With the strong Broadway Series of touring Equity productions and a nationally recognized regional theater in Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati theatergoers could easily overlook productions at one of their other professional theater companies, the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC). However, they would then be missing top-notch productions such as the world premiere of a musical adaptation of Sleeping Beauty currently playing at ETC.
This version of Sleeping Beauty seeks to explore and define "beauty" in terms other than just physical attractiveness. The protection of innocence, the strength of the heart, and a foundation in nature are all equally as important here. The story unfolds with the help of three good fairies who impact on the plot while also commenting on it in the style of a "Greek Chorus". The musical has appropriate amounts of "good versus evil" conflict, romance, action, and comedy. The book, by Joseph McDonough, is gentle, yet detailed, and interesting. David Kisor's score uses various musical styles, from rock to operetta, and has many effective songs including "It Starts With One", "Changing, Growing", and "Dust On My Shoes". The book and score both drag a bit following the opening number, but are both on track by the middle of the first act. Director D. Lynn Myers does her usual fine job of brining all of the theatrical elements of this production together in a cohesive mix.
The cast of Sleeping Beauty is uniformly excellent. As the three good fairies, k. J. Jones, Sherman Fracher, and Shannon Rae Lutz have the opportunity to perform some of the show's best songs and give heartfelt and moving performances. Deb Girdler is deliciously evil as the bad fairy Wisteria, and Andy Wilkowske displays a broad range (of both voice and character) in portraying Prince William and Prince Edward. Audiences remember a. Beth Harris for her superb turn as the title character in ETC's production of the musical Violet a few years ago and she again impresses as Sleeping Beauty.
The design for Sleeping Beauty is also deserving of praise. The set and lighting design by Brian c. Mehring is colorful and whimsical, and effectively matches the fantasy and naturalistic qualities of the show. The costumes and wigs by Reba Senske and David Warda are fun and attractive.
The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati has built a fine
reputation for their presentations of non-musical plays. However, they
have also presented several world premiere productions of musicals with
scores by Mr. Kisor with great success, and Sleeping Beauty is no
exception. It will be interesting to see what they can do this summer
with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, having procured the rights to
present one of the first regional productions of the Off-Broadway musical
-- Scott Cain