SALT LAKE CITY — My expectations were fairIy low when I headed out to see some children’s theater last night. But the space looked professional, the tickets were well made, the staff was enthusiastic and the theater was filling up fast. This show might actually be good, I thought. Maybe a little entertainment, a little laughter–Gotta tell ya’, I found FAR more than I could have expected. Jack and the Beanstalk, at The Children’s Theater in SLC, was a visual delight with natural comedy; it left me feeling joyful and excited. What this cast and crew have grown from the meager beginnings of this fairy tale, is nothing less than magical.
The environment of the Children’s Theater is casual and inviting; the theater itself is described as a “cool little unique 3 sided 99 seat black box theater.” Before the show began, children from the audience were dancing and somersaulting to the tune of Irish music; everyone seemed so at home in this place. A member of the staff made an introduction and warned everyone that there would be “LOTS of giants in the show.” We were encouraged to laugh and applaud throughout.
The plot is familiar: a poor boy named Jack is sent to sell his cow, returning with a handful of beans to the disappointment of his mother. We know the story, but it becomes only a vague memory as the audience is drawn into the imaginary world of colorful cast members, wee new villains, and creative costuming.
And what a striking world it is! The stage was used in such fun and creative ways; I was especially impressed by the way the beanstalk was created. The whole show was technically wonderful: the lighting, music, audio and visual effects. Each character was so unique in costume and makeup, it was like a delicious buffet. The giants are another topic altogether! There is a story of giants, that is told by Sean Paddy, the magician, to Jack; it was such a funny scene and I loved the giants (played by Allegra Westfall, Austin Smith, and James Parker.) The masks were so interesting and the actors made good use of their costumes; I was delighted and the audience seemed eager to see what these three characters would do next. You can’t blink during this show or you will surely miss some beautiful detail.
The script, written by one of the Founders, was more complicated than I would have expected from a play intended for children; even I found myself struggling to catch on at first. But the dialogue is witty, and I appreciated when the important facts were unanimously repeated by all characters, i.e. “The Ogre of Wales!” With the play being set in Ireland, there are a variety of accents in the show. Generally, they were endearing and didn’t interfere with comprehension. But I do wonder if some characters would have benefited from letting their emotion shine through, rather than focusing so much on sounding Irish. Jack (played by Charlie Junkins) was really great, but I felt I was missing a lot of his character, because of the accent. I missed the emotional connection with Jack, his mother, and the tragic past of their father being lost. It seems that even children would appreciate more familial connection.
Each character was memorable; my very favorite was the hilarious Hughbo, played by Matias Eyzaguirre. His charming one-liners were a perfect break from the moments of intensity and shouting. There is a leprechaun in this show, Gilly (Jessica Wilson), who is super believable; I found myself wondering if all leprechauns are so very grouchy. The story teller, Sean (Joseph Rogan), was so great and I was impressed to find out that he was the director, as well. Austin Smith played the main villain in the show. He was slimy, yes, and selfish, but not intimidating in the least. So when other characters would cower from him, it stuck out as an awkwardly forced moment. Smith’s monologues were so funny, though, and were aided by some clever sound bites.
For an enjoyable evening with giants and chickens, I wholeheartedly recommend Jack and the Beanstalk, and not just for children, either. Each of the 99 seats will be filled with smiling audience members so get there early (general seating.) Your eyes and ears will love this magical world; kudos to The Children’s Theater for a job well done.
Jack and the Beanstalk plays through February 13: Fridays at 7:00 PM, Saturdays at 1:00 PM and 4:30 PM. Performances take place in The Children’s Theatre, located at 237 South State Street in downtown Salt Lake City. Tickets are $12. For more information call (801) 532-6000 or buy tickets online at TCTheatre.org.