Theater Review: Midsummer’s Magical Mystery

Theater Review by NED HAYES

Harlequin’s summer revue — The Magical Mystery Midsummer Musical — has more depth to it than may first appear. The overarching thread is that of magic, and audiences might do well to think of themselves as being backstage at Queen Titania’s Royal Court of Fey, experiencing a midsummer amusement designed for the faerie.

On the Harlequin stage this time around, you’ll see a genuine Broadway actress (lead Mari Nelson) alongside mummers and mimers, dance numbers galore (including a dance number built around toilet plungers), dogs barking on stage, guitar solos reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, death-defying aerial performances, a full-sized dragon on stage (no, really!) and special effects galore. All this production needs are fire-eaters and sword swallowers to be a full-fledged vaudeville act (and I’m sure director Linda Whitney considered such extravagant options, as she upped the ante in terms of sheer performance spectacle).

Theatergoers who are paying attention will discern a subtle magical storyline that weaves through the show, threads derived from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, braided around moments judiciously chosen from stage-musical renditions of Waiting for Godot, Macbeth, Dracula and even Cyrano de Bergerac. All of the extraordinary music is original to Bruce Whitney, and the show provides a showcase for his talent.

Yet as a theater production, a few sacrifices had to be made. Plot is evanescent here, characters are changeable as fairy skins and the storyline is sung rather than acted. Yet even this kind of mutable theater must make you care and feel — and this troupe of actors is up to the difficult challenge.

The leads in this show are some of the best the region has to offer, from Bruce Haasl, whose roles in this show range widely from Shakespeare to Dracula himself, to musical powerhouse Christie Oldright, who gets to sing opposite the stellar pipes of Ms. Nelson, who previously appeared in Broadway’s most recent revival of Guys and Dolls.

Christian Doyle and Amy Shephard

Christian Doyle appears as an unnamed character limned with touches of mime makeup and Russian pathos. It is as if he is Vladimir, freshly stepped off the set of Godot, still finding his way among these fairies and miracles, uncertain if he is allowed to enjoy the wonder of it all. Maggie Doyle equals Christian in mimery, and her hilarious clowning brings hilarity and bathos into the high court of faerie. Yet Amy Shephard’s effervescent energy accents every scene, and her curlicue hairdo nearly steals the show.

Two high-flying aerialists, Eric Sanford and Marlo Winter, fresh to the Harlequin stage, perform acrobatic acts of derring-do that naturally arise from the story, climbing, falling, swinging and veritably flying at times. Their work on ropes, silk sheets and falling-apart ladders is showcased by a charming stage built by Marko Bujeaud and his Harlequin crew, with props by actor Bruce Haasl.

The show is woven with the fabric of a dream — and in that regard, follows in a grand, theatrical tradition, from The Nutcracker to Alice in Wonderland to Peter Pan — but Magical Midsummer takes the traditional a bit further, edging into hallucinatory territory, with dream-like leaps that connect the fragile tissue of the music-infused storyline. To enjoy this show, audiences need to be willing to give themselves up to that supra-logical way of thinking and intuit the next move as part of that dream logic.

Aerial work by Marlo Winter and Eric Sanford

In keeping with the faerie-court theme, this is a classic, medieval-style, theater experience, which throws every mode of acting and every style of music up against one another in a rich stew of entertainment, creating a phantasmagorical Cirque du Soleil experience for audiences young and old.

Magic tricks, death-defying aerial acts and perfectly chosen actors combine with stunning choreography and Bruce Whitney’s music to create a spectacle of theatricality. This is a show designed for audiences who made The Greatest Showman a hit — If you enjoyed the frivolity and the unusual acts seen in that story of P.T. Barnum, you’ll enjoy the levity and spectacle of this show, too.

Magical Midsummer is enjoyable for audiences from 5 to 95.

Magical Mystery Midsummer Musical

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday,
2 p.m. Sunday, June 21 – July 21

Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia



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