SOUTH SALT LAKE — The Children’s Theatre of Salt Lake is settling into its new home in South Salt Lake, and is continuing to provide family entertainment while they stretch their wings and expand. Their latest offering is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and will delight the aspiring magician of any age.
The story is familiar to anyone who has seen either version of Disney’s classic feature film Fantasia, wherein Mickey Mouse takes the part of the apprentice who is tired of merely hauling water and mopping floors. He aches for a chance to try some of the sorcerer’s spells found in the Book of Magic, and seizes his chance when the master’s back is turned, with disastrous results. The Children’s Theatre production takes that elemental storyline back to its origins, namely a famous poem of the same name written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1797. The plot is fleshed out with an expanded back story (perhaps too expanded) and gives it a specific time and place, in this case Genoa, Italy, in 1488.
The main character, Gira (short for Girebaldi) is a flighty young fellow with his head in the clouds, constantly dreaming of magic tricks instead of the task at hand. He is the despair of his father, Bartholomew Columbus, a respected map-maker, who wants the young boy to learn his trade. Bartholomew is setting out on an adventure with his brother Christopher (yes, THAT Columbus) and is anxious that his wife and child have some way to make a living while he is away. Gira has no interest or aptitude for maps it seems, so the cartography shop must be shut up and Gira hired out as an apprentice to anyone who will take him. He tries and fails at many different lines of work, but he wearies of always being asked to sweep the floors. Eventually he is scouted out by a sorcerer’s magic cat and invited up to the highest mountain outside of town to apprentice and hopefully one day learn the trade himself.
Landon Kraczek as our young hero Gira was a very physical actor, taking lots of tumbles, scrambling on the floors, running and hiding in odd places to avoid being punished. His father Bartholomew (Craig Williams) and his mother, Donetta (Jana Lynne Cox) both seemed long-suffering and kind, if a bit exasperated with their only child. The sorcerer, played by Matthew Windham, was imposing physically, with his height and presence, but oddly spoke with a German accent, which was funny at times yet odd at others. Other actors filled out the town, including a fish monger, a barber, and a pizza man.
The production is very clearly geared toward young audiences. Before the show begins, the director Joanne M. Parker welcomed the audience with a little background about the story, explained basic theatre etiquette, and warm them up with some practice laughter and applause. The staff and artists at Children’s Theatre obviously love their young patrons, as they did not even mind when the little ones snuck onto the stage during the intermission to dance and explore a bit. One of the theatre employees told me that they like to let the children “get their wiggles out.”
Before I even set foot inside the theater, I was curious as to how they would accomplish the animated brooms, mops and buckets during the climax of the show. Before the show started, I asked my young companions (my children) how they thought it would be done. One guessed they would use strings, another said clearly it would be “really truly magic!” I don’t want to give away the secret of the magic brooms, but suffice it to say that they make use of a very old and honored theatrical convention to accomplish the feat. If you are willing to suspend your disbelief as an audience member and buy into the Italian Renaissance setting, it works just fine. My kids loved the familiar scene, and were not disappointed at all.
On the down side, this is a long show for what should be a fairly simple straight-forward story. I question if it really needed an intermission. It could easily have been tightened up into a one-act play. My six-year-old daughter, in particular, wearied of the endless scrapes and mishaps that Gira always got into. In fact she was most disturbed during what should have been the funniest portion of the story, when Gira continually messes everything up and brings disaster wherever he goes. The audience was laughing, yet she let me know very clearly that we shouldn’t mock people who make mistakes and that it wasn’t funny or nice to do that. I have to admit I see her point. I felt duly chastened.
All in all The Sorcerer’s Apprentice a cute show, with a good message about honesty, obedience and the power of nature. Never fear, Gira eventually finds his path and grows up a little along the way. Hopefully we can all claim the same in our own lives.