Oftentimes, the elements in a play at Talespinner Children’s Theatre are similar to the features that Bill Hader’s breathless Stefon character on Saturday Night Live used to share about New York’s hottest clubs. For instance, if Stefon were reporting on this latest TCT production, he might say: “Prince Ivan & the Firebird has everything: Russian dancers, golden apples, two Tsars, a vegetarian wolf, a giant witch, a handsome prince and three of his loser brothers, a bird with fire for wings, riddles, and a magic harp."
And if you think all that will be sufficient to keep your kids enthralled, you’d be so right. Sure, it takes a while to get rolling, but once Tsar Illyich asks his princes to solve the mystery of some missing golden apples, the story is off and running.
Playwright and director Alison Garrigan plays fast and loose with the Russian Folk tale from which this play is adapted, and that’s just fine. After a couple of the princes fail to capture the apple thief (one is lazy and the other is too vain to be bothered) a third scheming prince decides to use gullible Prince Ivan to find the culprit. So Ivan joins up with a talking, veggie-loving wolf to track down the thief, a firebird, in the home of Baba Yaga, a fearsome witch.
As always, there is plenty of eye-candy for the kids with a colorful set bedecked with long drapes of fabric and some drop-dead perfect masks and puppets (most designed by Garrigan). In particular, the puppet for Baba Yaga is larger than life, requiring three actors to manipulate it—but it’s still amazingly expressive.
Playing the wolf, T. Paul Lowry is a stitch and he also plays the other three princes while Charles Hargrave is limber and earnest as Prince Ivan. Andrea Belser plays Princess Helena in a subplot that isn’t as well developed as the firebird yarn. Other multiple roles are well handled by Joseph Milan, Elaine Feagler, Khaki Hermann, and Carrie Williams.
There is a little less audience interaction in this production than in other TCT shows, but Garrigan’s script is witty and clear enough to keep the little ones on board for the 70-minute ride. If you haven’t treated the kiddies you know to a Talespinner show, this is a great one to start with.
Prince Ivan & the Firebird
Through December 20 at Talespinner Children’s Theatre, The Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Avenue, 216-264-9680.