Also see Scott's review of Elf
This version, which has been tweaked considerably since its world premiere at ETC in 2000, defines "beauty" in terms of sacrificial love, the protection of innocence, and the strength of the heart, rather than physical attractiveness. The musical has appropriate amounts of "good versus evil" conflict, romance, action, and comedy. The book by Joseph McDonough is gentle and tender, and is told at a deliberate pace befitting the tone of the piece. David Kisor's score uses various musical styles and some nicely descriptive and apt lyrics throughout. The score features many praiseworthy songs including the very effective opening number "It Starts With One," "Changing, Growing," the funny "A Thorn in My Side," and a great song for the antagonist, "I've Heard It All Before". If the book and score both drag a bit following the opening number, they're back on track by the middle of the first act.
Director D. Lynn Myers does her usual fine job of bringing all of the theatrical elements together in a cohesive mix, with some especially inventive and visually appealing work seen in act two. Choreographer Dee Anne Bryll provides appealing and varied dances for the ensemble, and Sean Michael Flowers has his singers well prepared. There are some lovely harmonies heard in several numbers, but it unfortunately appears that ETC is using recorded instrumental accompaniment for this show.
The cast of Sleeping Beauty features a number of familiar faces from ETC's last musical, Hands on a Hardbody, as well as some newcomers. As the three good fairies, Sara Mackie, Denise Devlin, and Brooke Steele display wonderful chemistry and comradery, having appeared together in several ETC shows in the past. They skillfully 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 puts on a clinic on how to (appropriately) chew the scenery. Deirdre Manning gives a nicely detailed portrayal of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), conveying the spunky and curious nature of the character effectively. She sings very well in the lower range of her material, but is a bit unsteady in some of the higher parts. Terrance J. Ganser is solid as both Prince William and Prince Edward, providing enough variation between the two roles. Kate Wilford (Queen Olivia), Phil Fiorini (King Stefan), Michael G. Bath (Falcon), and Geoffrey Warren Barnes II (Wizard) supply some funny moments, as well as some apt tenderness, in supporting roles. The ensemble provides worthwhile support as well.
Brian c. Mehring's scenic design is more minimalistic than most of his previous efforts, consisting of a simple, two-tiered set with staircases on both sides. His lighting, especially in act two, features some unique effects, including an inventive representation of thorns. The costumes by Reba Senske and wigs by Kelly Yurko are fun and attractive.
The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati provides a family friendly alternative to the many holiday themed events in town each year with their musicals by Joseph McDonough and David Kisor, and Sleeping Beauty is a worthwhile endeavor. The whimsical and kindhearted retelling of this classic tale is touching, and ETC's talented cast performs the piece with great skill.
The show continues through January 4, 2015, at the Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. For tickets, please visit www.ensemblecincinnati.org or call (513) 421-3555.