Some of you may remember the fabulous Amy Driscoll, who was the director of Moon Over Buffalo (I was AD) and featured in her very own profile at the World of Champagne. Well, not long after wrapping on our show at the Fire Hall Theatre, Miss Amy packed up her trusty Honda CR-V (a fine gent by the name of Winston who is having a coy love affair with my Malibu, Stella) and headed on out to the capital city of Bismarck, ND to spend the summer working with Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre. Now, there are few things that will make me take a long weekend and travel down to Bismarck, and most of them involve big hair and cocktails and sleeping with straight and/or married men (for an example of that type of Bismarck adventure, be sure to check out my blog post on becoming a Williston 10). Bismarck is just too stuffy and conservative for me – you can’t swing a dick without knocking over seven Republicans. So it took a lot of convincing, but Miss Amy finally convinced this old theatre hound to head west to experience all that Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre has to offer.
And what they had to offer was a lot more than I would have expected. During the weekend, I was able to see 3 performances: The Little Mermaid, Les Miserables, and Fairty Tale Theatre Presents: Cinderella. The range displayed in these performances was impressive and it was wonderful to see the two mainstage productions utilize the same space and still manage to create very different stylistic experiences with only minor technical changes.
On Friday, I was treated to The Little Mermaid, based on the Disney film (obviously, darling). The production was colorful and fun, with the mersisters in color-blocked outfits with matching wigs/headpieces and the set exploding with primary hues. The cast handled the material very well, especially the young woman playing Ariel who captured the youthful longing and naiveté of “Part of Your World” just as well as the original film. The young men playing Sebastian and Flounder were very good with the comedic bits, although the crab’s Jamaican accent sometimes veered a little close to an Irish brogue. Scuttle, the seagull, was a wacky treat, even making strange “run-by” cameos during “Under the Sea.” And then there was Ursula. Now, if you’ve known me for a long time, you know how much I love Halloween; and you probably also know that one of my favorite Halloween costumes I’ve ever worn was my Ursula costume that I made with a generous amount of help from my costumer friend Tracey (really, she made the whole thing except for the tentacles!). So I was waiting for Ursula to slink across the stage, ready to be judgmental as hell; luckily, there was nothing disappointing in her performance. She handled “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with a throaty confidence that might have benefitted from a touch more humor, but was dark and sinister enough to make the villainess proud.
Saturday night’s performance was Les Miserables. My friend Nancy, who is my dependable spitfire of a host whenever I venture to Bismarck these days, was shocked and aghast that I had never before seen a production of Les Miz; she was positively gobsmacked when I told her that I wasn’t familiar with hardly any of the music and my knowledge of the storyline was that some guy was thrown in prison for stealing some bread. I know, as a flaming homosexual of a certain age, there is a certain expectation that I will enjoy broadway musicals, and in many cases I do: I’m counting the hours until I can play Joanne in Company or Mrs. Turnblad in Hairspray, I can sing almost any song from Wicked by heart, and my early drag years were strongly influenced by Glenn Close’s crazy-eyed portrayal of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. But for some reason, I never got turned on to Les Miz.
Not having any particular expectations about what I was about to see, I was quite impressed with the production. “I Dreamed a Dream,” the song from the show I was most familiar with (thanks, Susan Boyle!), was done expertly; I also thoroughly enjoyed both Jean Valjean and the obsessed gendarme Javert who hunts Valjean relentlessly through the years. Both young men had excellent voices and their chemistry on stage as adversaries was immensely enjoyable. All of the actors put forth a great effort; and though there were a few oddities about the performance (for instance, the actor playing Gavroche, the diminutive rebel whose small stature is his weapon in the resistance, is nearly the same height as the other soldiers) it was a quality theatrical experience. And although they were using the same space as The Little Mermaid, the changes they did created a much darker and dilapidated feeling; as the barricade pulled out from the wings, I was amazed by how effective small technical changes can be in transforming the stage.
Daniel Walstead, artistic director for Sleepy Hollow, has a strong creative eye and these productions showcase his talents well, including his hallmark use of color and excess in costume design (especially for The Little Mermaid), and a strong stage design concept that allowed the stationary elements of the stage as well as the large movable set pieces to work equally well for two very different shows, and to transition very easily from one production to the next.
On Sunday, before leaving town, I decided to stick around to catch an early afternoon performance of Fairy Tale Theatre Presents: Cinderella that was organized for the parents, friends, and the members of the other casts. This show was Miss Amy’s baby, and it though it was the smallest production with the fewest resources, it also had a very special purpose behind it: to make theatre accessible. Minimal in nature, with no sets to speak of and rip-away costumes changed on the fly, this show is meant to travel – and travel it did, brining fairytale magic to nursing homes, daycare centers, and facilities for the developmentally disabled in the area. The show was a short, cute riff on the classic tale, with a few laughs and more than a few nods to the animated Disney classic. It had a homespun sweetness about it that is perfectly suited to bringing a taste of theatre to communities that might otherwise not find it accessible.
After all of this theatrical goodness (and with Stella loaded to the gills with ill-advised Bismarck shopping), I hit the road back to Grand Forks, knowing that it was less than a week until I’d be visiting the capital city again, this time for the Bismarck Pride drag show. For once, it was nice to take a long weekend, and get to enjoy the show rather than putting it on. And enjoying the show is exactly what Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre is all about.
PS – JacQ, you were the best seaweed-slash-hooker I’ve ever seen!
Tags: Amy Driscoll, Chris M. Stoner, Chris Stoner, Cinderella, Daniel Walstead, Fairy Tale Theatre, Fairytale Theatre, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Les Miserables, Little Mermaid, Sleepy Hollow, Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre