Spellbound- A Musical Adventure
nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
August 18, 2010
Spellbound: A Musical Adventure concerns an 18-year-old young woman named Herianne who proclaims on her birthday that she intends to become a Grand Wizard; her fellow villagers laugh at her, because clearly a girl cannot hope to become a wizard. Yet Herianne's grandfather was such a being, and so she believes she has inherited the ability. Her wizard mentor, Garlan, tells her not to lose faith, to go in search of the three Teachers of the Scrolls, who will aid her in her quest. Upon returning to the village after this conversation, though, Herianne finds everyone there dead or dying, some few having been taken prisoner by the evil Zelatoth. Zelatoth is planning to steal the magic from whomever the next Grand Wizard might be, and he is using the villagers as bait to draw that being to him. And so Herianne goes on a long journey in an effort to become a wizard and defeat Zelatoth.
There are many problems with Spellbound—an unfocused and too-familiar story; music that never lands in a satisfying way; lyrics that leap past familiarity and land right in cliche; several underpowered performers who seem swallowed whole by the big La MaMa stage—but among the bigger crimes is that it's impossible to care about Herianne, despite the valiant efforts of Ashley C. Williams, who plays her passably well and sings beautifully. The story is simply too diffuse to merit its intermissionless two hour running time. Writers Paul J. Deakin and Christian De Gre are presumably aiming for earnestness, but they have landed instead in killjoy mirthlessness, where the only laughs are unintentional and every character says (or sings) exactly what is on his/her mind. It is, unfortunately, tedious.
Director Nancy Robillard has done significantly better work elsewhere; here, there are few stage pictures that linger, and few actors rise above the level of mere competence. (Among the nobler efforts are Joe Kurtz's pub boy Larius and Kristin Wetherington's witch, Meldah; Antoinette DiPietropolo is also amusing as the teacher Bersha, but doesn't her presence completely undermine the show's central story element that women are not considered worthy to be wizards?) The one exciting visual moment, when Herianne masters the wind spell and the characters are taken aloft, lasts all too briefly—otherwise, choreographer Kelli Gautreau's work is largely invisible. The costumes by David Quinn look expensive, and the set by Robert Monaco is an effective triumvirate of wooden crates.
It's a given that FringeNYC shows (especially musicals) are done on the quick, with limited resources; the problems with Spellbound, though, began long before this production. The unfortunate result here is a dispiriting mess of a show in desperate need of humor, editing, and a score that lifts the story instead of squashing it.