The Winter's Tale Project
nytheatre.com review by Ryan Emmons
August 13, 2007
The opening song "Hell of a Time" sets up the drama of The Winter's Tale Project masterfully. At the end of the song, we know who the three main characters are and the inciting action of the play. Briefly put, King Leontes is married to Hermione who is nine months pregnant. Coincidently, Leontes's best friend Polixenes has been visiting their kingdom for nine months and has gotten very close to the queen. Leontes rashly decides that the two are in the midst of an affair and he orders his wife to be imprisoned and his best friend to be murdered. The plot itself does not get simpler from there and this is where The Winter's Tale Project triumphs. In roughly one hour and 45 minutes, this play tells one of Shakespeare's more complicated plots crisply, clearly, and with music.
Shakespeare has provided a structure that truly goes to a dark and tragic place; soon Leontes's wife and son are dead, and his baby daughter is abandoned in the desert. This is when the winds of comedy pick it up and mend all that can be mended, and what better way to shift the play than with a song called "Stuck with the Bear." Most people associate Shakespeare's Winter's Tale with its most famous stage direction ("Exit, pursued by a bear"). As composer-lyricist Chris Wynters humorously notes in this song, "it's a ridiculous thing to stage." The song is sung by Farren Timoteo, who acts as a narrator throughout the piece and is as charming as a prince. He leads the audience through the musical tale and helps keep a sense of comedy running throughout.
The book by Bridget Ryan is clever and sticks to the essence of what needs to be said. Wynters's music is skillfully placed where it would seem words, even Shakespeare's, would not be enough to express the joy, sadness, or anxiety the characters in the play face. The cast of 20 is a talented group of actor/singers who truly work together to tell this story. They handle the music and dances very well, although I sometimes felt like the choreography got in the way of letting the music speak for itself. This is not to say that there are not moments where the dances are absolutely necessary and exciting to watch!
The two kings, Leontes and Polixenes, played by Kevin Michael Johnson and Lou Steele respectively, are particularly gifted singers who provide a firm foundation for the play to sink its feet into. Another very strong performance is by Dot Portella, whose rendition of Paulina adds a level of complexity and severity to the musical. Paulina is a noblewoman who never doubts the queen's loyalty to her husband and is the only person fierce enough to stand up to Leontes. The ensemble itself acts almost as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action of the play throughout, adding to the comedy or tragedy of a given scene. Also of note is the formal/fun costume design by Dean'na Finnman. The play begins in tuxedos and black dresses and ends up at a sheep shearing festival which features several scantily clad lamb-laden ladies and a floor-length fur coat that would make Cruella D'Ville jealous and Lamb Chop cry. The best part of this uproarious scene is watching the fur flying through the air as the characters dance about the stage and sing.
Overall this musical rocks with intensity and enthusiasm. Even if Shakespeare is not usually your cup of tea, this musical will leave you feeling really happy and remind you how miraculous the world can be every day.