'Babes' brings music, romance to Sheldon“Babes in Toyland: The Musical” has all the elements of a holiday show: A stage full of cute kids, a handful of familiar friendly adults, nasty villains, colorful costumes and Christmassy set pieces.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
“Babes in Toyland: The Musical” has all the elements of a holiday show: A stage full of cute kids, a handful of familiar friendly adults, nasty villains, colorful costumes and Christmassy set pieces.
It is, in fact, a huge show — and an enormous undertaking for Phoenix Theatre.
The challenges of staging the original 1903 version of Victor Herbert’s operetta are formidable.
Today’s audiences have never heard most of the music. Some of the dialogue is archaic. The unfamiliar plot is convoluted, and there are some pretty grim moments involving the villains.
“Babes in Toyland” is about two orphans, Alan and Jane (Alec Pflueger and Chelsea Indrehus), whose Uncle Barnaby (Mark Sandstrom) — an evil character straight out of a melodrama — keeps trying to kill them so he can claim their fortune. Pflueger and Indrehus show that they are accomplished comedians as well as singers and actors.
Barnaby hires a couple of thugs — Gonzorgo (Caleb Overlander) and Roderigo (Dan Dickerson) — whose ineptitude adds to the fun.
Alan is in love with Mary Contrary (Susan Kinyon), who has fun making things up. Jane is in love with Mary’s stalwart brother Tom-Tom (Jesse Stewart). Experienced actors, Kinyon and Stewart are especially entertaining as they struggle through star-crossed romances.
Mary and Tom-Tom are among the 14 children of the Widow Piper (Sara McCormack Hoffman), a “mature” flirt who’s on the hunt for a new husband.
The other kids are familiar Mother Goose characters. Standouts include Bo-Peep (Emma Reese), Red Riding Hood (Elyce Jaeger) and Jill (Sarah Gorski).
After a lot of surviving disasters and running away, they all end up in Toyland, where they encounter another group of characters including the Santa-like Master Toymaker (Steve Jorstad), his clever assistant Grumio (Foster Johnson) and Clouseau-like Inspector Marmaduke (Kevin Funk.)
The Toymaker has a dark side. He and evil Uncle Barnaby create some toys that are possessed by zombie-like demons and do away with the Toymaker (off-stage). Barnaby frames Alan for the nasty deed and blackmails Mary into marrying him.
Alan is about to be executed when Barnaby accidentally drinks the poison meant for him and dies (off-stage).
True love and goodness triumph.
Thursday’s opening performance had quality individual moments. The cast as a whole — while filled with energy and enthusiasm — had not quite gelled as an ensemble. The second act showed promise of coming together.
The large cast did a good job of maneuvering around the Sheldon’s limited stage during production numbers. The children’s well-choreographed dance to “March of the Toy Soldiers” is a highlight of the show.
The costumes and makeup are cleverly done, and there’s a full pit orchestra under the baton of Bill Foot. Dawn Conroy-Pretto worked with the many singers as vocal director.
Director Jerry Lacroix faced the “Toyland” challenges head-on, using a variety of creative techniques. There’s a bit of slapstick, some spookiness, a touch of silent film and a whole lot of “cute.”
“Babes in Toyland” has two more performances — at 7 tonight and at 2 p.m. Sunday. As a bonus, people who arrive early will be treated to a concert of holiday tunes in the mezzanine performed by local school children.
If you go…
Who: Phoenix Theatre
What: “Babes in Toyland: The Musical”
When: 7 p.m. tonight, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Sheldon Theatre, 443 W. Third St.
Cost: $22.50 adults, $14.50 students
More info: 651-388-8700 or 800-899-5759, or www.sheldontheatre.org