Raleigh Little Theatre will open its 70th season with an RLT Teens on Stage presentation of John Clark Donahue and Thomas Olson’s musical adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, featuring original music by RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons, July 15-24 in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. This production is the culmination of the theater’s summer program for teenagers.
“I began our search for our Teens on Stage production last November,” recalls Sleeping Beauty director Linda O’Day Young. “Teens on Stage is a five week summer conservatory program which culminates in the first production for RLT’s season. Acceptance into the conservatory is by audition. Students attend classes in the mornings and rehearse in the afternoons. Generally, we like to have between 20-25 students.”
Young, who serves as RLT’s Youth Education Theatre Director, says, “Because of the uniqueness of Teens on Stage, it is important to find a script that is equally challenging to all the teens and, at the same time, is appealing to the young audience we wish to reach. I admire the work that is done by the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and, therefore, went to them for help. The description of their 1979 production of Sleeping Beauty seemed to offer what we were looking for. I read the script and loved it!”
She adds, “I love the elevated and poetic language of the script. It doesn’t talk down to a young audience, and it offers the actors the challenge of making the story clear to young viewers through body language and the tonal quality of their voices. The fact that some of the characters dance and some of them sing has allowed us to expand on the type of young actor we can attract to our program. The script has something for everyone.”
Linda Young says, “The play opens on an old storytelling Shepherd (John Molloy), who tells his tale through words and song. He speaks of how Aurora has slept in a castle ‘frozen by a faeries’ curse’ for 100 years. As the Shepherd’s son (Bobby Cassell) listens, the story begins to unfold before us. It is summer many years ago, a Queen (Phoebe Andrews) prepares to bathe in her pool assisted by her seven Ladies in Waiting (Sharon Levine, Tara Pozo, Marie Gibbons, Krystin Lane, Emily Gardner, Michelle Orlowski, and Molly Ward). She seems distracted, though and soon confides in one of the Ladies and shares her sadness that she and the King (Nick Johnston ) have no child. The true reason for the King’s recent absence is not matters of state but rather a pilgrimage to find the answer to their problem. She awaits his return. Soon, the King returns with no answer from the oracle he has sought. He leaves the Queen to finish her bath and the devastated Queen drifts off to sleep. A magic frog appears to give her the good news. The Queen will have a child!
“After the birth of Aurora,” Young says, “the King and his Chamberlain, Old Gallo (Andrew Heil), plan for the christening celebration. The King proudly announces that the child’s godparents shall be the Faeries of the Land. Gallo is elated and orders eight gold invitations be struck to send to the Faeries. The King objects stating that he only counts seven Faeries. Gallo reminds the King that Nidessha is also a faery. The King will have nothing to do with inviting a dark faery to his child’s celebration and orders Gallo to only invite the seven.”
Young adds, “There is a great celebration on the day of Aurora’s christening! Soon the faeries arrive and present their gifts. There is Hetra, the Faery of Wisdom (Claire Nickerson); The Faery of Wit ( Emma Holland); Ezeber, the Faery of Beauty (Mary Simmons); The Faery of Voice (Ashley Corsi); The Faery of Grace (Amelia Lumpkin); Tirspi, the Faery of Courage (Christine Zagrobelny); and the Faery of Simplicity (Chelsea Jones). They each present their gifts either in words, dance or song. All is well until there is a rush of wind , lightning, thunder and Nidessha! (Megan Elizabeth Kennedy). She is humiliated at not being included in the celebration and places a curse on the child that ‘in the summer of your 15th year, when you approach full flower …, I’ll bring you to see a spindle spinning above an autumn bower and there will you your finger prick … and die within the hour!’ Nidessha leaves and panic ensues until the Faery of Simplicity sings her gift and says, ‘No harm shall come to this dear child.’ The Faery undoes Nidessha’s curse by stating that Aurora will only fall asleep when she pricks her finger. The gentle sleep shall last until she is kissed by a noble Prince.
“The Shepherd continues to tell the story in song,” Young explains, “as we see Aurora (Molly Davis) at 13 happily playing and speaking the faery tongue. We then join her on her 15th birthday celebration. An ominous tower looms in the distance. Aurora seems distracted. Something draws her to a room at the top of the tower where she meets an Old Woman (Brett Williams), who is using a spindle, something Aurora has never seen. She convinces the woman to teach her to use the spindle but cuts her finger! Aurora swoons, leaves the tower, and makes her way to the castle where she collapses into her Attendants’ arms. The Attendants lay her out on her bed. All are mourning the tragedy but the Faery of Simplicity appears and puts them all into a deep sleep.”
Young says, “The Old Shepherd has told the tale of the beautiful Princess who awaits the kiss of a noble Prince. They lie down to sleep. As dawn approaches, The Prince (Will Sarratt) enters chasing his horse who has thrown him. He joins the campfire and falls asleep. Soon, he is awakened by a hooded figure whom soon he recognizes as Nidessha. The Prince doesn’t fear this Dark Faery and engages her in conversation. Nidessha had been a guest at his christening many years ago, and he thanks her for the gift she gave him. He then embraces her and she collapses. What gift could Nidessha had given the Prince that could have made it possible for his gentle act of an embrace to overcome her evil? This is never answered in the story and we are left to only guess. Perhaps it was the gift of healing?”
Linda Young says, “The Prince continues on to the castle where he sees the beautiful Princess and the court asleep. He places a kiss on her wounded finger and she awakes. The rest of the court awakens to hear the happy news, Aurora and the Prince shall wed. The Faeries are called forth by the King who also rights the wrong of years ago by also inviting Nidessha.”
In addition to director Linda O’Day Young, the show’s creative team includes musical director Mary Kathryn Walston, music arranger Haskell Fitz-Simons, choreographer Virginia Queen, set designer and technical director John “Andy” Andrews, costumer designers Vicki Olson and Robin Cuevas, lighting designer Neil A. Williamson, properties mistress Betsy Bates, and sound designer Asher Robinson.
“All productions have challenges,” says Linda Young. “That’s what makes theater exciting! Our biggest challenge was the music. After reading the script, I wanted to, of course, hear the music. I soon discovered that the only music available from the 1979 production done by Minneapolis was a full orchestration, much of which had handwritten notes! When I asked for a piano score, I was told there was none and that many theatres had used their own music. I then asked Haskell Fitz-Simons if he could write the music. He agreed and I think the results are beautiful!”
Young says, “The set is simple with lots of fabric on which lights can paint. My vision for this play is the artwork of Maxfield Parrish with his deep rich colors. There is the sense, again inspired by Parrish that the people in this story are closely linked with nature. Changes in scene location are accomplished by the lowering of fabric columns. Magical effects are achieved through the use of sound and lights and music.”
She adds, “Lights play a vital role moving us from season to season and place to place. Lights create the wondrous effects such as the arrival of the faeries who first appear as tiny lights, Aurora’s silhouetted birth scene, the ominous appearance of Nidessha, the saving sleep endowed by Simplicity, the coming of winter, and the return of spring.”
Young says, “The costumes for the humans are Late Gothic, but the Faeries are works of art created from a whimsical fantasy!”
And she proudly notes, “This production truly has something for everyone. There is humor, suspense, music, singing, dancing and, of course, a happily-ever-after!”
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Sleeping Beauty Friday, July 15, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, July 16, at 1 and 5 p.m.; Friday, July 22, at 1 and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 23, at 1 and 5 p.m.; and Sunday, July 24, at 1 p.m. in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $11 ($7 kids). 919/821-3111 or via etix at the presenter's site. Note: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and listening devices are available for all performances. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/sleeping.htm [inactive 4/06].