|Rachel Guyer-Mafune and cast in Howl's Moving Castle (Aaron Wheetman)|
Howl’s Moving Castle
Book-It Repertory Theatre
Through December 29, 2019
A charming-though-complicated musical, Howl’s Moving Castle, has been crafted from a complicated book and is now making an updated and streamlined presentation at Book-It Repertory Theatre. Justin Huertas (music and lyrics) and Myra Platt (book adaptation) have mostly successfully captured the story, though if they’d trim a few more confusing details, it would feel a little less overwhelming to audiences that don’t already know the book or the movie.
The story focuses on the Hatter family, the mother, Fanny (Alyssa Keene), and daughters Sophie (Rachel Guyer-Mafune), Lettie (Fawn Ledesma), and Martha (Varinique “V” Davis). In the land of Ingary, a kingdom of magical properties where the story takes place, everyone has a particular job to do. Fanny decides that Lettie should apprentice at a bakery, Martha should learn spells, and Sophie should help run their hat shop. Sophie thinks her lot in life is to “never be successful” and tries to resign herself to it.
When Martha learns a changing spell, she and Lettie decide to swap themselves in their apprenticeships, though inhabiting the same bodies in place. This gives Sophie a kind of permission to change what she’s doing. Before she gets a chance, though, the Witch of the Waste (Andi Alhadeff in one of many roles) turns her into a 90-year-old woman because the WOTW thinks Howl, the wizard (Nicholas Japaul Bernard), is in love with Sophie and the WOTW is jealous.
Now, Sophie must try to find a way to break the spell and to do that determines she must find Howl. In his castle, she meets a fire demon, Calcifer (Adam Fontana), who is also cursed and if she can break his curse, he’ll break hers. Other characters include Howl’s assistant, Michael (Randall Scott Carpenter) and a dog-who-is-not-really-a-dog (Tyler Rogers).
How that all happens becomes a bit of a convoluted mess with too many characters and subplots. We don’t really understand why Howl has left Wales (! Wales?) or what his aims are in life besides chasing women. If Huertas and Platt could figure out which subplots could be dispensed with, it could help streamline the difficulties for audiences.
Some of the songs Huertas has written for the musical are quite charming and fit well. There are a few too many reprises and lyric repetitions that don’t forward the story and get a little boring, but that aspect is an easy fix. A couple (The Mushroom Bonnet) are very dispensable and slow the plot down (Jane Farrier being a character that is really not needed).
A few are wonderful, including A Different Person, where Sophie wishes to be someone else, Lettie Loves Me, an exuberant song for Michael, and The Witch of the Waste, which Alhadeff puts over masterfully.
There’s a lot of magic-boot-travel and other location changes that are nicely managed through intricate lighting changes in Andrew D. Smith’s design. Costume design is also well-managed with some modest clothing for the sisters and outrageous clothing suitable for the witch (by Jocelyne Fowler). Director Platt keeps the pacing quick and focused through the myriad changes.
The cast is uniformly excellent at both their character renditions and the terrific singing. They are ably supported with subtle movement and choreography by Jimmy Shields and music direction from Elisa Money and a tiny band.
This is an all-age enchantment. Guyer-Mafune is an adorable and spunky heroine who leads the play to a satisfying conclusion. Female empowerment is an unstated theme in a lovely way and of course everyone gets what they want in the end.