By: Jason Hagey and Alisha Hagey
Utah Valley University’s Jack and the Beanstalk was a morality tale written for elementary age children with a great reminder for parents and adults. The show has already had a successful touring run through elementary schools. Playing at UVU, the audience was predominantly adult but the show’s delightful approach to an old tale made every adult discover their inner child again. Jack and the Beanstalk was a wonderful romp and a fantastic reminder that honesty is always the best policy.
Upon arrival in the Noorda Theater’s black box, we noticed that the set was small and portable. The scenic designer (McKenzie Kiser) created a succinct but versatile location for the action to take place. To the left of the set sat a young man in a white shirt and dark slacks at an electronic keyboard (accompanist, Bretton Floyd). The company manager (Anna Thulin) emerged bespectacled, in a skirt, and a boater hat. Her own playful look mixed with her energetic introduction instantly transported us into the whimsical world of Jack (Caleb Voss).
Onto the stage appeared the entire cast: Jack and a procession of farm animals. The cast came out in indicative clothing as abstractions of animals; a horse, sheep, donkey, pig, and the infamous cow. Kiser and Allyson Mitchell use simple props and costumes for all of the characters who have quick changes throughout the production. The actors become animals with a hooded suit or a headband with ears.
Jack lives on a farm where his mother (Abby Heywood) has an award-winning beanstalk. Prone to being distracted, Jack doesn’t protect his mother’s beanstalk from being eaten by the cow. Before his mother discovers his negligence, Jack is approached by a bean peddler (Christopher Walters) who, in true Professor Harold Hill fashion, charms Jack into wanting a bag of his magic beans. When Jack confesses he has no money, the peddler reluctantly accepts the cow as payment. Jack uses the beans to replant his mother’s beanstalk and the replacement grows into the massive beanstalk of legend.
The whole story is told in a mixture of operetta and contemporary musical. There is very little spoken dialogue. As an audience, we did occasionally lose some of what was being sung and therefore some of the jokes just didn’t land. But, the actors used their bodies to express more than the words. This kind of acting engaged the younger members of the audience. They loved to laugh at the physical humor, they felt for the animals and really had a connection to Bessy the Cow (Whitney Black). The show runs about an hour long and is ideal for younger audiences (kindergarten-third grade). It plays a lot with imagination and creative staging. The actors worked hard to give a sense of size in proportion to Jack and the Giants without having to resort to casting a really short Jack and really tall Giants. The physicality was great.
Throughout the story, we find that Jack suffers from an inability to own up to his actions and tell the truth. He scares the farm animals (using a slingshot to torment them). He neglects the one job his mother gives him which leads him to sell the family’s beloved cow. In turn, he lies to his mother about the whereabouts of the cow. Jack has a real problem and doesn’t see the point in changing. The refrain, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack will think of something slick” was a through-line. Jack was always looking for the slick and easy way out of sticky situations.
The moment he begins to climb the beanstalk, the beanstalk itself comes alive; weaving and entangling Jack as a warning call to change his actions. Jack does meet a (reformed) giantess (Aspen Thompson), a singing harp (Danna Facer), and a gold laying hen (Whitney Black). He lies to them as well, stealing the giant’s gold and causing strife in the marriage of the Giant (Jacob Siolo) and Giantess. Jack begins to see that his actions have consequences. It isn’t until his mother’s life is threatened, though, by a very hungry and irate Giant, that Jack is honest to all involved. We don’t know if Jack has changed his ways forever, but we are hopeful that he is on the right path. At least the Giant’s appetite has been satiated by the magic beans of lore.
Floyd is the unsung hero of the production. His accompaniment of the entire production, keeping up with the actors as they bounced about the stage, was nothing short of amazing. He disappears from the production (though onstage physically) because his musical prowess makes his music another character in the show. If he had slipped, if he had done something outrageous, he would have drawn attention to himself. But, because of his skill, he blended into the stage and was easily forgotten. This is the mark of a true artist. He never drew attention, only supported the fun throughout. Bravo.
In the end, Spicer W. Carr (book, music, and lyrics) wove a musical morality tale with humor and poignancy that delighted children and adults. He forewent the popular trope of the giant dying and decided that Jack should be held accountable for his actions, both of which were exceptional rewrites to the normal folktale. Instead, Carr focused on the humanity of the story and gave us a message that honesty and integrity should always prevail; lies only lead to hardship and hurt.
UVU Noorda Regional Theatre presents Jack and the Beanstalk by Spicer W. Carr
UVU Noorda Theatre 800 West University Parkway, Orem, UT 84058
December 1st and 2nd 6:30 PM
Sensory Friendly Matinee December 2nd 2:00 PM
Tickets: $5 (General Admission), $3 (Matinee)
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