Thoughts & Musings

Off-beat and On-target Fairy Tails

Take your kids, take your parents, and take your neighbors to a show guaranteed to dance in your head like sugar plum fairies through the longest winter nights.

by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
  • 24th November 201524/11/15
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The holiday season is so chock full of stories to make you feel good that you sometimes you lose sight of the fact that at the heart of a good story is conflict. What happens between the “Once upon a time…” and the “They lived happily ever after…” is what captures our imagination and holds our attention. Conflict is king! And there is plenty of it in 2nd Story Theatre’s offbeat and on target production of Paul Sills’ imaginative play, “Story Theater,” now playing Downstage in Warren.

Director Erin Olson and Production Designer Trevor Elliott work in concert with the incredibly gifted musical duo of Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly to infuse the Sills script with the sounds of traditional American and Celtic folk music. The duo’s voices blend beautifully in a variety of original compositions and arrangements supported with adroit accompaniment on guitar, banjo, harmonica, dulcimer, banjo, spoons, limberjacks and Atwater’s tapping feet. The two musicians even manage to work some haunting and hilarious blues into the show with a nifty number called “Ate Five Pies.”

The stories for the most part are familiar fare, originating primarily in fairy tales from The Brothers Grimm and fables from the ancient Greek slave and storyteller, Aesop. Who doesn’t remember the foolish Henny Penny or the greedy wife of a poor fisherman?

Whereas the fables are familiar, in this show their manner of telling is unique and made riotously entertaining with the help of Ron Cesario’s incomparable costume design, masks mimicking theater of an earlier era, and the company’s skillful use of gags and physical comedy.

The stories are told on a set reminiscent of a Great Depression era campsite, probably not far from a railroad track, and with no amenities whatsoever. It was the hardest of hard times. When one member of the ragtag gathering wakes his comrades up with a terrible nightmare, the troupe decides to share stories to calm his nerves and bring on sleep. Bedtime stories: that’s how the fun begins.

Joining the music duo are production designer Max Ponticelli, Olsen, Steven Dionne, Nicole Maynard, John McKenna and Valerie Westgate in a cast that assumes roles of beggars and kings, crows and fishes, farm animals and philandering philosophers. Whatever the role, the actors are all marvelous, displaying not only their gifts for comedy but for musical theater as well. I am always amazed and pleasantly surprised when I see actors whom I’ve seen many times before in straight dramatic or comedic role suddenly displaying their musical talents. Olson gets the best from her cast and highlights the stories by emphasizing conflict and resolution through the company’s creative use of song and dance.

This delightful production is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before at 2nd Story Theatre, and is the perfect complement to the holiday season. Colorful costumes, tumultuous tales, lovely voices, dancing, magical music, splendid performances and energy enough to light up a Christmas tree combine to make this a unique holiday treat. Take your kids, take your parents, and take your neighbors to a show guaranteed to dance in your head like sugar plum fairies through the longest winter nights.

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