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ArtsEmerson: 'Sleeping Beauty' Could Use A Pick-Me-Up

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BOSTON – Given the remarkable track record that ArtsEmerson has established in importing and exporting world-class theater, I was certainly expecting to be a lot more dazzled than I was by the current Colla Marionette production of “Sleeping Beauty” (through Nov. 17), particularly given that company's reputation.

I’m not taking anything away from the craftsmanship that goes into the manipulation of these large marionettes, but compared to the wonderful puppetry that’s been on display in contemporary theater, from “The Lion King” to Paula Vogel’s “The Long Christmas Ride Home” and “Avenue Q,” “Sleeping Beauty” seems rather, well, wooden.

The story is a retelling of the Charles Perrault story on a proscenium stage set back from the Paramount Mainstage itself with some added elements. The bad witch, Misery, is upset with not being invited to see the new daughter of the kingdom and places a curse on her that one of the fairy godmothers reduces to a hundred-year slumber.

Through it all there’s way too much bantering by marionettes gesticulating gracelessly about plot developments. I can’t say that I was bedazzled by the look of the marionettes, either. Sleeping Beauty, aka Aurora, looks a little like a Gabor sister. After a facelift. The only character with any real animation is Puff, the dog.

Puff and "Sleeping Beauty." (Piero Corbella)
Puff and "Sleeping Beauty." (Piero Corbella)

Some of the set design is splendid, particularly the forest that closes in on the sleeping kingdom before Prince Desire lumbers to the rescue. But very little onstage plunges you into Sleeping Beauty’s magical realm, least of all a tinny recording of the Tchaikovsky score.

A classic fairy tale like “Sleeping Beauty” is open to all kinds of interpretation and I’ve delighted over the years in the ballet, the Disney film, the Tchaikovsky score. The children in the audience and their parental units certainly seemed to appreciate Colla Marionette’s version, but if I were the prince I would have just kissed Puff, the dog, and let this sleeping beauty lie.

Perhaps you'll be more charmed. This trailer is from a different theater:

This program aired on November 15, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Ed Siegel Twitter Critic-At-Large
Now retired and contributing as a critic-at-large, Ed Siegel was the editor of The ARTery.

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