Female fans of princesses will likely enjoy the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's children's-theatre holiday offering A Fairy Tale Christmas. Thanks to the always-impressive costume designer Gregory Hiatt and actors Cara Chumbley and Kelly Ann Lohrenz, respectively, Cinderella and Snow White each bear striking resemblances to their characters' Disney designs. Despite slight variations in style, Hiatt's costumes are remarkable re-creations of the most well-known looks for the two princesses, and Chumbley and Lohrenz amusingly mimic the fluttery voices and laughs of the storybook ladies.
Boys, however, won't be left out of this musical tale. While Saturday's audience was filled mostly with young ladies (and a smattering of us dads), I imagine young men who don't fancy princesses would still take a shine to at least one of the play's central characters: Nicholas Munson's Prince Les (short for Lester) Charming. As the oftentimes-forgotten brother to Chuckie Dixon's dashing Prince Edward and Jeremy Lagunas' gallant Prince Ferdinand, Les Charming gets upset when he's not invited to the Christmas ball in the kingdom of Happily Ever After - although he doesn't know the slighting was a mistake. In retaliation for the snub, Les forces Kate Turner's Jewish-cadenced Fairy Godmother to cast a spell that will make all of the land's residents fight with each other constantly, a revenge he relishes watching unfold. Of course, being a children's musical based on fairy tales, A Fairy Tale Christmas finds Les learning his lesson and eventually working to undo the magic (with Munson performing some full-toned, beautifully voiced songs along the way).
Fortunately, in accomplishing this, Les has the help of Happily Ever After's newest potential resident, Turner's delightfully spunky Goldilocks. She has just arrived in the kingdom and must decide within three days whether she can live by the "be good, don't be bad" rules of the land or will return to her own story, which involves big, scary bears. While enjoying her residential grace period, Goldilocks - dressed in a gorgeous green, knee-length skirt with shimmering gold specks and patches - can't seem to give up her habit of thievery. (You likely remember the girl's penchant for taking porridge and beds, but here she ups her game and also nabs silverware, opera gloves, and the Christmas-ball guest list.) Like Les, Goldilocks learns the error of her ways, and aids the prince in ending the bewitchment, but thankfully doesn't lose the moxie and independent spirit that make Turner's characterization so enjoyable.
Meanwhile, Sunshine Woolison-Ramsey's deep-voiced moodiness, delivered with just enough humor, renders her dwarf Grumpy thoroughly agreeable. I'm guessing that her Grumpy will be a favorite of many an audience member, young and old alike, as Woolison-Ramsey balances perfectly on the line between curmudgeonly attitude and geniality. She also impresses with a voice so deep that you wouldn't imagine it was her under that beard, at least if you've been privileged enough to hear Woolison-Ramsey's normal singing voice, which is fantastic. Adrienne Bergeron is equally likable as the musical's narrating Storyteller, with her bold personality and energetic deliveries. Together, these actors also portray the Three Little Pigs using hand puppets and high-pitched voices, and Bergeron additionally plays the Magic Mirror with the aid of Hiatt's cleverest costuming choice: a cowl with an oval frame, rimmed with flashing lights, that Bergeron holds over her head.
In truth, I didn't find A Fairy Tale Christmas as hilarious as most of Circa '21's children's offerings. But I did enjoy the performance, finding the book and lyrics by Matt and Tina Jo Wallace and the music by Scott Bradley cute and altogether amusing. Brad Hauskins also peppers his direction with his usual brand of inside jokes for the parents, which certainly helps make this production enjoyable for all ages. (My favorite embellishment is the inclusion of a bit from the score to Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, used to accompany Goldilocks' entrance - which might be an even-further-inside joke, considering the character doesn't even appear in Sondheim's musical.) More importantly, though, the kids in Saturday's audience seemed to like the show quite a bit, as the sold-out crowd didn't seem to stir too much from a lack of focused attention on the proceedings.
A Fairy Tale Christmas runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island) through December 28, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visiting Circa21.com.