When you start with a book by Shrek author William Steig and have it adapted for stage by Joan Cushing, a veteran composer of children’s musicals, you’re already ahead of the competition. Add a beautiful set, a handful of earnest and gifted young actors, and the capable direction of Bruce Merrill, and you are almost certain to have a production that will delight both children and parents.
Irene Bobbin (Heather Weneck), the Brave Irene of the title, is the daughter of a seamstress (Maura Kirzon Malone) who creates glorious dresses for the grand, elegant Duchess (Dilhya Ross). When Mrs. Bobbin falls ill before delivering her latest dress, young Irene eagerly volunteers to take the dress to the Duchess herself, hoping to see the grand ball. But along the way she must face snow, wind, cold and the dark, dark night. Can she find the strength to deliver her mother’s dress? And what will the Duchess do if she is late?
From a technical standpoint, the show was strong. Cully Long’s outdoor sets, in shades of blue and white and with their snowflake motif, contrasted nicely with the warm, cozy area that was the Bobbins’s living room. S. Ryan Schmidt’s lighting design accentuated both areas, making the outdoor areas seem crystalline and cold and the indoor sets warm and embracing. Aaron Mastin’s costumes, especially the Duchess’s gown, were impeccable.
But the real strength in this production was the actors. Malone positively radiated love and warmth as Mrs. Bobbin. Weneck’s charm and delicate features highlighted Irene’s playful moments, yet she was able to capture Irene’s despair in the darker scenes, as well. Ross, though having the shortest amount of onstage time, shone as the imperious and underdressed Duchess. Blessed with an operatic voice and dramatic flair, her scenes were a high point of the play. The backbone of the show, however, was the trio of actors (Christopher Kloko, Britni Orcutt, and Perryn Pomatto) who played Irene’s adversaries and all the other incidental characters. As the incarnations of snow, wind, cold, dark, and the forest, these versatile actors were able to act, sing, and dance in a variety of styles. Granted, some of the styles were better than others; a Fosse-styled song and dance number, in particular, didn’t really seem to work.
Merrill’s direction was effective, especially in keeping up the pace of the show. The children in the audience were enraptured for the entire play. The only problem came toward the end of the show. There were several short scenes, each of which was followed by a blackout that seemed to indicate that the show was over. These could have been better handled to avoid confusing the audience. Overall, however, this was an enjoyable and well-done production.
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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison