Imaginative storytelling and captivating performances at People’s Light make Dwayne Hartford’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, adapted for the stage from the novel by Kate DiCamillo, a heartwarming delight for all ages. Based on the Chicago Children’s Theatre production and directed again here by Stuart Carden, the enchanting play with music, with original compositions and music direction by and Erik Hellman and Jessie Fisher, follows the journey of the eponymous porcelain rabbit across two generations from the 1920s to the 1940s, as he grows and learns the value of love and caring through his adventures and encounters.
Brought from Paris as a birthday gift to Abilene from her grandmother Pellegrina, and given the dignified name of Edward by the excited young Tulane girl, he is at first vain and snobbish, with a trunk full of fine clothing, little interest in people, and no love for his adoring owner. But through all of the trials and tribulations he is cursed to face over the next two decades, he develops understanding, concern, and affection for the people (and dog!), who rescue him, embrace him, and teach him to love and to listen to the experiences of those who are less fortunate than he was.
A charming ensemble of four multi-talented actors/musicians, all making their company debut – Dana Omar as The Woman, Emily Peterson as The Traveler, and Reggie D. White as The Man, along with Philadelphia favorite Charlie DelMarcelle as The Musician – plays multiple roles with clear distinction and an array of American folk-style instruments (banjo, ukulele, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, piano, kazoo, flute, spoons, and finger cymbals) with tones that underscore the shifting moods of the narrative. Together they represent the diversity of socio-economic classes, exemplify the difference between good and bad behavior, weave a cautionary tale with shadow puppets, and perform slow-motion sequences of the struggles Edward endures, as he’s thrown overboard into the ocean by two ruffians on a ship, dumped by a cold-hearted daughter into a trash heap, tossed out of a moving boxcar by a brutal watchman, hung in a field as a scarecrow by an old farmwoman, and smashed to pieces by an irate cook in a diner.
DelMarcelle voices the thoughts and evolving emotions of Edward (who can’t, because he’s made of porcelain and his mouth is just painted on!), masterfully portraying the steady development from his self-centered beginnings into a compassionate role model for children and grown-ups alike. Omar captures a spirit of childlike wonderment as both Abilene and the dying little girl Sarah Ruth, and believably switches into her roles as a series of adults, china dolls, and the adorable canine Lucy. Peterson is a mysterious and moralizing presence as Pellegrina, and skillfully defines her other characters, both male and female, from an upper-class woman to the mean watchman to the doll-maker who repairs the broken Edward. White brings heartfelt sentiment and touches of humor to his turns as Abilene’s father, a fisherman, a homeless man, a hobo, and the supportive brother of Sarah Ruth. All assume a convincing variety of demeanors and accents (under the dialect coaching of Eva Breneman) that make their changing characters easy to follow.
Carden brings with him to People’s Light his top-notch design team from the Chicago production. John Musial’s set, with wooden platforms, slatted walls, and strings of Edison bulbs that hang over the audience and the stage, transitions to the various locales with the clever use of lanterns, ropes, ladders, and expanses of blue fabric, supported by the saturated colors and overhead points (“as bright as the stars on a moonless night”) of Lee Fiskness’s exquisite lighting, and Mikhail Fiksel’s apropos sound. Rachel Anne Healy provides the characters with vintage-style costumes that elucidate their stations (from Abilene’s pinafore to The Musician’s denim overalls to the ragtag clothing of the hobos) and Edward’s reversals of fortune, and make for easy role changes, with the donning of a shawl or a brown hat with ear flaps for Lucy.
Vivid acting, creative direction, and an evocative design give us everything we need to use our imaginations and to transport us into Edward’s world (a microcosm of our world). The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane isn’t just great children’s theater, it’s great theater. It teaches kids, and reminds adults, of the importance of love, friendship, empathy, and kindness. Let’s hope that’s one lesson that multiplies like rabbits!
Running Time: 90 minutes, without intermission.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane plays through Sunday, June 4, 2017, at People’s Light – 39 Conestoga Road, Leonard C. Haas Stage, Malvern, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (610) 644-3500, or purchase them online.