The story of "The Town Musicians of Bremen" by the Brothers Grimm inspired many international versions, especially animations: an early black and white Disney, a 1935 Comicolor, and later toons in the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. So when the international cast from the Dell'Arte International School took on the story for Dell'Arte's Christmas road show, they approached it with a classic cartoon style.
In the Carlo Theatre last Friday, director Michael Fields introduced the resulting show, The Musicians of Bremen, by calling it an example of "family theatre" to be enjoyed by both children and adults. That's also been true of the best cartoons: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other Warner toons -- and generally most cartoons made for movie theatres. (It's been less true of television, although some -- like Rocky and Bullwinkle -- entertained on several levels.) The idea is especially appropriate for the audiences of the Dell'Arte traveling holiday shows, as well as for this particular story of the travails and triumph of four barnyard animals.
Canadian/American actor Alice Nelson is the farmer impatient with the animals' failures who banishes them from the farm one by one in a tornado of slapstick and similes, both clever and doubtful. Texan Kathryn Tabone is the strutting rooster with the Charlie Chaplin moustache who crows the farmer awake a little too early. Korean Jaewook Shim is the big lazy white cat who won't mouse, Jai Lavette is the (sometimes) blind dog who loses not only the hens but the henhouse, and Brazilian William Neimar da Silva is the donkey who doesn't much care for the beast of burden deal. All are terrific, but da Silva's work is a special treat, which he augments (in another role) with juggling.
The first half of the show -- as the animals misbehave and are sent into exile -- is a live cartoon, delighting children and pushing some nostalgia buttons for those who recall the classic toons. The rest of the show unwinds the plot: The animals are briefly in jeopardy but follow the example of two ’80s-style punk rockers (Claire Mannie and Alice Nelson) to become a band that finds its home in making music together. At first performance the storytelling in the second half didn't seem quite strong or clear enough to have an impact on children, and the musical performances (with music arranged by Tim Gray) were still a little shaky. All that can improve on the road, even if the jackass plays the accordion (or "piano shirt" as one character calls it.)
There's nothing much about Christmas in it except a few bars of "Jingle Bells," and with the animals (mostly) not talking, it doesn't have the level or amount of verbal wit of last year's Dickens-based show. But it's fun, it's a talented group with a lot of stage presence, and Lydia Foreman's costumes are a delight in themselves.
The Musicians of Bremen tours all over the county until returning to the Carlo Dec. 16-19. Full schedule is accessible in the Journal calendar or at www.dellarte.com. All shows on the road are free, but contributions of canned food are collected for local food banks.
If you wanted one word to describe the poetry of the Sufi mystic called Rumi, it might be "praise" -- for the fullness of existence and the given world. But his words can be surprising and bracing, ironic as well as ecstatic. They often get to the heart and soul of things.
Beginning tonight (Dec. 2) at HSU, a theatre piece created by North Coast actors and musicians will use only Rumi's words, as rendered by Coleman Barks, whose The Essential Rumi and other books helped make Rumi the best-selling poet in America. The cast of students, faculty and community members chose the verses most meaningful to them, and director John Heckel guided the theatrical exploration, with music by Seabury Gould and the cast.
An Evening with Rumi runs Thursday through Saturday for the next two weekends (closing Dec. 11) at 7:30 p.m. in the Gist Theatre, with a matinee this Sunday at 2. There's much more information (which I assembled on HSU's dime) at HSUStage.blogspot.com.
Also opening this weekend is Inspecting Carol, a comedy about a struggling theatre company's production of A Christmas Carol written by Dan Sullivan, produced by a new North Coast outfit called Rialto Theater Company. Directed by Samantha McLaughlin, it features Rae Robison (also the costumer), JM Wilkerson, Megan Johnson, Calder Johnson (also lighting designer), Jennifer Trustem, Victor Howard, Chris Redd, Alex Jones, Joseph Waters, David Hamilton and Shirley Santino. Beginning Thursday, it plays for three weekends at the Arcata Playhouse, ending Dec. 19. Info at www.rialtotheatercompany.com.
Humboldt Light Opera's youth Production Workshop (ages 11-18) presents A Frank Loesser Review (with music from Guys and Dolls, Most Happy Fella and other Loesser musicals) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at the Redwood Curtain Theatre in Eureka.
Then Saturday night (6-9 pm.) HLO's female ensemble, The Babes, performs holiday songs at the Morris Graves Museum as part of Eureka Arts Alive! Joining them will be The Babe Magnets quartet as well as featured HLOC singers Kevin Richards, Katherine Kinley and James Gadd. hloc.org.