Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play is set in the garden conservatory of Madame Desmortes' French chateau where a ball is about to take place. Desmortes has two twin nephews, Hugo and Frederic, who couldn't be more different. Frederic is engaged to Diana, a heartless heiress, so Hugo invites the poor but beautiful ballerina Isabelle to the ball and dresses her up in an attempt to draw Frederic to her and away from Diana. However, Isabelle's mother has come along for the journey and when she sees Madame Desmortes' companion Capulet and recognizes her as a girl she grew up with, she tells her of the plan. Also, Isabelle is more drawn to Hugo than Frederic. Will Hugo's scheme be spoiled? Add in an abundance of fun supporting comical characters and you have a witty, humorous and charmingly romantic comedy.
Director Michael Kary gets rich comical performances from his cast with none ever crossing too far over into delivering broad caricatures of these mostly comical archetypes. He instills not only big doses of comedy and romance into his staging but also plenty of dance and movement in his upbeat and fun scene changes.
Brandon Brown does exceedingly well as both Hugo and Frederic. As Hugo, Brown is brave, bold and fearless, while as Frederic, he is shy, sensitive and innocent. The fact the Brown has to constantly shift between the two parts, sometimes within a few seconds, and that he creates two very different characters, is a huge achievement. Christina McSheffrey is equally as good as Isabelle. Somewhat timid when she first appears, McSheffrey does well to show how Isabelle at first is swept up in playing dress up and being the belle of the ball but quickly realizes the shortcomings of being Hugo's puppet and plaything. McSheffrey delivers a beautiful and touching performance.
As Madam Desmortes, Tarnim Bybee is a commanding and controlling presence, ruling with an iron fist from her wheelchair. Her biting delivery of the character's wittier lines is nicely countered by her ability to portray Desmortes' positive aspects in a completely sincere way. Kaitlyn Johnson is appropriately conniving and bitchy as Diana. Her cat fight with Isabelle is expertly played and staged. Megan Sutton and Brenda Batres are hilarious as Isabelle's mother and Capulet, respectively, and Gustavo Flores instills Diana's father Messerschmann with pathos and a hint of pain. As Joshua, the respectful butler who has to manage everything, Kaleb Burris is both solemn and sure of himself. There is also good comical support from Micah Larsen, Trustin Adams, and Allye Moyer in a few smaller parts.
GCU's creative aspects are simply sublime. William H. Symington's set evokes a richly detailed, marble-floored conservatory full of exotic plants while Nola Yergen's costumes are stunning. The lighting from Claude Pensis is sumptuous as are Christen McGrath's hair and make-up designs.
Full of both cynicism and sentimentality, Ring Round the Moon is a fun play that include a heightened mix of farce and romance as well as a comedy of manners. Grand Canyon University's production is infused with style and wit and a cast who deliver on the many fun, almost farcical, moments.
Grand Canyon University's College of Fine Arts and Production's Ring Round the Moon, through September 2, 2018, at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre, 3300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix AZ. Ticket and performance information for their upcoming productions can be found at www.gcu.edu/college-of-fine-arts-and-production/ethington-theatre.php or by calling 602-639-8880.
Written by Jean Anouilh, adapted by Christopher Fry