Way’s retelling of Sleeping Beauty originates from the well-loved fairy tale and maintains its major themes, but features a headstrong princess and added characters, including Gryff—half man half dragon—and the riddle-challenging Spider King. In this classic battle between good and evil, a terrible curse is put on a young princess, who falls into a 100-year sleep on her 16th birthday. The only one left awake is a prince who must conquer the forces of evil and restore happiness to the kingdom with true love’s kiss.
“This script, by the renowned Welsh playwright Charles Way, covers the gamut from the dramatic to the hilarious with something for everyone, old and young, boy or girl,” said SCT Artistic Director Linda Hartzell. “The audience will be transported into a lush and beautiful world inhabited by spider kings, dragons, witches and fairies.”
The elegant sets for Sleeping Beauty, designed by Carey Wong, are based on the Pre-Raphaelite art of William Morris and Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Catherine Hunt’s sumptuous costumes are inspired by the paintings of another Pre-Raphaelite, John William Waterhouse.
Way began writing plays professionally in 1978 and now has over 40, which are produced around the world. He has written many plays for young people, including the classic fairy tales Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty, and has received several awards, including the Children’s Award given by the Arts Council of England and three nominations for the Best Children’s Play by the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain.
Henry’s music has been heard at a variety of local and regional theatres. Past productions at SCT include The Magic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, The Hoboken Chicken Emergency and Little Lulu. “The addition of a musical score, by SCT friend and favorite Chad Henry, heightens the storytelling, taking us to a deeper and even more interesting place,” said Hartzell.
Sleeping Beauty was first produced at The Polka Theatre in London and subsequently traveled to Johannesburg, Sweden and Russia. The play had its American premiere at The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis this summer. In a review, Rohan Preston of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis wrote: “This is an all-around stellar production.”
Once upon a time, in a land far away, two magical sisters, Branwen and Modron, lived in a wood. These sisters each had their own way, and powers, but only one of them was good. Branwen and her loyal servant Gryff, a creature half man and half dragon, set out to give a gift to the King and Queen, who were disheartened for they could not have children of their own. Branwen decided that she would bestow upon them the fair baby, Briar Rose.
Modron, however, wanted to keep the child for herself, and when it was time for Briar Rose’s christening, she was not invited. This slight did not go unnoticed; Modron appeared at the festivities bearing a gift of her own—a curse on the innocent child. Before night would fall on her 16th birthday, Briar Rose would be doomed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle and fall to her death.
With one blessing left for the child, Branwen granted the family a reprieve; instead of death, the girl would fall into a 100-year sleep. Only a kiss from her true love would break the spell and release her from the slumber.
The King ordered all spinning wheels destroyed and raised his daughter sheltered behind the castle walls. Briar Rose’s was a lonely life, with only her “imaginary friend” Gryff, a gift from Branwen, and the confines of the garden for solace. With her mystical foresight, Branwen sent a young prince to befriend Briar Rose. Unfortunately, her choice seemed less than regal—the hapless Prince Owain was bested at all their games; be they of skill or speed, brain or brawn, he simply didn’t excel at anything.
Then, as the hours left on the curse began to wane, Modron had her revenge—Briar Rose fell into the deepest of sleeps, with only Owain left awake to save her. Filled with trepidation, Owain embarked on the quest, where he met and matched many a foe. He out-danced the fairies, outwitted the Spider King and mustered enough courage to slay Modron herself. There remained but one thing left to do to save Briar Rose—he must give her true love’s kiss.
The cast for Sleeping Beauty includes Anne Allgood as Modron, Julie Briskman as Branwen, Khanh Doan as Briar Rose, Allen Galli as Gryff, Bobbi Kotula as Queen Guinevere, Kevin C. Loomis as King Peredur, and MJ Sieber as Prince Owain. Nicole Boote and Chad Jennings are the understudies.
The production features choreography by Marianne Roberts, musical direction and orchestration by David Duvall, set design by Carey Wong, costume design by Catherine Hunt, light design by Rick Paulsen, sound design by Chris R. Walker, fight direction by Geoffrey Alm, and puppet design by Douglas N. Paasch.
By LESLEY HOLDCROFT
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, Friday, December 2, 2005
If you're looking for children's holiday entertainment with depth, the ancient art form of the fairy tale fills the bill.
Seattle Children's Theatre opens "Sleeping Beauty" tonight and viewers can expect a vast emotional range, splendid pre-Raphaelite costumes of flowing gold and velvet, and characters who yearn and grow.
"We haven't had a fairy tale here in a long, long time, and you forget how powerful a tale of good and evil can be," says Rita Giomi, the show's director and SCT's artistic associate.
This version by Welsh playwright Charles Way, with music by Chad Henry, updates the classic tale of Briar Rose, the girl cursed to prick her finger on a spindle and be rescued from 100 years of sleep by a handsome stranger.
Here, the Prince Owain is Briar Rose's best and only childhood human friend and a bumbling fool who must earn back the self-esteem trampled on by his father. Also, the good witch and the mean witch are sisters, and the mean witch is clearly jealous, isolated and sad. As another addition, Briar Rose receives a companion Gryff who is half-man and half-dragon and cute enough to reproduce as a plush toy.
Then there's the good witch, who can't quite get her spells right; the mean witch, who toils away in darkness and obscurity; Briar Rose's frustration with her overprotective parents; and a king and queen who bicker like a married couple and indulge in laughable pillow fights.
"Kids are going to really be able to relate to the overprotective thing," says Giomi. "I mean, instead of telling Briar Rose to stay away from spindles, they ban all the spindles and lock her away in a castle!
"I believe deeply in the power of fairy tales," she adds. "What's great about this version of the story is the way everyone is embodied with human longings. Plus, boys will like it as much as girls. I mean, let's face it: Briar Rose goes to sleep halfway through the show and the rest of the story focuses on the prince."
True enough. The staff recommends children under 5 stay home, due to the enormous, human-headed spider king who engulfs the entire stage as he sings ragtag riddles, the horrific scream of the mean witch and the scary spells set to music. Frightening indeed, but I'm bringing my 3 1/2-year-old son anyway because, unlike much TV, this story shows a very ordinary person growing up to become a hero through conquering his self-doubt.
SCT's "Sleeping Beauty" suggests we can all become heroes.
"I believe fairy tales were written to show children they can make it through something that scares them," Giomi says. "The exact same thing won't happen to them, but the emotions might be the same, and they learn they can make it through anything."
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