This summer the folks at Bay Theatre are realizing their long-held goal of presenting a children's show during these normally dark theater months. Since the beginning of June, a delightful production of Will Bartlett's musical, "Rumple Who?" has played to enthusiastic, multigenerational audiences at Saturday and Sunday matinee performances.
A whimsical favorite of Bay's founder and artistic director, Janet Luby, who was cast in the off-off-Broadway production about 20 years ago, "Rumple Who" is a gentle, upbeat musical adaptation of the familiar fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin" that continues a long, successful run at New York's 13th Street Repertory Company. Now, Luby is delighted to offer Bartlett's enduring, endearing show in Annapolis.
In "Rumple Who?" we meet mischievous prankster Rumpelstiltskin, who sets out to find the beautiful, ambitious miller's daughter rumored to be able to spin straw into gold so that he can please the greedy queen, who loves gold above almost everything.
Bay's production offers humor for all ages, from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent. Unlike most children's shows, this story is set to a mostly up-tempo, tuneful score — another plus for all audience members, from grandparents who will enjoy the fine singing of some lovely ballads to pre-kindergarten tots who will respond to the many lively tunes. Another strong plus for the younger set is the constant movement of the four cast members and their easy interaction with the audience.
Having admired the acting talents of Jim Chance, I was pleased to discover that Chance is equally skilled as a director; he knows how to make the most of Bay Theatre's intimate space. Chance keeps the action lively enough for the youngest theatergoers, encouraging his actors to involve them by asking questions and directing remarks to them. His actors are so relaxed on stage that they are undoubtedly having as much fun as we are.
At last Saturday's matinee, Ryan P. Brown played Rumpelstiltskin with impressive acrobatic skills, high energy, lively humor and bright singing. Brown also delivers his lines for maximum comic effect on both adults and children in the audience. Brown's Rumpelstiltskin is a pivotal character who brings the miller's daughter to the greedy queen to spin gold, while also convincing the queen that he is an expert dance teacher who can prepare her to win the cash prize at a contest.
As the queen, Rena Cherry Brown goes beyond her brilliant depictions of major characters in Bay's "Gin Game" and "The Foreigner" to mine a whole new realm of comic gold, where she delights all age groups in the audience by royally frustrating her son, King Henry, the miller's daughter and Rumpelstiltskin.
In past roles, Judson Davis has easily qualified as a local matinee idol, taller and more handsome than our ordinary leading men with a singing voice superior to most. Here Davis relishes improvisation and comedy to become nearly perfect as a mama's boy and besotted prince-who-will-be-king, discovering love, while also singing most royally.
The miller's daughter is enthusiastically played by Amy Kellett, who projects a naïve, sweet quality spiced with dabs of feistiness to help strengthen the backbone of the prince. Kellett's engaging vocals are a definite plus, as are her strong comedic skills.
It should be noted that some performances will feature Beth Terranova as the queen and Bret Warner Hurt as Rumpelstiltskin and the miller's daughter.
Pianist Eun Nichols interprets the score with fine flair while keeping the action lively, and she contributes more by enjoying the interchange on stage, nodding enthusiastically and smiling frequently. At the matinee I attended, Nichols engaged a toddler who became so enchanted with the stage action that she moved within inches of the performance space before being coaxed by Nichols to her side.
The frequently overused term "family show" aptly describes Bay's "Rumple Who?" which is sure to entertain almost any family. Hearing the children respond to the actors' questions is worth the small price of admission at this show for all ages. I found the responses of the two- and three-year-olds among us to add a special and adorable charm.
"Rumple Who?" plays through Aug. ust 14 at Bay Theatre, 275 West St. Tickets are $12 for children and $15 for adults, and can be ordered at baytheatre.org or at instantseats.com. Group rates for 10 or more are also available and should be ordered by calling 410-268-1333. You may be able to book the whole theater for a birthday celebration.