Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's reviews of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Nonfat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte ... with Sprinkles, and Heathers: The Musical
The show tells the tale of a selfish king who is so greedy, yet also very unhappy, that he declares his birthday to be celebrated twice a year and demands that all of the peasants in the land bring him a gift. However, after receiving many gifts, he is still unhappy so he turns to the one person who has yet to give him a gift, the Quiltmaker who lives on the hill. She informs the King that she only makes quilts for the poor and homeless, people who actually need them, and that since he isn't either of those she won't make a quilt for him or even sell him one. She tells him what he needs to do in order for her to make him a quilt, by giving to others, but the selfish King has a major problem in thinking of anyone else but himself. You can pretty much guess how the King's journey to get a quilt will end, but the witty songs and fun lyrics make the ride a very enjoyable one.
Based on the children's book by Jeff Brumbeau, the show first premiered in town when the Phoenix Theatre presented it in 2002 and it has gone on to have numerous productions across the country. It has a fun and varied musical score, with music by Phoenix composer Craig Bohmler and witty, charming lyrics by Steven Mark Kohn, and a humorous yet moving book by Alan J. Prewitt. Bohmler also provides the musical direction for this production and achieves lovely harmonies and impressive vocals from the cast.
Cydney Trent, who choreographed last year's production, returns but now also takes over the director role. She does a fine job with the fun movement for the cast, elicits plenty of laughs from the life lessons of the story, and achieves fun and also touching performances from her cast. Theater Works' production features the same colorful and inventive set by Thom Gilseth, lavish and lovely costume designs by Tamara Treat from last year as well, and Joshua Vern who returns as the King.
Vern is even better than last year as the greedy, brat of a king. His comical gestures, exaggerated facial expressions, and humorous body movement play up the unhappy man. His many temper tantrums are hilarious and his singing voice strong and clear. Barbara McBain is just as good as the Quiltmaker. She brings a strong amount of sweetness to the part, yet also a sternness in how she portrays the Quiltmaker as someone who has a strict way of doing things, which rubs the King the wrong way. Vern and McBain have fun together and play off each other very well. McBain's lilting voice brings a tenderness to her songs. Theater Works Executive Director Daniel Schay portrays the old man who tells the story of the Quiltmaker and the King and he brings a playfulness to the part. The ensemble are rambunctious and quite effective as the King's bumbling soldiers, with Skyler Washburn also playing the charming bear with a fun solo song.
Almost everyone was taught that "it's better to give than to receive," and that simple life lesson resonates throughout The Quiltmaker's Gift. That statement is something every one of us, no matter what age, should be reminded of at this time of year. With a fun musical score and a story filled with colorful characters, the Theater Works production has the right combination of great casting and colorful creative elements to make this simple story a joyful holiday treat for theatergoers young and old.
The Quiltmaker's Gift runs through December 20th, 2015, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930.
Directed and Choreographed by Cydney Trent
Cast: Quiltmaker: Barbara McBain