Last year, for their annual musical, the Edgartown School presented “Once Upon a Mattress,” based on the fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea.”
This year, an entirely different approach to the story of a girl’s quest to marry a prince brought some chills to audiences. Last Friday and Saturday nights the school presented an original musical version of the fable of Bluebeard, the tale of a villainous prince and his unsuspecting bride-to-be. The production was wonderfully atmospheric and a lot of fun, thanks to some great tunes, special effects, professional costumes, and excellent performances.
As the curtain rose, the stage was obscured by a cloud of smoke, which slowly cleared to reveal an eerie tableaux. In a dark gloomy castle, a coven of ghostly brides stood watch over the prone body of a young girl. A sinister limping henchman entered and opened the action. The scene was a nightmare sequence that foretold the fate of the young Mary Elizabeth and it perfectly set the mood for the gothic horror tale that unfolded.
The story of Bluebeard is one of the darker of the classic fairy tales and may have seemed an odd choice for a school musical. However, the Edgartown School’s production was witty, visually stunning, and spiked with catchy tunes, and it had just enough creep factor for the Halloween season. The show is a home-grown effort, written by school theater director Donna Swift and her writing partner, Ross Mihalko, with music by Oak Bluffs School music teacher Brian Weiland. The collaboration made for a show as well-crafted as any of the classic musicals that the school has presented in the past.
Ms. Swift and Mr. Mihalko met about ten years ago while both were doing children’s theater on the Island. Though Mr. Mihalko now lives in L.A., the two continue to collaborate on kids plays based on fairy tales. They have created eight shows so far. Bluebeard is their most recent.
“All of the shows that we have written have an edge to them,” Ms. Swift said. “We read the fairy tales and they are grim. They were cautionary tales. We like to take them and put a spin on them.”
Bluebeard, a tale of a murderous husband with a secret room in his castle where he collects dead brides, didn’t need to be altered much to make it edgy, Ms. Swift noted. “One of the reasons we wrote this is that it’s different,” she said. “Something that was deeper. Something that the kids could really sink their teeth into. There’s not a lot of great material out there for kids.”
Bluebeard demanded a strong cast, said Ms. Swift, who runs the IMP camp in the summer, but she felt confident with the talent she had available to her this year. “I wouldn’t have picked this show for any cast,” she said.
Among that talented group, eighth-graders Sarah Poggi and Alley Ellis played the two leads — sisters who have very different outlooks on the future. As the perpetually sunny, air-headed Mary Stephanie, Ms. Ellis was perfectly girlish and funny, and her sweet soprano voice really suited the role. Ms. Poggi played the more practical and somewhat gloomy, Mary Elizabeth, and her soulful voice expressed her anguish very well. When the sisters duetted in “The Man of My Dreams,” their voices blended beautifully.
Amadine Muniz, also an eighth-grader, proved herself a mature young actress as the girls’ jaded, opportunistic mother. She displayed on-stage confidence in an authoritative role, not always so easy for young actors. As the love interest, Henri, seventh-grader Thomas Westin displayed a talent for clowning, and his character, a bumbling unlikely hero, provided some of the biggest laughs of the evening.
As Bluebeard’s assistant, sixth-grader Samantha Cassidy showed off a very strong, clear singing voice and she did a great job in the classic sinister foreshadowing role. The title character had a relatively small role, but eighth-grader Ethan Donovan was appropriately menacing as the legendary serial killer.
The staging of the production felt professional, with authentic period costumes, a smoke machine used to good effect and black lights that turned the brides into glowing ghouls. The set (recycled from “Once Upon a Mattress”) was simply a series of steps and a backdrop painted in the classic grey stone of a medieval castle. It worked really well for the show’s action.
The production required a great deal of technical talent and Jared Livingston and Ian Shea managed the complexity of the lighting very well. According to Ms. Swift, they proved themselves great multi-taskers, helping with the special effects and other tech duties. The Edgartown School’s use of individual mics is a huge asset, as young voices are not always powerful enough to reach the back rows.
The music incorporated a number of styles. One of the highlights was a Latin-tinged number in which the dead brides each related her sad story. “Marry for Money,” led by Ms. Muniz, was an entertaining gold-digger song a la ’50s musicals. A vaudevillian number with Mr. Weston and Ms. Ellis was well choreographed and very funny.
The chipper welcoming song delivered by a chorus of townsmen had a mechanical, music box quality that worked very well for the scene, while a gloomy version of “Here Comes the Bride” made for a spooky marriage ceremony scene. Mr. Weiland has proven his talent for stick-in-your-head tunes and the lyrics (“The fairy tales convinced me. The perfect man is princely”) were very clever, and they moved the story along well.
All in all, the show was spooky good fun and a nice change of pace. “I love fairy tales and I also really love the horror genre,” Ms. Swift said. ” Kids aren’t allowed to do things like Sweeney Todd, and they love that kind of thing.”
Kudos to Ms. Swift and cast for a crowd-pleasing, creepy, campy show.