Those madcap pranksters from The Troubadour Theatre Company are at it again, mixing a Shakespearean plot with some pop hits to create a new show. This time they”™ve taken a lesser-known Shakespearean work, A Winter”™s Tale, and sprinkled it with some soul from Bill Withers to create A Wither”™s Tale.
Long-term Troubie fans, who usually arrive ready to laugh enthusiastically at the on-stage antics, will need to brace themselves for a more serious outing here.
The Bard”™s intense psychological drama perfectly complements the haunting songs of seventies singer/songwriter Bill Withers, albeit with some switching of lyrics and a few throwaway pop-culture references for the occasional jokey bit.
With snippets of familiar themes from Shakespeare”™s earlier tragedy Othello, and even a fragment of plot from the classic Greek myth of Oedipus, A Winter”™s Tale unfolds in a curious fashion. The first three acts are serious, while the last two short acts strive for comedy and a happy ending. In the story, King Leontes (Matt Walker) becomes inflamed by jealousy. He sends his pregnant consort, Queen Hermione (Monica Schneider), to jail on suspicion of an affair with his oldest friend, King Polixenes (Matt Merchant), and even issues the death sentence of their baby girl Perdita (Katherine Malak), only to lament his subsequent solitude. Many years pass and the sorrowful King is miraculously offered a chance at happiness.
Writer/Director Matt Walker is not afraid to plumb the depths of this mostly dark story of jealousy, banishment and regret. Consequently, this poignant show seems a lot quieter than the Troubie”™s usual fare, with far less of the wacky hilarity that generally ensues. The cast certainly proves they have the mettle to tackle Shakespeare.
The five-piece backing band – clad in period costume, no less – is magnificent, led by Musical Director Eric Heinly on drums and features a memorable performance by John Krovoza on cello and violin. It”™s obvious a great deal of care was taken in putting together a top-notch band that flawlessly duplicates all the quiet hit songs from the catalogue of Bill Withers.
Founding member Lisa Valenzuela has a couple of important roles, including a preliminary prÃ©cis of the plot delivered at a breakneck (and slightly confusing) pace. Sadly, there were no opportunities for Valenzuela to belt out a tune with her legendary powerhouse voice. Nevertheless, she gets some comic mileage from her “˜Justin Beiber”™ wig.
Walker”™s impressive performance of Wither”™s best-known hit Ain”™t No Sunshine includes a fantastic solo on harmonica and all but brought the house down. Monica Schneider as Queen Hermione has a strong voice. Katherine Malak as Princess Perdita brings a great deal of grace and beauty to her performance.
Clearly working with a bigger budget this year, the show features atmospheric special effects (dry ice) as well as several stylish lighting effects, courtesy of designer Jeremy Pivnick. While the set design by Mike Jespersen of a substantial archway door flanked by curtains is simple and effective, the period costumes, designed by Sharon McGunigle, are especially gorgeous.
As always, Matt Walker had his bright yellow sequined cloth hanging from his belt, but it was hard to imagine him blowing the whistle and calling a foul and bringing the show to a halt to ridicule a cast member for fluffing a line. Generally in those instances, accusations get tossed about, such as “Unauthorized butchering of the text without a meat license!”
Not so on opening night.
Also absent from the performance was the extended improvisation and indulgent ad-libbing that – while hilarious – rendered the previous show, CHiPs, The Musical, so sluggish.
A Wither”™s Tale is a beautifully presented show that scoots along for an hour and a half, with no intermission, and showcases this gifted gang of clowns at their serious and soulful best.
If you have any trouble obtaining tickets to this hot show, then do consider becoming a Troubadour or Falcon Theatre subscriber.
You”™ll find it”™s definitely worth your while.
A Wither”™s Tale
4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank CA
Runs until – Sunday, Sept 26, 2010
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm.
Box office and bookings – (818) 955 8101
Review by Pauline Adamek