Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Sleeping Beauty” both Wakes and Charms

By Kristen Fogle

In a land where everything is either remade or crafted from something old, enter “Sleeping Beauty Wakes” (SBW), a new take on the fairy tale/Disney film.

Because of the incessant regurgitation of classic stories and plotlines, one can (and should be) wary; yet Beauty waking is an interesting concept. What does happen? Does she return to the living world regretting who kissed her? Does she fall madly in love with said prince, leading a life destined to clean house while constantly sighing to cartoon birds?

Neither scenario, it seems, prevails. In fact, the prince from the original is merely an afterthought. When SBW opens, it is in a modern day sleep clinic with four patients desperate to get a good snooze. As they try to fitfully make their way to sleep, Rose (Beauty) is brought in by her father. Apparently Rose’s condition is that she can sleep—a little too well—and has been doing so for the last 900 years. As soon as Rose is brought in, a funny reaction occurs. The patients all end up having the same dream (essentially reenacting the story of Sleeping Beauty, in case you were somehow missing for 900 years and didn’t know the plot). However, the patients’ luck changes when a kiss (not by a prince this time) wakes Rose. What results is her love’s kiss (finally) transforming her, as she becomes not only awake but completely alive.

Though Rose and her new found love express a beautiful, innocent chemistry, where it becomes truly emotional is the connection between Rose and her father (King) as they share moments that are truly moving and even hard, especially for anyone who has lost or had a tumultuous relationship with a parent. Credit to Bob Stillman’s carefully crafted father; he expresses tender, unconditional love but leaves room for a judgmental side that every audience member can predict will guarantee turmoil with a young daughter. (Young aside from being over 900 years old, that is.)

Other standouts are the Doctor of the Sleep Clinic (who morphs into the Wicked Queen in her dreams—with claws to match), using her powerful vocals to convey a sense of strength and scorn only a jilted woman can. The phenomenal instrument that is actress Kecia Lewis-Evans’ voice seems almost effortless and amazes easily. Aspen Vincent (Rose) is a tiny doll of an actress and flits about the stage with an exuberant, youthful fairy tale quality and calls to mind Ariel of “The Little Mermaid.” However, though Vincent does a commendable job, she doesn’t seem to exclusively own Rose, which is good, in that it will make for taking this production elsewhere a bit easier. I can see other wide eyed young actresses lining up to play Rose, already.

The piece has all the makings of a big hit, but maybe with some minor tweaking. Perhaps it is due to the chaotic score by husband and wife team, composer/lyricist-singers Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, both from the rock/jazz/folk/indie band GrooveLily. (Chaotic in that they wrote over 40 songs with only 15 actually ending up in the show, cutting and changing songs even later than when the show first debuted.) It was also originally written for Deaf West. And though the team claims that they were instructed to write without thought to their audience’s particular challenge, it still begs the question: how would the score have differed had it originally been intended for a hearing audience?

That aside, standout songs abound: “Uninvited” gives a proper introduction to the Doctor’s power house voice. “The Wheel Goes Round” has a tune you swear you’ve heard before (but not in a tired way). “Drifting” is haunting in its beauty as Rose and the Orderly (Bryce Ryness…another great find) float around the stage embracing the beautifully thought out choreography. The only song I didn’t absolutely love was “Still Small Hours“; it’s doo-wop reminiscent style seemed out of place when juxtaposed with all the other great songs.

Ultimately SBW is delightful and one of those shows you can take a friend, a grandparent, or a first date to. And its sincerely likable quality will no doubt propel this show into a fully awake state; I’m looking forward to its debut in even larger theaters and to vast audiences.

La Jolla Playhouse
July 19-August 21, 2011
(858) 550-1010

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