Thursday, November 20, 2014

Entrancing "Dick Whittington" is perfect family fun for the holidays

Mike Spee and Fawn Ledesma in Dick Whittington and His Cat (Chris Bennion)

Dick Whittington and His Cat
Through December 21, 2014

The world premiere musical at Seattle Children’s Theatre, Dick Whittington and His Cat, is the perfect all-family holiday show this season! At a fast-paced hour and a half (including intermission), this magical adventure will entrance children as small as three and keep their parents, aunts, uncles and grands happy to be there.

Book and lyrics are by Jeff Church, currently producing artistic director at The Coterie Theater in Kansas City, and local multi-talented composer Richard Gray. The score is filled with ornate references to Irish drinking songs that augment the British flavor of the script. The theme focuses on giving a child a chance, since Dick Whittington starts life as an orphan and is dependent on people believing he can be trusted.

The hard-working cast of nine becomes travelling vagabonds, Londoners, sailors, foreign court dignitaries, pirates, and more. A fun activity might be to see if you can spot the single actor as he or she moves through as many as seven or more different characters.
 
The story of the musical is almost too compressed and based on myth-laden tales of a real Mayor of London in the 1300s and some current children’s books. A young orphan (an appealing and good-hearted Mike Spee) goes to London to see streets paved with gold and is given a mysterious cat, TrueHeart, that brings him good fortune. In this version, while he meets a kindly employer (John Patrick Lowrie), the housekeeper (a bitter and funny Jayne Muirhead) kidnaps the cat and sends it to sea.

Dick must set sail to rescue his cat, and in the process, he sails to Cabar and meets the ruler (Jared Michael Brown), but just misses getting his cat back. He must find Pirate Bess (Hana Lass) to get the cat, and is dismayed to find the daughter of the employer (Fawn Ledesma) held captive as well. He tries to sneak a rescue of both the cat and daughter, but is captured and made to walk the plank.

Given a few “last words,” Dick speaks so movingly about it being Christmastime in London that the crew is motivated to mutiny and go back to see their families. In a trice (and really I mean that, this is the fastest wrap up to an adventure I have ever seen), they are back in London for Christmas, Dick is prosperously decked out with a gentleman’s wig, and another young man is attracted to the cat, whereupon Dick gives TrueHeart away to a new owner.

With Vickielee Wohlbach, Cobey Mandarino, and Richard Gray also performing, there are just enough players to fill the stage and create big harmonies. Several also play instruments, augmenting the four musicians in the “pit.” Simple effective moments of choreography (by Crystal Dawn Munkers) amp up the fun in musical reels.

It’s a “big” show for SCT, in the amount of set changes and locations from London town to sea to foreign land (designed by Carey Wong, with lights by Andrew Smith, sound by Chris R. Walker, and dozens of costumes for multiple small roles by Cathy Hunt). Annett Mateo creates several magical puppets, one of which is a definite “ah” moment for the audience.

The cast is clearly having fun which helps pull the audience in. The visuals are gorgeous and the songs are amusing, light, and occasionally uplifting (giving a boy a chance gives him wings). Spee leads the cast with a sure portrayal, and overall it’s a great time in the theater. Allison Narver’s direction makes for easy, well-oiled transitions and imbues the production with infectious glee.

If you’re tired of old chestnuts, go see this new coconut of a show! (Coconuts – a South Sea nut.) For more information, go to www.sct.org or call 206-441-3322.