Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Sleeping Beauty Wakes
La Jolla Playhouse

Bryce Ryness and Aspen Vincent
Take two parts clever adaptation of a classic story, add two parts driving score from members of a well-known rock band, one part flashy projection-heavy scenic design, and one part creative direction. Mix them together and what do you get? A great big musical hit—Sleeping Beauty Wakes—now performing at the La Jolla Playhouse.

The clever adaptation comes from Rachel Sheinkin, who also wrote the book for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Set at a sleep clinic populated by four disordered characters (Adinah Alexander as Hadara, who has restless leg syndrome; Jimmy Ray Bennett as Leon, who has sleep apnea; Steve Judkins as Murray, who sleepwalks and snores; and Carrie Manolakos as Cheryl, who suffers from night terrors), the show's opening finds the normal admission process for a night of monitored sleep disrupted by the appearance of Beauty, also known as Rose (Aspen Vincent), who is carried in by her father, named only King (Bob Stillman). Rose's disorder is that she has been sleeping for 900 years, but King has sensed recently that her sleep pattern has changed and wants it measured. The clinic director, appropriately named Doctor (Kecia Lewis-Evans), needs patients, so she reluctantly agrees to give Rose a bed for the night. As the electronic measurements fly across the screens (courtesy of Peter Nigrini's projection design), an extraordinary thing happens: all of the other patients' dreams become like Rose's. In fact, everyone, including the Doctor and the clinic's orderly (Bryce Ryness, whose character suffers from narcolepsy) becomes caught up in Beauty's dream world.

The cleverness of Ms. Sheinkin's book results not just from giving it a contemporary take, but from how she manages to layer levels of discovery for her characters. By the time the final resolution arrives, the characters have not only gained insight into what is bothering them but have managed to become better people in the process. And the audience, accustomed to seeing sleep as a necessary curative, will have its expectations turned upside down. There's so much story, however, that the characters themselves get a bit of a short shrift. A tad of warning to potential audience members: let the show and its multiple messages wash over you; thinking about it too much might disturb your own sleep cycle.

Ah, but Sleeping Beauty Wakes is a musical, and, indeed, its score (music by Brendan Milburn and lyrics by Valerie Vigoda, both members of the band, GrooveLily) plays a substantial role in its success. From hard-charging rock numbers reminiscent of the style of the musical Next to Normal to sweet ballads the score is entirely integrated into the storyline. I didn't hear a number that I thought would stand on its own, but each felt as though it belonged exactly where it was placed. And the Broadway and West End-experienced cast all prove to be strong singers, any of whom could "sell" the songs as needed (though Ms. Lewis-Evans turns out to have the most fleshed out role and some of the best songs, an advantage she takes both with great power and charm).

Director Rebecca Taichman uses stark colors to create a stunning visual effect. Rose-colored gowns (Miranda Hoffman's costume design) and rose petals set off Beauty from her white-on-white surroundings (Riccardo Hernandez's scenic design). Ms. Taichman has created a number of lovely stage pictures (enhanced by Christopher Akerlind's lighting design, which is, by turns, both clinical and magical), though she manages to flesh out the issues her women characters faced to a much greater extent than those of her male characters.

Even so, if a fairy tale mixed with a bunch of human tales can enchant, Sleep Beauty Wakes does. Due to heavy ticket demand, the closing date has been extended by a week, to August 28.

Sleeping Beauty Wakes performs through August 28, 2011, at the Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. Tickets ($47 - $85) available by calling (858) 550-1010 or by visiting The La Jolla Playhouse website.

The La Jolla Playhouse presents Sleeping Beauty Wakes, book by Rachel Sheinkin, music by Brendan Milburn, lyrics by Valerie Vigoda. The creative team includes Rebecca Taichman, director; James Sampliner, music director/orchestrations; Doug Varone, choreographer; Riccardo Hernandez, set designer; Miranda Hoffman, costume designer; Christopher Akerlind, lighting designer; Leon Rothenberg, sound designer; and Peter Nigrini, projection designer.

The cast includes Adinah Alexander, Jimmy Ray Bennett, Steve Judkins, Kecia Lewis-Evans, Carrie Manolakos, Bryce Ryness, and Bob Stillman.

Photo: T. Charles Erickson

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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