My wee littles stopped being wee little some time ago so, until yesterday, it’d been a number of years since I’d been to see children’s theatre. I’ve been hearing a lot of positive things about Pumpkin Theatre for some time now, so I decided to attend the opening performance of The Dancing Princesses to check it out for myself. I’m happy to report that all the buzz I heard is true: Pumpkin Theatre rocks. And their production of The Dancing Princesses is nothing short of charming.
Playwright (and Pumpkin Board Member) Jimi Kinstle’s script tells the tale of a kingdom where something is seriously amiss. Each night, the King’s five daughters retire in their shared royal bedchamber, doors locked for their safety. Each morning, when they arise, their shoes are worn to tatters and the King must purchase new ones for them. The kingdom is entrenched in a generations-old war that has sapped the royal treasury. Keen to solve the mystery of the frayed footwear and to end the expense of having to buy five pair of new shoes every day, the King engages a spy to look into the matter.
Pumpkin Company member Derek Cooper was very funny as the exasperated King. Portraying a stern monarch who is a somewhat clueless widower trying to manage five daughters and a kingdom, Cooper plays the King broadly enough to captivate the under-10 set, but not so broadly as to be clownish.
The lovely-voiced Mandee Ferrier-Roberts wore many hats in this production. The Pumpkin Company member not only acted onstage as the Chancellor – a comic straight-person to the King’s more outlandish character – she also served as the show’s Musical Director, composing and performing the original music she wrote for the play.
I particularly enjoyed Ferrier-Roberts’ song, “Sleepytime Proclamation,” sung in beautiful harmony by Cooper and the King’s daughters – Erin Hanratty (Ann), Liz Galuardi (Barbara), Zipporah Brown (Callie), Raquel Hyatt (Dawn), and Alice Delanoy (Emily). These actors made each of the princesses memorable individually, and not merely because of the traits they inherited from their late mother (ranging from “organizational ability” to “snoring… and earlobes”).
The actors playing the princes in this pleasing fairy tale were also in fine form. David Brasington (Andrew), Brian Gilbert (Brian), Charlie Niccolini (Dylan), and Graham Rifkin, as Eddie, each brought a warm, fun energy to the production. Allison Stewart, playing their mother, the Queen, had just the right regal air in her almost too-brief time on the stage.
Rounding out the cast, Spike Regales impressed me as The Spy hired to solve the mystery of the worn-out shoes. Regales brought a lighthearted physical comedy to a role that could have played too scary for the youngest in the audience. The result made appearances of the magically-enhanced shadow-dweller the kind of character kids love to squeal “Behind you! Behind you!” about and not one that makes them want to go sit in their parents’ laps.
Under the guidance of Technical Director Jamie Driskill, the tech aspects of The Dancing Princesses are as top notch as the rest. The set is well done, no more complicated than necessary, but aesthetically pleasing and sufficiently detailed to indicate if the players are in a bedchamber, an anteroom, or on a secret mission in the woods. Lighting Designer Helen Garcia Alton reinforces the sense of space with, frankly, a more well-designed lighting scheme than I would have expected for the size of the theater and its primary audience.
Costume Designers Wil Crowther and Sally Kahn made smart choices with the clothing, creating setting-appropriate dresses, tunics, nightgowns, and regalia. The costumes also featured kid-appealing aspects that were vibrant, colorful and all matched nicely with each other. Even the handkerchiefs distributed by the King shared the pleasing color scheme of the show. Props Designer Ally Cribbs’ contributions to the production were also a great fit. I especially liked the large parchment scrolls containing essential, coded information.
Finally, a nod must be given to Stage Manager Nichole Chaney, who kept the whole shebang rolling smoothly – a feat that can be challenging even when you don’t have a number of children performing and countless cues.
Director Courtney Proctor did an excellent job selecting and working with a talented group of actors to bring Kinstle’s story to life. As one would hope in a show that has dancing right in the title, in addition to the good acting and singing, Proctor and the cast choreographed numerous fleet-footed sequences. Most notable among them is a danceriffic scene at the end which showcased a history of dance from the tango to moves that would do Chubby Checker and Billy Ray Cyrus proud.
Pumpkin Theater’s The Dancing Princesses delivers everything I want to see in children’s theatre. Jimi Kinstle’s script is funny and age-appropriate, but it doesn’t treat kids like they’re dumb just because they’re young. The messages about cooperation, letting go of past wrongs, and listening to the younger generation about solutions that affect their future, are quite timely, but also timeless. The entire production – from Artistic Director Raine Bode’s pleasingly non-condescending curtain speech to the availability of all the actors for post-show autographs – show a level of respect for its young audiences that I applaud.
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission.
The Dancing Princesses plays through December 11, 2016 at Pumpkin Theatre, performing at Har Sinai Congregation – 2905 Walnut Avenue, in Owings Mills, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 902-1814, purchase them at the door, or get them online.