Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest opened to a packed house Friday evening at Flint Youth Theatre to round out the Summer Stage offering. We’re sure the Bard would have approved of this Jeremy Winchester and Kyle Clark adaptation even as some liberties were taken to bring it to a modern youth audience and to keep it just under two hours.
Although we were sure the setting on the Elgood Theatre space was a ship what with the huge mainmast and the great sails floating overhead, it also resembled something else. Then Bary Lehr entered as a Ringmaster dressed in boots and red coat with golden epaulets and we knew – it’s a circus ring! Exactly how those two meld is part of this terrific performance.
Lehr’s character serves as a narrator linking the eight scenes (rings maybe?) together with modern jargon, pomp, comedy and Elizabethan touches as well. He speaks always directly to the audience making sure they are on track and understand all that is transpiring.
The first amazing scene involved the actual tempest that tossed the passengers about as smoke swirled and the sails dropped making us sure they would all drown! LaTroy Childress (Alonzo), Dennis J. Sykes (Gonzalo), David A. Guster (Sebastian) and Kristina Lakey (Antonia) staggered and flung themselves about with incredible realism.
If you’re not familiar with this tale, it involves a banished Duke (Prospero/Michael Kelly) who seeks to get revenge upon his sister Antonia for her part in his expulsion. He conjures up the storm and hopes to shipwreck all of these courtiers and their servants much as he and his daughter, Miranda (Kate Spademan) were marooned long ago. Lakey/Antonia is regal in her demeanor and appearance, and haughty with a capital H!
There is magic afoot on this atoll in the person of Prospero’s fairy servant Ariel, played with dash and mystery by Layla Meillier. She and her troupe of misty minions are responsible for most of the enchantments that occur. She saves lives and conjures love but also metes out justice where it’s due.
Ferdinand (Andrew L. Aikins III), the son of King Alonso, is found wandering apart from the royal party. Indeed, they believe he may have perished in the storm, but Ariel has actually guided him to Miranda. Of course, the two fall instantly in love.
On another quadrant we find two court servants, Trinculo (Mark Gmazel) the jester and the king’s butler Stephano (William Irwin) as they discover the scroungy and pitiful Caliban, played with great growls and grimaces by Katie Young. A misformed beast, Caliban, sees these two as a way out from under the sway of Prospero. Gmazel and Irwin are over-the-top comic relief (as if we needed more) in this show. Under the influence of lots of wine, these two are a hoot to watch. Gmazel’s Clarabelle the Clown oooga horn punctuates most of his mischief, and Irwin’s slightly tipsy pompous air provides the perfect contrast.
Prospero is central to the story, and Kelly fits this character to a tee. With his flowing robe and long white hair and beard, he is a most imposing figure. Each of his pronouncements is attended with concentration and just a little fear. Even Miranda is often slightly unnerved by her father’s wizard-like ways.
As with all Shakespearean comedies, all ultimately ends well. Everyone is happy and life goes on better than it began. In this production however, there are those terrific moments supplied by the Ringmaster and by the orchestra.
Dan Gerics composed and performs his score throughout the performance. He is joined by Owen Ananich, Annadelle Klimber, Reichlin Small and Abhishek Utekar.
Tucked back in the upstage section of the set, their music isn’t always, or even often, Elizabethan in tone. After beginning the show with a decidedly jazzy overture, we were later asked to sing along in serenade of Ferdinand and Miranda – the song? “My Girl”
We could go on and on, but suffice it to say that this is a must-see version of this classic tale. It is incredibly staged with set designs by Gene Oliver and extraordinarily costumed by Adam M. Dill. Kudos to Director Jeremy Winchester for this most exceptional production.
The Tempest continues in repertory tandem with Stuart Little through August 21. For information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-1530 or online at www.theFYT.org