A long way from Kansas

The Rose Slippers

By Rosa Soy & Sue Hadjopoulos
Directed by Katrina Markel
The Looking Glass Theatre
472 W 57th St. (307-9467)
Non-union production (closes Dec. 20)
Review by David Mackler

Based on a poem by Jose Marti from the 1890s, The Rose Slippers tells an archetypical tale of taking chances, venturing into the unknown, and the value of friendship. Though it is billed as a children's musical, adults will find much to enjoy here. In many ways, it resembles another well-known fable featuring a pair of ruby-red slippers.

Although set in a time when "children believed in fantasies, magic and miracles" serious issues are raised. Class, loyalties, and courage are all called into play in this tale set on an island in the Caribbean. Pilar (the earnest and believable Vivian Holtzman) is a forthright girl who, against her mother's wishes, wears her special rose slippers to the beach. When she hears the legend of the Anjana, witches who live in the rainforest who will grant a wish, she decides she will check them out even though she is told they will ask something in return. And when she sees Aurora (Paula Staret), a poor, sick girl, she knows what she will ask them for. Her mother (Kelly Blake) forbids her going, but Celia (Thelma Medina), her servant, says a friend does anything necessary to help a friend. No contest there.

Pilar and her companions Mariposa (Miriam Guerra), a butterfly, Sun Sun (Julia Lichtman), a hummingbird, Maya (Ardelle Stoute), a spider, and Lucy (Staret), the firefly, set out on their quest. They are delightful companions, and fun to watch. Guerra swept her colorful wings, Lichtman was all flutters and hesitations, Stoute was terrifically malevolent, and Staret was all wise-guy (-girl?) attitude. Their road is not easy, not least because they must all get along -- the butterfly, for example, must stay out of the hungry spider's clutches. (The lesson is clear, but presented casually.)

There's music too, also by Sun and Hadjopoulos, much of it with a tropical beat. When the witches appear (Medina, Blake, Lisa Galea and Debbie Jaffe), they perform a terrific cha-cha with verbal wordplay that is probably above most kids' heads -- but their evilness (they do have hooked noses) and sense of fun (they enjoy being witches) is clearly communicated. They are surprised when it turns out Pilar is asking for help for someone else, not riches for herself. But Pilar's quest doesn't end here - the witches only tell her how Aurora can be saved - she must finish the job herself. And in return for this information, the witches demand her rose slippers.

More teamwork is then called for, as water must be retrieved from the middle of a lake guarded by Malvina (Nancy Millan), who gets to sing about her pleasure in being "evil for evil's sake." While this song too is over kids' heads, they won't mind because Millan gives it a good vaudevillian turn. Of course, all ends well. Aurora is saved, Pilar's mother sees how wrong she was and embraces Pilar's new friend. Pilar's snobby friends, the bossy Florinda and whiny Magdalena (the fine Galea and Jaffe), get their comeuppance. The witches bless Pilar, and let her keep her rose slippers, which she promptly gives to Aurora.
The production was directed (by Katrina Markel) to be played in short scenes, which were separated by unfortunately long blackouts. The scenery was simple, but the costumes (by Christine Duenas), especially for Pilar's animal friends, were terrific. There were few lulls, and the running time was about 80 minutes. It's a great introduction to theater for kids, not least because it is not simplistic -- it actually talks up to its intended audience. The story may end on a rather pat note, but hell, that's why they call them fairy tales.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 David Mackler