The Gift of Winter
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
January 20, 2006
If you are, say, a four- to twelve-year-old, you will probably get wrapped up in the story and message of The Gift of Winter, the current offering of Tada! Youth Theater. If you are any older than that, you will get a kick out of watching a slew of terrifically talented kids masterfully hold the stage for just over an hour.
These “triple threats,” as they will come to be called when they audition for college conservatories and summer stock seasons, sing, dance, and act with quite a bit of technique. But what fascinates is their sense of life onstage—the alacritous twinkle in their eyes that says how happy they are to be up there in front of us at this very moment.
Based on the book of the same name by John Leach and Jean Rankin, The Gift of Winter concerns a town where winter has finally become intolerable—just icy winds and head colds—all cons and no pros—nothing fun about it. The Townspeople demand of their leader, Mayor Maude, that she either abolish this lame and dreary season or she and her cabinet will not be reelected (that the cowboy-hatted Mayor does not believe in elections, notwithstanding). Thus a delegation is formed (Maude and her constituents) to go see Winter himself to discuss this matter; Ben and Carl, two townsguys who were not deemed “important” enough to join the delegation proper, follow anyway.
Throughout their whimsical journey, our characters must contend with show-stopping trees, abominables (menacing creatures with the power to freeze), and some soulful but bureaucratic secretaries before finally gaining audience with Winter. Surprise is not this piece’s strongest element, so I will go ahead and reveal that Maude and her delegation learn that they can’t make it without the help of the two young men, and through respect and kindness, they win an unexpected—and town-pleasing—result: snow.
The adults involved in this production all show great skill: a cute, punny libretto by Michael Slade (book) and Faye Greenberg (lyrics) with a political nod here and there; a many-flavored score by David Evans, performed with vigor by the band (Joe Brady and Jim Colleran, also the music director); and a wonderful bunch of designers (Peter R. Feuchtwanger, Shelly Norton, and Brian Aldous, on sets, costumes, and lights, respectively), assembled by director Janine Nina Trevens.
Trevens and Colleran’s greatest achievement, however, is the way in which they showcase their sparkling ensemble of actors: the feisty and unflappable Maya Park as Mayor Maude, supported to humorous effect, by her politico-chums (Julian Pavlin, Ryan-Ashleigh Reid, Gabriela Gross, and the particularly prickly Mary Claire Miskrell); the fiery-eyed Billy Rayner, flanked by Casey Wenger-Schulman and Merce Jessor as the Three Trees, who are more than ready to do Vegas; Tori Green and Emily Wexler, as the singing secretaries who could hold their own with any contestant on American Idol; those agile Abominables (Sophie Golomb, Jasmine Perez, and Katie Welles); Robert Aviles and Anthony Sanchez, the young townies, who shine in their sweet duet, “I Don’t Like The Dark”; and, of course, the thunder-voiced Winter himself, Norman Franklin. The Townspeople, a roster of names too numerous to mention here, deserve equal acclaim.
Would it be saccharine of me to say that watching the Tada! Youth Theater is as rousing as watching the first snowfall of the season? Yes, it probably would be. But there’s something very refreshing, very hopeful about this troupe that makes me excited for theatre seasons to come.