Currently entering its fifth season, Public Works is a major initiative of New York’s Public Theater. It was formed specifically to engage the diverse people of the city with the theatrical process.
In collaboration with local civic organizations, Public Works founder and resident director Lear deBessonet seeks to blur the line between professional artists and community members, creating theater that is of, for, and by The People.
PW is known for grand musical adaptations of classical pieces, including Shakespeare (The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, Twelfth Night, and the upcoming As You Like It) and Homer’s The Odyssey. All performances are free and open to the lucky folk who win the ticket lottery.
Public Works’ first production, an original musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Tempest, brought more than 200 cast members to the Delacorte Theater — an 1,800-seat amphitheatre in Central Park. The show was colorful and joyous, with a catchy score by Todd Almond. Almond’s textual adaptation, though witty and concise, adds several instances of modern chatter, which can be distracting if you have an ear for Shakespeare’s rhythms.
The energetic script and score is perfect for youth theater. We do not need another traditional production of The Tempest, least of all performed by teenagers. Thankfully, Raleigh Little Theatre’s artistic director, Patrick Torres, has brought this unique adaptation to the Teens on Stage and Teens Backstage summer conservatories at RLT.
This year, 23 budding actors attended acting classes taught by Laura Levine and Jacob Snyder Timmons and rehearsed for the final production while five developing technicians created sets, lighting, costumes, sound, and props for the show.
Most importantly, Torres has brought Kidznotes on board. The Durham-based organization seeks to change the life trajectories of underserved and at-risk children in the Triangle through free orchestral music instruction. Over the last seven years, their artistic intervention has shown measurable improvement in school attendance, literacy, and positive behavior. Last year, Kidznotes served more than 400 students in Durham and Wake County public schools. The collaboration between Raleigh Little Theatre and Kidznotes honors Public Works’ mission of community involvement.
Musical director Shane W. Dittmar arranged an overture to be performed by a 13-piece Kidznotes orchestra, and a 13-member Kidznotes choir performed selected songs onstage with the actors. Both groups performed with confidence and enthusiasm.
For the show’s accompaniment, Dittmar was backed by crackerjack bassist Joe Wimberley and skilled percussionists Bobby Sherard and Tim Wall.
Torres wisely cast Ricky Hall as island-dwelling wizard Prospero, complete with a magical staff. Hall is a tremendous vocalist and speaks the Bard’s words with the clarity and weight of a seasoned actor.
Sofia Gabriela Alba plays mischievous spirit helper Ariel with grace and power. Keep your eye on her as she darts magically around the theater. Will Taylor captures the voice of the monstrous Caliban, while Mercedes Ruiz, as imprisoned daughter Miranda, is both delicate and earnest. David Snee as Prospero’s brother Antonio is the cast’s most facially expressive actor and should be watched.
This adaptation gives much stage time to its clowns — perhaps too much — but we are lucky to have the well-timed comedy of Emily Miller and Jessica Soffian as the drunken duo of Trinculo and Stephano. Extra practice with fight choreographer Connor Gerney is needed to tighten up the punches.
The show’s most winning performance comes in the Gumby-like shape of Colton Hartzheim as Miranda’s goofy young suitor Ferdinand. Hartzheim is strikingly flexible, which lends to his magnificent physical performance. I could spend hours watching him attempt to stack three measly pieces of firewood.
The unnamed ensemble of eight all burst onto the stage with fervor — some with more energy than others, especially with regard to facial expressions. The overall vocal quality of the ensemble is good, but often restrained. To break this curse, one must always sing as though everything is a solo.
The show’s shining musical moments come from Emma Johnson’s angelic vocals on “All Things Bow” and Ricky Hall’s final two songs. Todd Almond’s poppy “Oh, Miranda” is a highlight of the show and sets a lively tone from the start.
As the cast passes a kiss from one corner of the theater to another, I was reminded that Torres is a master of theatrical space. As always, he fills every corner — high and low — of the small Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre with hyperkinetic sights and sounds. One side of the audience, however, is left out of many goings-on near the staircase.
Unfortunately, microphones were too quiet and full of bass on Sunday afternoon, forcing the cast to compete with the band, particularly soprano Sofia Gabriela Alba.
The design elements are unified, thanks to the team of technical director Jessica Horn, scenic designer Jennifer Leiner, lighting designer Kaitlin Gill Rider, and costume designer Elspeth McClanahan. They are supported by technical students Nick Bryson, Lindsay Drake, Tyler Gromow, Maddy Pilone, and Sophia Ross. Stage manager Emma Heath calls the rapid-fire cues with accuracy while the cast ably perform Jess Barbour’s entrancing choreography.
As it did with 2016’s Bat Boy: The Musical, Raleigh Little Theatre proves itself the Triangle’s premiere spot for well-produced, unique, and engaging young people’s theater.
SECOND OPINION: July 24th Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway review by Garrett Southerland: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd25.html; July 22nd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8574; July 19th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Sarah Lindenfeld Hall for “Go Ask Mom”: http://www.wral.com/raleigh-little-theatre-s-summer-teen-program-to-present-the-tempest-/16807464/; and July 19th Hillsborough, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with executive director Charles Phaneuf and artistic director Patrick Torres and actors Ricky Hall and Mercedes Ruiz for “Lights Up!”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-71917-permanent-archive/.
Raleigh Little Theatre‘s Teens on Stage and Teens Backstage present THE TEMPEST at 7:30 p.m. July 28 and 29 and 3 p.m. July 30 in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607. TICKETS: $13, including taxes. BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0Sd000000jLrEREA0. SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/the-tempest/. PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre. VENUE: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/seating.html. MAPS/DIRECTIONS: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/map-directions.html. PARKING: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/parking.html. NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, July 30th, performance. OTHER LINKS: The Tempest (1610-11 tragicomedy and romance): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tempest (Wikipedia). William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia). Patrick Torres (director and RLT artistic director): http://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/patrick-torres/ (RLT bio) and https://www.facebook.com/patrick.torres.585 (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor, director, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.