‘Sleeping Beauty’ at Encore Stage & Studio by Julia L. Exline

FOUR STARS
Encore Stage & Studio presents Sleeping Beauty, a popular fairy tale re-told by Vera Morris and brought to the stage by kids, for kids! Executive Director Sara Strehle Duke and Director Meghan Smith lead a large cast of youths in this ambitious production, which is recommended for ages 4+.

Cursed under Evilina's spell, Princess Briar Rose (Maggie Keane) falls into deep sleep as she waits for true love's kiss to wake her. Photo by Larry McClemons.

Cursed under Evilina’s spell, Princess Briar Rose (Maggie Keane) falls into deep sleep as she waits for true love’s kiss to wake her. Photo by Larry McClemons.

Artistic Director and Set Designer Susan Allison Keady creates the courtyard of the Kingdom of Never Nod, including Venus statues, airy nets used to resemble columns, and a pair of glittery golden thrones. The evil witches’ cobweb-covered cobblestone tower (say that ten times fast?) is wheeled onstage when needed, and a flowery garden fit for a princess concludes the action. Lighting Designer Gary Hauptman and Sound Designer Matthew Heap cover both ends of the emotional spectrum by pairing thunderous roars with red lightning strikes, as well as pastel spotlights and cheerful music. Costume Designer Debra Leonard makes the era obvious through the throngs of sleeved dresses and royal robes; we are in the medieval times.

Queen Eleanor (Abby Huston) and King Rudolph (Hugh Vasquez) are planning a party to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Briar Rose (Maggie Keane). When it is discovered that there are only six golden plates and seven Wise Fairies, the decision of who to leave out is an easy one; the disliked Evilina (a great diva-like performance by Brandi Moore). Of course, when she realizes that she hasn’t been invited, she is furious and vengeful (“if I can’t be the life of the party, I’ll be its death!). As the fairies are bestowing gifts of virtue to the princess, Evilina crashes the party with a gift of her own…death upon the age of sixteen!

Wild attempts are made to save the princess. The fairies pull together to lighten Evilina’s curse from death to a deep sleep awakened by true love’s kiss, and the Prime Minister (Garrett O’Donnell) outlaws spindles, the instrument from which Evilina promised the princess’s death. However, you of course know that Evilina finds a way around this, and Briar Rose inevitably ends up in a magical slumber. Will Evilina be able to keep her true love (Topher Wagner as Prince Alexander) from awakening her?

Prince Alexander (Topher Wagner) arrives to save Princess Briar Rose (Maggie Keane). Photo by Larry McClemons.

Prince Alexander (Topher Wagner) arrives to save Princess Briar Rose (Maggie Keane). Photo by Larry McClemons.

This show starts out strong, but flames out towards the end, with rushed, disjointed scenes that are broken down to a couple of hurried sentences, and a plot twist that, in my opinion, robs the fairy tale of one of its most magical elements. However, it is encouraging to see children honing a craft that they love. Standouts and scene stealers include Thomas Schindler and Kaitlyn Beckwith as the bickering Spider and Cat, Alex Weinstein as a harried chef, and Sarah Fahrenkrug as the sweetly-mannered Queen Samantha, mother to Prince Alexander.

I’ve seen a lot of productions with young casts, and every time, the equally young audience is thrilled to see their fellow peers onstage. It gives them a sense of familiarity and empowerment. If your child is interested in theater, then I would definitely make Sleeping Beauty a Must See!

Running Time: 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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Sleeping Beauty plays through June 16th, 2013 at Encore Stage & Studio – The Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154, or purchase them online.

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