Wednesday, July 24, 2019

PigPen Theatre Company’s “The Tale Of Despereaux” Sings To The Heart And Soul Of Young And Old Alike.

“From darkness comes light”. “The world is dark and light is precious. Lean close lean close in my friends. I’m telling you a story in every heart beats light and darkness”. And so begins the tale of “Despereaux”, the mouse who falls in love with a princess. And if you think you think this is a fairy tale you are right and you are wrong.
Bianca Norwood and Eric Petersen
PigPen Theatre Co. is at it again after a successful run, a few years back with the tale of “The Old Man And The Old Moon”. This time around, in a world premiere musical production based on the Newberry Award winning novel “Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo and the animated Universal Pictures film, the company has gone to great lengths to bring this beautiful and poetic story to light with live characters adapting to their animated counterparts.  It's playing at The Old Globe through Aug. 11th on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage.

The group began creating their own unique brand of theatre, music, and film seven in all, as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama in 2007.
Betsy Morgan and Eric Petersen
Members include Dan Weschler (Stained Glass Knight “Hey, You Know Me”), Ryan Melia (Librarian), Alex Falberg (as Lester), Matt Neurnberger as Botticelli, Ben Ferguson as Furlough, Curtis Gillen as Most High Head Mouse, and Arya Shahi as King Phillip.

Adding to the overall depth and quality of the production an additional four gorgeous voices were added to the ensemble with Betsy Morgan as Miggery Sow, Taylor Iman Jones as The Princess, Eric Petersen as the Rat Roscuro and Bianca Norwood, a California native who is now attending The Julliard School, is the infamous or famous and most courageous Despereaux. 
Ryan Melia and Bianca Norwood
There’s nothing unusual about having animals as hero’s and Despereaux, “whose ears look like a couple of frying pans” is as you will see the hero of the day after a long struggle with k-nights and rats in the almost deserted royal household in the Kingdom of Dor. Here he learns of k-nights and dragons, villains and a hero in search for the ‘honey sweet sound’ and Roscuro’s love of light.  

Mark Bruni and PigPen Theatre Co. co-direct this beautiful adventure/love story starring no other than Despereaux (Bianca Norwood) the mouse who, rather than scavenge for meager crumbs like the rest of his siblings, goes instead on the search for knowledge. But unlike his siblings who would eat the paper from the books of knowledge he found reading the stories more interesting. 
Betsy Morgan, Matt Nuernberger, Curtis Gillen, Ryan Melia and Bianca Norwood
Narrated by Ryan Melia (“Every Story Starts”) this ‘once upon a time’ story begins on the Queen’s Birthday in the Kingdom of Dor. A big celebration of such large proportions happened year after year. The Queen’s most favorite tureen of soup filled with roasted vegetables, herbs mushrooms, all the foods the Queen loved,  (“It smelled like happiness”) were being served.  

Unfortunately it was also on this one day that the celebration ended in tragedy when the curious rat Roscuro fell from the chandelier high above into Queen’s soup frightening her to death. From that time on, soup was banned from the household and all rats were to be killed.
Taylor Iman Jones and Betsy Morgan
That rat was named Chiaroscuro or Roscuro (Eric Petersen, “Consequences”). Evil as he was he was possessed with an un-rat like obsessions with light. Later on in the story he will become Despereaux nemesis. Hiding out in the dungeon after the King decreed that all rats should be killed, he was up to no good trying to lure Despereaux into his grips to reveal secrets about the Queen and her maid.

 He didn’t have to wait long when Despereaux was thrown into the dungeon for breaking with the Mouse Council’s rules; he fell in love with and spoke to a human.

 Smitten with Princess Pea (Taylor Iman Jones) he promised to protect her (“love can wake you with its perfume”) and make her world right again. She and her hand -maid Miggery Sow (Betsy Morgan) would be free from Roscuro. He vowed to bring the rat to justice with a sewing needle and a spool of red thread.  

As fate would have it, after making this pledge he found himself in the dungeon with none other than the red caped Roscuro, after the Mouse Council voted to teach him a lesson by being surrounded by darkness.  
Cast "The Tale of Despereaux"
The distinctiveness of PigPen Co. is that the multitalented ensemble play instruments, multiple characters and manipulate puppets (shadow sequence and puppet design by Lydia Fine and Nick Lehane). They wrote the music and lyrics. They incorporated Jennifer Jancuska’s choreography, Nevin Steinberg’s sound design, Isabella Byrd’s Lighting design that focuses on the lightness and darkness. With Anita Yavich’s clever and distinctly imaginative costumes, Jason Sherwood’s puzzle like scenic design and musical director Christopher Jahnke, who also added additional arrangements, (There are about a dozen original songs)  PigPen does it all and with one voice, and from the looks of it, with fun and purity.
Bianca Norwood and Taylor Iman Jones
The story as wonderful as it is can stand alone but with the assist of Bianca Norwoods subtle movement’s and convincing commitment to the character Despereaux, Taylor Iman Jones and Betsy Morgan’s gorgeous operatic voices, and Eric Petersen’s strong voiced talent as Roscuro and Arya Shahi’s brief appearance as the King, also in full voice, the production soared as it wound down to a happy ending where we hope everyone lived happily ever after.
Bianca Norwood as Despereaux
If there was ever a show that made my heart sing and show me the light of goodness “Despereaux” is at the top of the list.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 11th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Musical Fantasy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00 for children and $40.00 for adults
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Jim Cox


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