Puppetry, short and fun songs and a motley assortment of strangely appealing characters comprise the latest stage offering from The Strange Tree Group theater company, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, kicking off the 2013-14 Season with the world premiere of "The Dead Prince."
Set with some musical moments, the 90-minute no intermission original, "fairly-family-friendly" production, with book, music and lyrics by playwright Emily Schwartz and directed by Lifeline Theatre ensemble member Paul Holmquist, is playing now until Dec. 22 at The DCASE Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph St., right in the heart of Chicago, across the street from Macy's on State Street.
Elizabeth Bagby plays The Captain, the leader of a band of gypsy forest folk and very nicely guides the audience as narrator to introduce this story of a forlorn princess named Sara, played by golden voiced Ann Sonneville and her quest to awake and unite with a dearly departed prince, played by rubbery Scott Cupper.
Along the journey, she is assisted by Dan Behrendt, in a great turn as Leopold the Thief, Michael Thomas Downey as conniving Maldorf the Mirror and Kate Nawrocki as high-spirited Tasha "the Farmer's Daughter." Amber Vaughn Robinson is chilling and convincing as the personification of Death.
Actor Zachary Sigelko plays Will the Minstrel, the faithful friend and companion of Princess Sara, and provides one of the stand-out, earnest performances of this production.
Cory Aiello, Stuart Ritter, Sarah Scanlon, Jen Starewich and Thomas Zeitner complete this cast, which is filled with Ball State University grads.
Some scenes tend to run a bit long and the entire script could afford some trims here and there, which would help the show clock-in shorter without any real sacrifice to the plot points. (Besides, 90-minutes without an intermission is long for wee-ones.)
The production team deserves standing ovations for their work creating "The Dead Prince," especially Joe Schermoly for a fantastical scenic design, Delia Baseman's array of detail in costume design, Rebecca Jeffords' mood and scene-setting lighting design and Michael Huey for sound design and original incidental music. Besides his acting abilities, Sigelko is also the man behind the music arrangement and Kitty Campbell offers fun and surprises with her props design, while Matt Engle gets a nod for fight choreography, as do Noah Ginex and Sarah Scanlon for puppet design, all assisted by Nic Belnger as technical director.
And by the end of the story, there's a happy ending for everyone, well nearly everyone.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 at strangetree.org.