By Christopher Thomas
Fairy tales teach that true love wins. And it certainly triumphs in “twin, full, queen, and king-size proportions” in Marriott Theatre for Young Audience’s current musical adaptation of the beloved Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Princess and the Pea.
The musical takes place in the fantastical land of Ipslonia, where Prince Wellington is forced into choosing a bride by his mother, Queen Evermean. Trouble arises when the Prince falls in love with a commoner, Ruth, who must prove her worth by passing the test that gives this show its title, requiring her to sleep on a giant stack of mattresses piled on top of a single pea. More information about the production can be found here.
The performance begins with the use of video recordings on strategically placed screens along the perimeter of the stage. Artistic Director Andy Hite and Director Scott Weinstein, who is making his Marriott debut, made the effective choice to update this production by adapting the script’s “transition” scenes into several prerecorded news reports and announcements. The integration of the video screens added the most humor through transforming the princesses into game show contestants with each princess challenge, using imagery and theme music that one might experience while watching “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Combined with Don Fortson’s booming voice as the energetic TV Host/Reporter, the effect is instantly humorous for audiences young and old alike.
Forston’s stage presence is just as resonant as his voice. In addition to playing the kingdom’s rip and reader, he also plays the role of Ruth’s father, bringing a tender but strong disposition to the role. As the slumberous Ruth, Dara Cameron brings a sweet honesty to the stage that mirrors the earnestness played by Alex Goodrich as Prince Wellington. Together, they make an endearing match with their equally brilliant, distinct voices. Cameron’s clarity and ease with which she sings is especially remarkable.
Equally impressive is Susan Moniz’s wickedly enjoyable performance as Queen Evermean, whose delivery of the queen’s quick quips and self-indulgent laughter deliciously lives up to her name. Moniz casts sneers, shouts, and raised eyebrows at her fellow actors and the audience alike, entertainingly tapping into the archetypal evil queen that audience’s know and desire in such a fairy tale.
The costumes, built by the talented Nancy Missimi, capture the eyes and imagination of every child and child-at-heart in the room. She enchants the audience with the costumes, for each piece is larger than life in color, shape, and style. The costumes help establish to main objectives in this production: first, opposing the characteristic peasant clothing choices of Ruth and the unstylish Prince Wellington against the vogue, over-the-top fashions for the ill-hearted characters who value wealth over happiness. Additionally, and more impressively, the costumes also capture a wonderful light-heartedness that adds whimsy to this fantasy kingdom. Missimi wonderfully incorporates a thick, quilted texture to the dresses and tunics of each character that has true heart, cleverly tying together the characters whose fate relies on the quilted bedding of a mattress. Since the set for this production relies more on the audience’s imagination, the detail in the costuming choices is a welcomed sight that helps place the audience in the fairy-tale world as well as compel the story.
The production also succeeds in its quick-paced storytelling format. With a book and lyrics penned by Chicago’s very own Rick Boynton, the show has a great balance of humor and fantasy geared towards audiences of all ages. While the songs themselves won’t necessarily leave a lasting impact on the audience, the enjoyable and musical performance of the live orchestra, confidently led by Ryan T. Nelson, excels at creating the mood for each moment. Similarly, Jeff Kmeic’s design for the fantastical set—of special note is the whimsical tree in the royal forest with signs leading to other kingdoms like “Andysonville” and “Boysntown” to delight the Chicago audiences—and props help create the fairy-tale like world of Ipslonia using minimal pieces that deliver a big impact.
Marriott Theatre for Young Audience’s production weaves in a modern feel to a familiar tale. This production excels in its aim at children, especially with its 60 minute run-time and an energetic question and answer session following afterwards. In fact, actor Derrick Trumbly, Chester, playfully reveals that his on-stage energetic persona is a true extension of his personality by serving as the moderator for the audience’s Q&A. His ability to cheer, play, and listen to the myriad children with eager—and sometimes shy—hands up in the air is as enjoyable an experience as the play itself.
“The Princess and the Pea” plays most Tuesdays through Sundays at 10 AM and 12:30 PM. Exact schedule, more infromation and tickets are available on line here or by phone at (847) 634-0200. Single ticket prices are $17.23 per person (includes fees and taxes). Groups of 20 or more receive a discount by calling (847) 634-5909. Free parking is available at all shows.