Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Rockin' Down Fairytale Lane is one of Nate Jacobs' best pieces, consistent in its tone and storytelling. It also contains Nate's first attempt at an original score. Let me say up front that this show could never have come to be without Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's brilliant Into the Woods, but Nate's vision is far different than theirs. This show emphasizes feeling good about oneself for the children and for the adults to take time and be there. The word I would use to describe this production is whimsical. The score is derivative, drawing on post Motown pop influences, but it gets the job done and I would buy a cast album were one available.
Rockin' Down Fairytale Lane provides a strong platform for what Nate Jacobs, as both writer and director, does best: fill the stage with huge talent, some WBTT regulars, some occasionals, and a few newbies, and bring out all they have to offer. He is aided by some of the best costumes ever seen on this stage, designed by Angela Franklin Mayo. The scenic design is un-credited, but highly effective. Lighting design is by Michael Pasquini, who has been missing from local theater environs for too long. Annette Breazeale designed the properties, and Juanita Munford is production stage manager.
As always, the glory of any WBTT production is the cast. Rockin' Down Fairytale Lane is narrated by a female trio, the Fairytalettes, Khalifa White, Ashley D. Brooks and Cherise James. Ms. White is new to the company, and Ms. Brooks and Ms. James have been seen from time to time, but never this effectively. They sing throughout the show, including backing up several solo songs. Their harmonies are gorgeous, creating a direct line from great female close harmony groups such as The Andrews Sisters. To get a sense of how great these ladies all are, company favorite Alyssa White is listed as understudy for all three. Brava, ladies. Our fairy-tale characters include Jack, played by 10-year-old Samuel Waite; his mother, played by Renata Eastlick (also Goldilocks' mother and a witch); Snow White (Jai Shanae); Prince Charming (Earley Dean); Goldilocks (Alitash Tafesse); three Pigs (and three Bears for Goldilocks) played by Derric Gobourne Jr., Joshua Thompson and Fred Taylor; Wolfie (as in Big Bad), played by Joey James; and Drucella, our villainess (Ariel Blue).
Rarely have I seen such poise on a stage as that exhibited by Mr. Waite. His singing is superb and he can deliver dialogue as well. Will someone please mount Oliver! for this young man before it's too late? Jai Shanae is a lovely Snow White, and Earley Dean is hilariously pompous as vain-glorious Prince Charming. Every time I see Mr. Dean, he shows new ranges in his talents. Previously, funny was not a strong part of his arsenal. Ms. Eastlick has been superb in previous WBTT outings, and continues here. I didn't realize until curtain calls that she played both mothers. Alitash Tafesse is better as the early bratty Goldilocks, but is still effective when transformed into a more loving, obedient young lady.
The male trio (Pigs and Bears) are primarily dancing roles and at this stage. Neither Mr. Gobourne Jr. nor Mr. Thompson have to prove their abilities to WBTT audiences. Mr. Taylor does a fine job keeping up with the other two who have wowed in many previous shows. Villains always seem to be the most fun to play and Ms. Blue and Mr. James appear to be relishing being bad, and they are excellent being so. Henry Washington has a cameo as one of Snow White's dwarfs and in the ensemble, and Topaz von Wood appears at the very start of the show as a dancing fairy and later as Jack's cow and in the ensemble. Both contribute to the high quality of the performance.
Nate Jacobs directs and Donald Frison choreographs. Everything on stage is ship shape, so both do a great job. The choreography for Fairytalettes is especially effective.
James "Jay" Dodge II is production manager, music director and co-arranger for the music. Although no reed player is listed, there are a lot of licks that sound like one, created on auxiliary keys, presumably. The effect sounds like a band six or seven strong instead of the four listed.
Any show at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is likely to be a treat, and Rockin' Down Fairytale Lane certainly is. I can imagine WBTT taking this to the Black Theatre Conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, next summer, despite the large cast requirements. I also think this show might have an extended life through licensing. Because it's summer, it might be possible to score some tickets for this production. I recommend getting them while you can.
Rockin' Down Fairytale Lane, through August 12, 2018, at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota FL. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.