This musical production of Sleeping Beauty by the Children’s Theatre of Annapolis shows just how many talented young people are in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. With music and lyrics by David Kisor, book by Joseph McDonough, and directed by Michelle Harmon Bruno, the show features singing, dancing, ballet, tumbling, puppetry, and even guitar playing that will entertain audiences of all ages.
Those familiar with the Disney movie will find new things to enjoy in this version, which follows the general plot but makes a few changes. For one, the villain who puts a curse on baby Briar Rose is the bad fairy Wisteria, which causes all sorts of trouble. There’s also a nice little twist at the end that helps balance the relationship between Briar Rose and her hero, Prince Edward (Matthew Beagan).
In fact, the relationships in this musical are slightly different from the traditional fairy tale. Although King Stefan (Andrew Wilson) is nominally in charge, Queen Olivia (Claire Hatcher) runs the show. At the start, she has him running around frantically for diapers, and at one point, she even refers to the realm as a “queendom”, prompting an argument from her husband. She effectively silences him with, “it’s always been a queendom, dear, you just never knew.” As though to emphasize this point, Hatcher, a 15 year old, is clearly taller and older than the 11 year old Wilson. He holds his own, though, and keeps up with the rest of the cast.
Wisteria is played with gleeful naughtiness by Camille White. She clearly enjoys her role, mocking the sweetness of the other characters and causing trouble. Her costume, all in browns, and a nest for hair, along with her colorful makeup, helps to ensure that she stands out on a stage full of big characters. She especially shines in the number “I’ve Heard It All Before,” her cynical retelling of all the men who have tried to save Briar Rose. Her fellow bad fairies Orchid (Maddy Sokolowski), Clover (Zoe Argabright), Ivy (Lilly Baker), and Aster (Erin Murphy), help her to sow havoc, jostling the characters and making them do what she wants. Her assistant Falcon (Connor Page) is also a great source of humor, bossing around everyone when he can but running away at the slightest challenge. He also helps out with one of the dragons in the second act, in a way that gets a good laugh.
Heidi Thiessen plays Briar Rose, a young woman eager to explore life outside the kingdom but kept by her overprotective parents. Her interaction with her tutor the Wizard (Ryan McDonald), who came up with a clever way to alleviate Wisteria’s curse, also gets a good laugh; having realized that the earth is round, she challenges him when he insists that it’s flat, and that “you’ll fall off if you go too far to the edge.” This perfectly sums up Briar Rose; fiercely intelligent, determined to experience the world, and frustrated by her well-meaning parents who won’t let her.
Her parents’ attempts to keep her safe becomes more difficult when Prince William (Cole Ruiz) enters the scene. He’s a very different prince, with sunglasses, guitar, and a wandering, rebellious spirit. He and his crew, all wearing the same outfit of glasses and purple leggings, presents an unusual spectacle, and lead the cast in a spirited rock-influenced song and dance; Ruiz even plays his guitar at points. Prince William encourages Briar Rose to get out and as his song says, get some “Dust on Your Shoes.”
The scenery is amazingly well done. There are many scene changes, and they are all handled excellently. The contrast between the palace and Wisteria’s lair is striking; where the palace feels light and spacious even with so many people in it, while Wisteria’s is dark and foreboding. She even has smoke billowing out from a pot, adding to the atmosphere. In the second Act, the stage is covered in vines and trees, and the cast is transformed into gnome-like slaves. At one point, the trees are raised and lifted off above the stage. The climactic scene between Prince Edward and Wisteria involves a dragon, fog, and strobe effects that make the scene almost cinematic. It’s a testament to the actors’ talents that such elaborate scenery complements and enhances their performance rather than overwhelm.
Elysia Merrill has done an excellent job as choreographer, getting such a large, diverse cast to dance together in a fluid and natural way, and highlight individual talents where appropriate. This production features several different dance styles, from traditional musical to ballet and rock, and all come across flawlessly. There are a few times when the actors use the audience space to enter the stage, and leave the stage to interact with the audience, making for a fun, creative use of the space
Musical Director David Merrill makes effective use of the material. The songs all fit the action and plot, and feel like a natural part of the performance. The musical numbers are engaging, sometimes dramatic, sometimes funny, but always keeping the audience’s attention. The actors have powerful delivery, and there is applause after every song.
Strong acting, singing, dancing, choreography, scenery, and directing all combine to form an entertaining performance, and a new take on a classic show.Sleeping Beauty is a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening with the family. Take the whole family!
Running Time: Two hours, with a 10-minute intermission.