OGDEN — Anyone looking for a delightful, fresh, family-friendly show to attend this week with their little ones should look no further than Weber State University’s production of a new work entitled The Plain Princess. Written, directed and choreographed by Weber State theatre professor Jim Christian, with music composed by Tom Edward Clark, and adapted from Ogden native Phyllis McGinley’s children’s story of the same name, this fairytale has a moral anyone can understand: what’s inside a person shines through for everyone to see, and a kind and generous interior is more important than a beautiful exterior.
The story begins at the birthday party of Princess Esmeralda, played by Lindsay K. Blackman. Everything is beautifully decorated as befits a royal event: the guests gather and present gorgeously wrapped gifts, but it soon becomes clear that all is not as lovely as it seems. Esmeralda is a sour-faced brat with a grating voice who delights in ordering others about and always yells for “more, more, more!” My young theatre companion’s first words upon hearing Esmeralda for the first time were “Such a brat!” and indeed she is. Blackman has a wonderfully expressive face that displays the full range of her emotions on this journey of self-discovery. Her voice and demeanor communicate so clearly the transformation this young princess undergoes through the course of this story. It was delightful to see such range. Blackman has a lovely singing voice too, and the catchy tunes followed us out of the theater as we sang our way home.
The other characters are also well cast: Nathan Waite and Becca Lichfield as the King and Queen portray regal yet worried parents, who have done everything they can think of to help their plain daughter become beautiful. They have consulted the Royal Physician (Taylor Knuth) and the Wizard of State (Clayton Porter) many times, but these worthy men have been unable to find a cure for her ‘plainness’. In desperation, the King and Queen advertise for someone, anyone, who will take on this impossible task (of course, the caveat is that anyone who attempts and fails will lose their head, which puts a damper on the number of potential applicants). At length, one brave soul appears. Shawnee K. Johnson as Dame Goodwit, the ‘magician,’ takes on the challenge to cure the princess. She does so with wisdom, humor and a droll—yet even—temper in the face of the tantrums from the princess. The proof of Dame Goodwin’s ‘wizardry’ is in her five lovely daughters, Annabelle (Ginny Spencer), Christabelle (Amelia Rose Moore), Dulcibelle (Bailee DeYoung), Floribelle (Kacee Neff), and Echo (Katie Jones). Each is a beauty in her own right, with lovely sweet dispositions and apparently no hint of jealousy or rivalry among them. They take the unwilling Esmeralda under their collective wing and into their home as they slowly show her how to find beauty in the little things and the joy that comes from giving of oneself to others. There is no real surprise at how things turn out in the end, but I still found myself tearing up at the turning point scene between Esmeralda, Echo and the other sisters. Esmeralda’s song “Who I’ll Be” was beautifully expressed.
The technical aspects of the production deserve notice. The set design by Van Tinkham was right out of a children’s book, as one would expect. The palace was depicted in bright colors and strong lines, while all proper pageantry was observed. Dame Goodwit’s humble home was sufficiently small as to be alarming to the princess, yet charming and sweetly done. The costume design by Amanda Shaffer was well thought out and beautifully executed, depicting royalty and peasantry clearly, and outlining the differences between the two worlds in which Esmeralda finds herself. The court gowns are richly colored and beautifully made. The daughters’ dresses were sweet and simple, yet very befitting of their characters as well. Lighting by Jessica Greenberg and sound design by Derek Walden were both well-done and supported the storyline without glitches or drawing focus from the storyline. All production elements worked seamlessly together to create a lovely show that I predict will be very popular among high schools and community theaters for years to come. The show is not controversial and it won’t stir up much debate or argument among its patrons. However, it might prompt a few discussions (as I had with my daughter on the way home) about how our actions and attitudes influence how others see us, and whether we want to be around crabby, bratty people, or kind sweet ones. As stated towards the end of the show, there really isn’t a magic spell, or a potion that can turn someone bratty into someone kind, but rather, “the magic’s in the doing of the little things each day.”
This production runs 90 minutes without an intermission.