Theater Reviews

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Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City
Through May 13


Deaf West Theatre's "Sleeping Beauty Wakes" is a beguiling tour de force that looks at love, sleep and time by setting the familiar fairy tale in an innovative performing context: Four of the main performers, including Beauty, are deaf and have their voices supplied by other performers or by one of three onstage musicians.

The result is a brilliant entertainment in three dimensions, with constantly changing centers of focus often unrelated to where they would be in a conventional production. Because the actor doing the acting is not always doing the singing, and because everyone onstage is signing when they are singing or speaking, it takes a while for the initial disorientation and dazzle to wear off.

But in no time at all, the audience becomes immersed in Jeff Calhoun's richly choreographed chaos, free to enjoy without barrier a series of extraordinary performances, and certain that they are hearing each person, singing or not, directly from their heart.

The imaginative book by Rachel Sheinkin, who won a Tony for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," has fun with the characters and the two temporal settings in which they find themselves: Once upon a time and now. The music and lyrics by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, which is pure Broadway energy enhanced with a rich mix of influences beginning with faux medieval, also is lots of fun.

In a production so relentlessly demanding of the highest levels of performing virtuosity and producing coordination, there can be no single star but only an entire galaxy. Alexandria Wailes plays Beauty with radiant, quicksilver perfection and seductive grace. As her royal parents, Clinton Derricks-Carroll and Christia Manztke provide the endearingly misguided love that drives the story.

Performing in multiple roles, Russell Harvard brings a gangly Jimmy Stewart type of romantic charm to Beauty's suitor; Troy Kotsur brings a George Carlin sort of goofiness to his pair of amorous adventurers; and Deanne Bray is exceptionally sympathetic both as a hard-boiled sleep clinic director who keeps wanting to melt and as a bad fairy. As a pair of insomniacs, Kevin Earley is irrepressible and adorable, and Erika Amato beautiful and silvery-voiced.

Special mention must go to the three musicians-performers who constitute the onstage band, all of whom also provide voices for various characters as well as for characters they play themselves. Keyboardist Milburn and violinist Vigoda singing the lovers are superb, while Shannon Ford, who does a mean Japanese fairy tale hero, plays assorted drums, cymbals, woodblocks and Glockenspiels. How they can seamlessly keep track of what they are supposed to be singing, playing and acting at any given moment is beyond comprehension; that they do it so unobtrusively is a further miracle.

Every element, from costume design to sound and lighting, has that rare combination of thorough professionalism and deeply devoted love of art and craft that distinguishes the merely excellent from the unforgettable.

But please, for their next world premiere at the Kirk Douglas, let's have Deaf West Theatre turn their attention to a more serious topic. After all, a fairy tale can only stretch so far.

SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES
Produced by special arrangement with East of Doheny
Credits:
Book: Rachel Sheinkin
Music-lyrics: Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda
Director-choreographer: Jeff Calhoun
Set designer: Tobin Ost
Costume designer: Maggie Morgan
Lighting designer: Michael Gilliam
Sound designer: Eric Snodgrass
Casting: Bonnie Grisan
Production interpreter: Catherine Richardson Kiwitt
Cast:
Beauty: Alexandria Wailes
Groundskeeper's Son (and others): Russell Harvard
King: Clinton Derricks-Carroll
Queen (and others): Christia Manztke
The Prince (and others): Troy Kotsur
Director (and others): Deanne Bray
Night Terror Patient (and others): Erika Amato
Insomniac (and others): Kevin Earley
Musician-performers: Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn, Shannon Ford
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