TCT’s “Sleeping Beauty” is a Spectacular Production

Review By Liz Eichler of “Sleeping Beauty”: Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati

The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati will be celebrating 100 years of continuous production–the oldest children’s theatre in the country! Audiences have been impressed and entertained by TCT productions for a century and “Sleeping Beauty” is no exception. Their shows feature some of the best regional talent. TCT’s deep and rich outreach program and training academy has nurtured generations of performers—as well as everyday Cincinnatians. Every show has the highest caliber production values, building discerning palettes for professional stagecraft and management, inspiring both future designers and future engineers. 

TCT’s “Sleeping Beauty” is a retelling of the folktale for new audiences, expanding what it means to be a princess. Your child will be enthralled by this modern story, but may have some questions, since it does depart in a few ways from the Disney version they may know best. Ken Jones (Director, Story and Book), Christine Jones (Lyrics) and Jamey Strawn (Music) have crafted a delightful spin on the ancient source material “La Belle au Bois Dormant.”  The live band plays the numbers with gusto, and the polished performers have no problem hitting all the notes of this steam punk rock fairytale.

The spectacle is grand and professional, including set (Mark Halpin), costumes (Jeff Shearer), lighting (Benjamin Gantose), and of course the Puppet Design (Kevin Frisch).  Halpin can think big, and from the moment the kids walk into the theatre they see the stage transformed into a funky castle. The gears and arches are grand and beautifully executed. The columns of light onstage are ever-changing with the moods of the characters, and the pyrotechnics (it is called steampunk!) are impressive. I’m still thinking about one of the stars of this show, the magnificent yet fierce dragon – and you will be too. High five for Puppet Designer Kevin Frisch and Director Ken Jones who found the perfect balance to strike some awe, but not distract. Some kids may watch this segment with fingers by the eyes in case it gets too scary (it doesn’t), and still enjoy the gigantic creature galumphing across the stage.

Brandon Bentley sets the tone perfectly as the aged Narrator. A king (Spenser Smith) and a queen (Ella Rivera) live in a kingdom far far away, which Jones dubs the Land of the Princesses—where baby princesses, guarded by fairies, come to grow up and attend princess school (“Everything That’s Cool We Learn in Princess School”). Eventually they kiss their frog and marry the prince who magically appears. Sweet and spunky Princess Aurora (Jenna Van Weelden) doesn’t buy this. She’s too busy trying not to “sleep through life” embracing the outdoors, sports, music, new ideas and learning. She wears steampunk goggle instead of a tiara. A very modern notion of a princess! Of course there’s a bevy of Disney-esque beauties (Ashley Olivia Morton, Mikayla Renfrow, Renee Stoltzfus, Lauren Everett, Jordan Collins) and their matching handsome princes (Sam Johnson, A. James Jones, Evan Koons, Matt Kreig, Dylan Tacker).  We also meet awkward but sweet Prince Phillip (George Ivan), not the same as the other princes, and he also prefers learning over feats of strength.  Aurora (call her Rory) enjoys his company and they sing “When Did Different Get to Be Wrong.”

Eventually Rory discovers a spinning wheel–the technology she was warned never to touch–but her curiosity gets the best of her, and she is sent into an enchanted slumber.  The clever writing team has crafted a very lovely sequence sharing Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted dreams. The harmonies in this sequence are very moving. Michelle Wells is the beautiful antagonist “Magnilda the Magnificent” who put the spell on the spinning wheel.  She performs her role with cackles and abandon, and a commanding voice.

Older kids and parents will embrace the modern ending of a classic fairytale. It is full of affirmations such as “Be Who You Are.” Everyone will be dazzled with the brilliance on stage, the amazing Taft Theatre itself, as well as the many charming prince and princess (and their gowns) in the audience. The story moves along quickly, making a few sacrifices in the narrative to indulge in the music, for a run time of about 60 minutes.

“Sleeping Beauty” is filled with delightful spectacle, produced by a company that has proven its love for kids and parents for over 100 years! So if you have a child or grandchild, get your tickets to “Sleeping Beauty.”  Better yet, consider season passes to teach your favorite young people about live performance, and earn the subscribers treat – meeting the cast members after the show. What a way to inspire future creators and dreamers than to see the characters up close.  Contact for more information.