‘Pocahontas’ at Riverside Center Dinner Theater by Julia L. Exline

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Riverside Center presents Pocahontas as part of their “Lunch n’ Show” program, where parents are welcomed to enjoy a provided lunch with their child before enjoying live entertainment. With a book by Vera Morris and Music and Lyrics by Scott Deturk, Directors Barbara and Mel Cochran and Musical Director Mary G. Thompson aspire to tell the authentic Native American legend of a girl who helped bridge a gap between two drastically different cultures and communities.

Set Designer Barbara Cochran uses painted willow trees, boulders, and sweeping vines to create the Algonquin forest, and the steady beat of tom-toms help complete the setting, along with nature-specific hues supplied by Lighting Designer Nicky Mahon. Costumer Amanda Miller does a fantastic job, using furs, fringed leathers, moccasins, beads, feathers, and face-paints for the Native Americans, with no two outfits the same. English settlers wear conservative-colored dresses, shawls, breeches, and vests, and while their costumes are definitely less interesting, they are historically accurate.

The plot begins with Pocahontas’s family and friends wondering where she is, with their song “Where is Pocahontas?” sung by Brave Eagle (Randy O’Kelly) Little Running Rabbit (Billie Wyatt), Aunt Morning Star (Kimberly McDowell), and Happy-She-Walks (Brooke West). The song is used to describe Pocahontas’s personality; a playful, mischievous free spirit. Suspecting that she is out visiting the English settlers even though she was forbidden, her father Chief Powhatan (Doug Wall) and proud medicine man Thundercloud (Anthony Williams) sing about the settlers with resentment in a song called “No Common Ground.” Pocahontas (Analisa Wall) does not understand why the Algonquins are so anti-settlers, telling her animal friends, “I love my people, but I do not hate the English.” They sing a nicely choreographed song (thanks to choreographer Courtney Fox) called “You Can’t Predict A Human.” The kind Captain John Smith (Adam Workman) and his settlers are suffering from famine, and enlist Pocahontas’s help in requesting larger hunting grounds from the Chief. When their pleads are not successful, the ironically merciless settler Mercy Rogers (Elaine Previs) decides to hold Pocahontas hostage while John Smith is away, bringing a chaotic anger to already fragile tensions and prompting Pocahontas to sing the famous “Colors of the Wind,” (from the Disney film) and find herself maturing under the deep circumstances. The consequence in the chief’s eyes means the captain’s head — a decision that Pocahontas will stop at nothing to halt. Will she be able to bring peace to two warring cultures, and show them that they have more in common than they think?

As far as singing voices go, there is both strong and weak vocals. I also feel that the climactic ending is fairly abrupt, with a drastic change happening within mere seconds. However, I greatly appreciated the authenticity of this tale — there was no romanticism of Pocahontas and John Smith’s relationship, keeping the authenticity of the legend of Pocahontas genuine, and showing respect for Native American History.

For a fun and informative afternoon, treat your child to the brave tale of America’s first Princess — Pocahontas.

Running time is 70 minutes, without an intermission.

Pocahontas runs through November 24, 2012 at Riverside Center Dinner Theater— 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300.