The Tinderbox, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen is an apt one for kids, since it involves a witch, three dogs with huge eyes that make wishes come true, a stalwart soldier and a beautiful princess.
As always, Talespinner Children’s Theatre adds a gloss of professionalism and fun that makes individual scenes particularly interesting. One only hopes that small children don’t lose the thread of the story amidst all the staging flourishes and highly amped characters.
As for the tale itself, a soldier (Courtney Nicole Auman) meets a witch (Stephanie Wilbert) who tells of riches to be gained if the soldier returns a tinderbox to her. (Here it might have helped if the middling adaptation by Michael Geither had defined this key word for the little ones, and others, who are likely unfamiliar with the term for a box containing fire-starting tools.)
Following her instructions, the soldier encounters three magical dogs with eyes as big as teacups—the orbs are actually the size of drumheads—who fetch plenty of money. The soldier gloms the loot, double-crosses the witch, gives it all away, then gains more riches thanks to the magical tinderbox, encounters the lovely princess (Andrea Belser), is set upon by the King (Timothy Robert Thomas Maca) and Queen (Elizabeth Parmenter), and finally employs the dogs to come to the rescue.
A nice touch is the narration, provided by Demetrius (Joseph Dunn) and Artern (Charles Hargrave), who bounce observations and speculations off each other like a well-practiced stand-up comedy duo.
The story is enlivened by an imaginative and colorful production by TCT, directed (and costumed) by the irrepressible Alison Garrigan. From the stage filled with large crates (that open to reveal surprises inside) to inventive touches such as two restaurant waiters (Belser and Maca) attached back-to-back, the scenes are often action-filled and captivating.
However, the plotline itself seems a bit hard to follow at times, especially when the actors are acting their socks off and focusing more on being quirky than on just telling the story. This is always a delicate balance, especially in children’s theater, and in this production it seems to tilt just a bit too far away from easy accessibility.
That said, there’s enough eye candy onstage to satisfy any youngster, and most adults, for one hour.
Through April 28 at Talespinner Children’s Theatre, Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Avenue, 216-264-9680