Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fancy Nancy, the Musical—OCT at the Newmark Theatre—downtown Portland

The Fabric of our Lives

This famous series of stories for ‘tweens are from books by Jane O’Connor, and the stage adaptation and music and lyrics are by Susan DiLallo and Danny Abosch.  The show is directed by Stan Foote (OCT’s Artistic Director), with music direction by Darcy White and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins.  It is produced by Oregon Children’s Theatre at the Newmark Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway.  The show runs through June 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.  (Their show, The Giver, is also still running through May 18th at the Winningstad.)

It should be explained from the outset that, although Nancy and her friends do dress-up a lot, the term “Fancy” refers more to being the best you can be, inside and out, with what you’ve got.  That is probably the moral to this story.  Clothing simply reflects how we want to be seen.  And, when you’re a ‘tween/teen, there is a lot of experimenting with that.

The story is slight; the music, lyrics and dance, better; but the cast is the selling point for this adventure.  They are fabulous, free and very fancy!  Nancy Clancy (Madison Wray) is the undisputed leader of the pack.  And her cohorts include her best friend, Bree (Haley Ward), the effervescent one; the battling twins, Rhoda (Annie Baker) and Wanda (Hannah Wilson); and Lionel (Brendan Long), the lone male.  And, to fill out the cast, there is Nancy’s Mom (Dani Balwin, OCT’s Education Director).

At the opening of the show, they are all playing dress-up in some pretty outlandish costumes (Designer, Mikaela Gladstone-Saucedo).  They express how anyone can be fancy and the dress-up part is just to explore the options.  They are, also, investigating who and what they wanna be as they mature.  How do they want the outside world to see them.  And this is their training ground for that.

They all get cast in a play/musical, Deep Sea Dance, at school.  And the lead of the show is a Mermaid.  Bree is to play an oyster, Lionel, a shark, the twins a wave and a seahorse and Nancy, a tree.  Nancy is taken aback, as she had wanted the lead, but even more humiliated when, because of an accident, Bree, her best friend, is cast into the role of the mermaid.  Now is the time to separate the girl from the woman.  How is she to react?

Her Mom expresses that she will always be a star to her.  That seems to settle Nancy, as she decides to become the best tree ever, a willow, in fact.  The show goes on and Lionel is a hit with his Shark Rap number and the twins with their dancing and acrobatics together.  In the end, they all share the spot-light and are supportive of each other.  Don’t you wish adults could be as wise?!

Foote certainly knows how to get a performance out of these young people.  They all shine and I’m sure it is because of his insightful direction.  White’s musical direction, as always, is spot-on and doesn’t overpower the actors.  Martins’ dance numbers encompass soft shoe, ballet and even a bit of vaudeville thrown.  Quite a treat from a lady who is always good in directing dancing.  And the outrageous costumes by Gladstone-Saucedo fit the bill perfectly, as well as the inventive set by Daniel Meeker.

The twins, played by Baker and Wilson, are fine and flexible entertainers.  Long is very good as the odd-man-out of the group and is a good example of boys and girls can actually be friends, too.  Ward is always a dream and a stand-out in every play I’ve seen her in.  I’ve touted her talents before in past reviews and she never fails to impress me.  As Bree, she gives a hundred and ten percent on my Wow Scale.  She is a find and a star in the making.

Wray is astounding in the lead!  She nails the role and perfectly sings and dances her way into your hearts.  She, too, is amazing, and I predict great things for her in the future.  As mentioned, the cast is worth the show and she is a hefty part of that recommendation.

And Baldwin, as her Mom, is a lovely singer and actor.  Not to mention that she is also an amazing director and teacher.  And “Mom” is a suitable title for her role, as she is unofficially the “Mom” to all the students in this and other OCT shows, as Education Director for the theatre.  I hope we see more of her acting and directing in future productions.

I recommend this production, especially for the amazing cast.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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