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The Arts
November 29-December 6, 2006

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'Sleeping Beauty'

Bear witness: Beauty (Jasmine Tommaso) gets lit in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's production of 'Sleeping Beauty.'

Beauty and the Brat

Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 'Sleeping Beauty' is a holiday treat

By Joyce D. Mann

The story of Sleeping Beauty has its roots in medieval Europe. In some cultures, the story of a beautiful young princess, cursed by a wicked fairy and doomed at the age of 16 to fall into a 100-year sleep, has a dark undercurrent, but Kate Hawley's version, now running on the Mainstage at UC-Santa Cruz, is anything but dark.

Director Paul Whitworth skillfully brings to life a host of beautiful, bizarre and comic characters. The action begins with the birth of Princess Beauty, the only child of a middle-aged King (Nick Billardello) and his pill-popping Queen (Michele Farr). Beauty is a fractious baby and, to the chagrin of the Queen, only ceases her raucous wailing when she is in the arms of kitchen maid, Suds (Shashona Brooks).

The action opens mildly, with the christening of the princess, attended by a host of dancing maids and footmen that would do My Fair Lady proud. The fairy godmothers Rosemary (Susannah Freedman), Lydia (Chantay Sherrer) and Boo (Christine Behrens) bring the gifts of beauty, brains and good manners.

Just as Boo is about to confer good manners on the princess, all hell breaks loose. The wicked fairy Belladonna (Joseph Ribeiro), excluded from the guest list, appears anyway, in a clap of thunder. Belladonna dooms the princess to die at the age of 16 from a prick to her finger. Boo commutes the death sentence to a mere 100 years of sleep, and the gift of good manners goes unopened.

Local actor Billardello does a great job as the bemused King, playing well off the flamboyant Farr. Ribeiro is the villain everyone loves to hate. While he has been known to steal the show, in this production he has a lot of competition from other eccentric and highly amusing characters. Belladonna has a nice piece of shtick with her broomstick, which is equipped with an electronic "opener" and burglar alarm. The ever-popular Mike Ryan returns to the company as Jeepers, a general factotum who takes a shine to Suds. Ryan interacts well with the audience, especially the younger bunch. Brooks's Suds is the consistent voice of reason.

Beauty (Jasmine Tommaso) turns out to be a real brat. Confined to the palace to protect her from sharp objects, she is just as fractious as she was as a baby. Only Suds can reason with her. On Beauty's 16th birthday, three goofy, typically adolescent princes make a bid for her hand. Their entrances are a highlight of the evening, as the princes mince down the catwalk, to heavy electronic hip-hop sounds. First, the diminutive Prince of Minutiae (Craig Piaget), one of the world's great bores, provides endless minutiae about his journey to the palace. The audience loved him. The Prince of Taciturnia (James Snell) makes a "cool" entrance and barely utters a word. Finally, the flamboyant Prince Dandipants appears, and immediately bowls over the Queen, while making a less favorable impression on the Princess.

Just before she descends into her long sleep, Beauty meets Prince Revoir (Michael Beatty), a handsome maverick prince, and distant relative of the Irish O'Revoir family. He returns 100 years later to waken Beauty with a kiss.

This is one of Hawley's best scripts, tightly written and full of gentle wit. Her lyrics for the sentimental songs between the Princess and Prince Revoir are crisp and keep us involved during slower sequences. Adam Wernick's musical score is often bland; however, it comes to life in the capable hands of musical director Mickey McGushin and his fabulous quintet, Estradasphere. The group creates many musical effects from classical to hip-hop, with folk and klezmer stops on the way. The singing, without exception, is excellent. The multitalented Ribeiro has a couple of show-stopping "torchy" numbers.

Choreographed by Terry J. Barto, the dance routines are sharp and professional. The dancing vines were particularly spectacular. Jedediah Ike's elegant set creates a fairy-tale atmosphere, while David Cuthbert's lighting sustains the illusion and effectively conveys the passage of time. The icing on this delicious cake is B. Modern's brilliant costuming.

As a tribute to Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 25th anniversary, the production brings back, in cameo roles, a host of characters from previous pantomimes; a brilliant touch. There's so much to recommend this production; if you can only see one holiday show, let it be this richly textured jewel.

Sleeping Beauty runs through Dec. 17 at the UCSC Theatre Arts Mainstage in Santa Cruz. For performance dates and to order tickets visit the SSC website or call the UCSC Ticket Office at 831.459.2159.

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