Classic fairy tale is retold in a unique fashion

    he Story of “”Sleeping Beauty”” has many incarnations. From the classic Grimm bedtime story to Disney’s full-length animated feature, the story of the cursed princess pricked by a spinning wheel has touched children all over the world for generations. The La Jolla Playhouse, in a Tina Landau production, brings more “”grown-up”” and contemporary elements to this classic tale. The princess has identity issues, the prince is a histrionic philosophy major, and the evil fairy, Constance, is really just misunderstood. Love, loss, faith and compassion tied with music and choreographed ensemble numbers combine to retell the story we thought we knew so well.

    Courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse
    Regal hotties: Kelli O’Hara, Jason Danieley (foreground) and Lisa Harrow star in a new fairy tale.

    Constance (Lisa Harrow), the fairy that cursed the princess Rose, serves as our narrator and guide. She quickly meets James (Jason Dannely), who despite an awkward appearance and wishy-washy personality, establishes himself as a princely candidate. Throughout the play is a common theme of fairy tales ‹ things are not always what they seem. Constance has a story worth retelling (brilliantly played by Harrow) and rides the full circle of love and hate. James, likewise, is put to tasks he never would have seen himself capable of achieving ‹ being forced to face all odds ‹ and is able to meet challenges and win what is duly his. Though much of this story crosses into blatant sentimentality, there are also several moments of expressed genuineness.

    As the play progresses, the third of the three potential protagonists are introduced: Rose (Kelli O’Hara), the sleeping beauty. Clad in angelic white, the 16-year-old princess immediately shows her age. Dammit, she wants to know what’s going on! Through viewing her subconscious, the audience watches the young woman establish herself by asserting her rights not as a lady of the court, but as a daughter and fellow citizen. It is interesting to see this side of a fairy princess ‹ a young lady who wants answers and not to be swept off her feet. O’Hara does a magnificent job of capturing the youthful essence of the character without sacrificing her integrity as a justified human being.

    There is a frankness to “”Beauty,”” a “”you all know what this is, so just hold on to your seats and hope for the best,”” feeling. Writer/director Tina Landau does wonders with this production, taking an idea that had been milling about for years and transforming it into a beautiful, haunting and touching piece of theater. What makes the work truly fly is the ensemble. Made up of UCSD Masters of Fine Arts candidates David Ari, Corey Brill, Simone Vicari Moore, Adam Smith and Amy Stewart, the mutli-roled players created the somber, bittersweet and then uplifting atmosphere that made the play work. Most notable are Brill, whose regal moments as the self-afflicted King Bertrand were topped only by his mean flashlight work, and Ari, who was hysterical in his bit part as a 1970s hipster, yet failed prince.

    Also worth mentioning is the scenic (Riccardo Hernandez) and light (Scott Zielinski) design. The simple tools of shadow, curtains and a museum of metal and otherwise bared pieces that should be known as “”variations on a spinning wheel,”” provide a perfect, funky and storybook background

    The tight playing of the ensemble, set neatly upon the shoulders of the leads and placed squarely in the foreground of some of the most effective “”simple”” sets, made for a lovely and powerful show.

    “”Beauty”” runs Tuesday through Sunday until Oct. 19. Call (858) 550-1010 for more info. Rush and under-30 tickets are $15, regularly priced tickets run $34 to $49.

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