shield, the prince finds and awakes Briar Rose. They sing and dance a sweet little ditty about true love’s kiss, the King and Queen wake up, and they all live happily ever after.
This version of Sleeping Beauty is different from the well-known story most of us are used to and it is welcome. The small cast all played to the children without being overly flamboyant in their efforts to entertain. The costumes of most of the characters were excellent in helping to develop the character (the clothes make the man, after all). The one exception was Evileen’s dark but understated outfit that reminded me more of a medieval minister than what a fairy might wear. However, I’ve never met an evil fairy, so who am I to say?
The accompaniment, provided by Nancy Wiker, was simple and sufficient in that it never became the central focus of the scene on stage. Again, while many people WANT a huge pit to enjoy the music of a show, this is not that kind of show. The point of the songs is to move the plot along and the music adequately allowed the actors to tell the story to the rapt audience members. The two sets of the Bewitched Forest and the Throne Room were beautifully illustrated and functional. I was most impressed with the spindle that actually spun. I’m not sure if one could make thread from it, but it looked like it could! The lighting was obvious, but in a show for kids, that’s the point. They won’t understand subtle lighting in a scene. Evil events were dark and red and the magical spell to put the kingdom to sleep was a starry gobo cutout that spun on the actors. That’s how kids want it and they got it.
The Storybook Musical Theatre’s production was perfect for the targeted audience of ages 3 and up. It is a perfect introduction into the realm of theater for little kids with short attention spans. It was simple, to the point, and a delightful afternoon activity for the whole family.
The show will be continuing its run from January 9 through the 13 at Bluett Theater, St. Joe’s University. You can find ticket information at http://www.storybookmusical.org/tickets.html.
Mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and Philly suburb native.