Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Theatre review: Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players fling frisky fun in Babes in Toyland
The Players selflessly offer comfort and delight that bigger playhouses have forgotten.
CLEBURNE My descent from Dallas to Cleburne, TX had me feeling much like Dorothy in Oz, smack in the middle of an unknown world, hopeful and excited about an adventure but fearful of the findings along the way. I dare say I was more than pleasantly surprised with where my yellow brick road led me.
This show was without a doubt a trip back to high school theater, simple (sometimes downright melodramatic) acting, a classic proscenium stage with handmade set pieces -- and let’s not forget the many young tweens playing roles intended for the elderly. However, as I watched this spirited holiday show, I noticed every actor was present and in the moment, talking and listening and being the quintessential perfect actor. This cast is HUGE and every single one of them is beyond enjoyable.
Babes in Toyland is a classic adventure tale of the battle between good and evil, the town villain Barnaby attempting to steal the lovely Mary Contrary from lover Tom-Tom. Barnaby’s malicious ways force the inhabitants of Mother Goose Village to unite together and attempt to save their homes, leading Tom-Tom and a band of fairy tale friends on a mission to the head toymaker, along the way battling mischievous spiders, bumbling bandits and some serious Yuletide negativity.
When the curtains opened I found myself slightly overwhelmed with an endless amount of players on the stage. However, as the show progressed, discovering who was who became a great game. Everyone who inhabited the stage was so in tune and energetic in character, I couldn’t help but find myself sitting back and enjoying the ride.
I applaud Alan Meadows and Beth Wygant for their tag-team direction. The chorus players were engaging and perfectly present, I couldn’t help but be drawn them and their acting choices. Tom-Tom and Mary, even with as simple as action as falling asleep in the spider’s den with a simple “Goodnight, I love you” were honest and warmed the heart. There was always truthful reaction in scenes as well as alluring staging. The choice of Meadows and Wygant to use the entirety of the theater, aisles and side stages and proscenium front, kept the audience guessing who was going to come out of where and added a zesty element to the show.
Tom-Tom, played by Andrew Guzman, stole the show along with a few hearts as well. He was not only easy on the eyes but super talented to boot. His dance moves, mixed with a humorous lilt of femininity as Floretta, kept the audience in stitches.
Contrary Mary, played by Kassie Hal, brought quite the maternal softness. Her voice was powerful and pitch perfect. She commanded presence and received it in spades.
Another show stealer to note was Bryanna Levac as Curly Locks. She was bubbly and feisty and yet remained warm and truthful. She is a rising entertainer well on her way!
Roderigo and Gonzorgo, played by Hillard Cochran and Rick Briscoe, were spot on as the villainous bandit duo. Reminiscent of a modern Abbot and Costello, they had beautiful comedic timing and kept the energy and pace of the show up and running at every turn. I especially enjoyed Briscoe’s interaction with his “parrot bird.”
Tommy Benke as Jack Be Nimble/ Gremio was perfect. His subtle nuances of character and action added such a positive and bright tone. I never wanted to take my eyes off of him so as not to miss what he was going to do next, he was interesting and so very fun to watch.
Delmar Dolbier brought the house down as the scurvy knave Barnaby. I always love watching Mr. Dolbier, and as the gruff and crotchety old miser, this show was no exception. He was humorous in his roughness and paternal in his dealings with the toymaker. His attention to detail and truth of character, no matter how comical, was always a welcome site.
Winning my heart though was Jay Cornils as the Toymaker. This fine man captured elements of Nathan Lane on Broadway. He created a character who is a little in the clouds, but farcical and fun and easy to fall in love with. These elements became especially evident in his dealings with Tom-Tom and the traveling crew in his workshop.
Leading the dance moves for the barreling brood of players was Rachel Hunt, carrying the humor of the notes and songs, while landing the sensitive holiday substance of the show. (Keep a special eye out for the “March of the Toy Soldiers”).
Shannon Loose’s ballet choreography for the Butterfly Queen was particularly elegant. Brittany Lee Reese floated effortlessly across the stage, leaving the audience’s jaws dropping with her statuesque arabesque extension.
Completing the choreography trio was Jennifer Moore and her band of spiders. MeiLi Hall as the Spider Queen was captivating with her rubber band-like tricks that morphed into dance sequences before you could blink your eyes. She created ambiance under Hall’s acrobatics with Maddyn Moore, Keona Howard and Abigail Butler and their creepy crawling spider moves. The choice for the whole number to be performed in black light with only the glow of costumes illuminating their every step made for an exciting and alluring scene.
My hat is off to Set Constructor Hillard Cochran and Scenic Artist Mayre Stewart, creating incredibly detailed and elaborate sets. Stewart’s winter wonderland artistry in the toymaker’s shop windows were especially lovely as was Cochran’s construction of the castle front and fairy tale homes in Mother Goose Village.
At the very end of the show, we as the audience were asked to sing along with the main theme song of the show - “Toyland, Toyland, Dear little girl and boy land...” Needless to say our improvised rendition was rough around the edges, but for the briefest moment it was pleasant to feel like part of a whole new community of people.
This was my first time to see this creative brood of artists and although they are definitely a community theater, the Carnegie Players have captured a theatrical element that many a playhouse has lost. I am referring to that point where theaters treat it as a business and forget about its magic and passion that brought us to it in the first place. These artists encapsulated that comfort and delight of classic theater that sometimes we forget and selflessly offered it out to the world.
Babes in Toyland is not just a fun and frisky musical, it is a fairy tale adventure full of warmth, fondness and fiery holiday spirit. I dare say I opened my mind and ventured into the vast Texas unknown, discovering a nugget of creativity with hearts full of love for theatre at its finest. I took the yellow brick road to Cleburne ... I hope you do too!
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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