The villainess Wisteria in Sleeping Beauty at Ensemble Theatre
I love that artistic director Lynn Meyers calls Ensemble Theatre’s holiday shows “nondenominational, multigenerational.” It means a lot that her intention with these revised fairytales is to offer a subtle message that kids will absorb and adults can appreciate, even as they’re all being entertained by David Kisor’s music and Joe McDonough’s lyrics and script. That said, I found this year’s production of Sleeping Beauty (back for the fourth time) a little tiring. Perhaps that’s because it’s about a princess’s long nap brought on by a tainted thorn on a rose.
There’s a lot of set-up before we meet Briar Rose (Deirdre Manning, who’s quite charming and sings beautifully); in particular, I found the show’s opening number, “It Starts with One,” performed by three of the four actresses who played the Marvelous Wonderettes for ETC in past seasons — Sara Mackie as the fairy Marigold, Denise Devlin as Lilac and Brooke Steele as Daisy — a tad hard to follow. If left me wondering how this paved the way for the fate the daughter of King Stefan (Phil Fiorini) and Queen Olivia (Kate Wilford).
The story gets around to Briar Rose’s fate eventually, but other characters really fuel this production’s best moments. Terrance J. Ganser is amusing as a Rock & Roll prince (he has a touch of Elvis when he sings “Dust on My Shoes”) who unwittingly puts Briar Rose to sleep. Ganser returns in Act II in a more earnest mode to undo the curse caused by his great-grandfather a century earlier. Sleeping Beauty’s most lively and entertaining moments belong to Deb G. Girdler and Michael G. Bath. In many of ETC’s holiday shows since 1996, they have been villainess and henchman, and they have a knack for ramping up comic bad behavior to make the young and old laugh out loud.
ETC’s Sleeping Beauty
needs more of their energy. Nevertheless, the show is fun to watch, especially for young audience members who will be dazzled by Reba Senske’s colorful costumes and giggle when the court become thorn bushes (“A Thorn in My Side”) with twig-adorned hands. Brian Mehring’s design is simpler and more straightforward than usual as well as more spacious, allowing ample room for Dee Anne Bryll’s fine choreography.
SLEEPING BEAUTY, presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, continues through Jan. 3.