Our Review in Whatzup!

Rachel Wilhelm - Cast of The Princess and the Goblin

I don’t always include our reviews here, although they are generally very favorable to us. But Kathleen Christian’s “Curtain Call” reaction to The Princess and the Goblin was full of such superlatives that I could not resist reproducing it here.

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OF HEROES AND VILLAINS

Curtain Call

KATHLEEN CHRISTIAN, Whatzup! February 13, 2014

all for One’s spring production of The Princess and the Goblin is a classic fantasy tale full of heroics and villainy. I witnessed first-hand as this show captured the imagination of an entire audience filled with grandparents, grandchildren and all ages in-between.

It’s hard to believe the sense of childlike wonder I was struck with at every turn during this show. Whether it was the imaginative living set pieces, the mysterious and whimsical characters or the beautiful music, I felt myself riveted and awed by the stage before me.

I must make note of the pre-show entertainment provided in the director’s speech by Lauren Nichols’ co-director Jeff Salisbury. all for One always takes care to make this speech as theatrical and entertaining as possible, but Salisbury’s speech was a bit more elaborate than usual and involved recurring jokes, choreography and a few backstage crew members. It got us all laughing and ready for the entertainment to come.

Our stage opens up to two sides of a mountainous range in the kingdom where Irene is a princess. Wandering about with her perpetually-vexed nurse maid Lootie in tow, Irene stumbles onto a secret that has been kept from her young ears: she discovers that her kingdom is plagued by cave-dwelling goblins who inhabit the inside of the very mountain on which she lives.

Curdie, a young but bold miner, saves Irene and Lootie from the bothersome goblins. Shortly thereafter, Curdie is in turn saved by Irene from the very same goblins after he’s captured eavesdropping on their dastardly plans to overtake the kingdom and force Irene to wed their goblin prince. Irene, who is also bold and intelligent for her young age, is led by the counsel of her mysterious great-grandmother who lives in the attic and teaches her the meaning of faith and trust.

The cast is led by afO veteran Annika Kroeker as Irene and new-comer Jeremiah Paden as Curdie. The two deftly display a perfect air of childish innocence and curiosity while learning about the world around them and staving off savage goblins.

Kinetic Revelation Academy of Dance provides dancing goblins and set pieces. The choreography and music wow with their originality and really set the stage for this fantastical story. The dancing doors in particular are a fabulously fun part of Irene’s journey.

The goblin family played by J. Scott Kump as the goblin king, Laura Fischer as the goblin queen and Eli Ramsour as the goblin prince are riotously fun. Their characters yell and moan and screech all through the audience and on the stage, always trying to get one step ahead of the humans. Sometimes simply their wordless facial expressions were enough to cause the audience to burst out in laughter.

Directors Salisbury and Nichols, along with choreographer Kimberly Bronson, must have had their hands full with the enormous cast. But their show dances and flows smoothly from beginning to end.  While The Princess and the Goblin is a visually entertaining show, it’s also layered with allegories, some close to the surface and some a bit deeper. The underlying messages are simply one more part of what makes this show meaningful as well as captivating and a must see for all ages.

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Designing Sound for Princesses and Goblins…

I thoroughly enjoy sound design, and relish the challenge of finding appropriate incidental music for our plays. This time, however, I knew I needed to be on the same page with our choreographer, Kimberly Bronson. Fortunately, I know Kimberly to have great instincts for the dramatic power of music to help tell the story.

Initially, I was seeking Celtic music, because of George MacDonald’s Scottish heritage.  Neither the book nor the play specify its setting as Scotland, but some of the names (Curdie, Lootie) sound vaguely Scots. Kimberly was meanwhile seeking music for the doors scenes, and the goblin dance, which she felt expressed the emotional quality we wanted to portray.

Neither of us was happy with the other’s suggestions, until I remembered a duo of Christian musicians, Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning, whose Celtic music I had heard on a Windham Hill compilation album many years ago. I went looking for them, and was thrilled to discover that they have their own record company now, Ark Music. There Kimberly and I both listened to many song samples.

Winterfold She selected a piece entitled “Her Heart Flies” (great title!) off the brand new Winterfold CD, to use for the doors sequence. She liked the “mysterious quality with a searching feel to it.” It has a pulse which suggests urgency. We used the same track for both sequences (when Irene finds her way to her great-great grandmother, and when she is later thwarted).

thin silenceMeanwhile, I was looking for the music referred to in the script as the “Lady’s Theme”…the music we associate with the mysterious great-great grandmother. It would be the primary theme for the entire play, and would be used multiple times. I found what I was looking for on another instrumental album, A Thin Silence. The composition is called “Beatitude”. For the most part, this is a simple piano piece, with an electronic pad under it…we used the drone to underscore dialogue which preceded all the climbing to the tower where the great-great-grandmother was to be found. The melody is haunting and I fell in love with it at once. I’m also pleased with the sacred connotation in the title, since the Lady in the play has many characteristics of the Holy Spirit.

Grandmother, Irene and Curdie

Grandmother, Irene and Curdie

Happily, I was able to contact Jeff Johnson–I am so thankful for the internet!–and told him what we were proposing: I would purchase both these albums (and several more besides), and we would put an ad in our program for Ark Music, in return for permission to use these two pieces. Mr. Johnson responded immediately, graciously granting our request. The permission language he stipulated can be found on the inside front cover of our program. A miscommunication prevented Ark from supplying us with camera-ready ad copy, but I am hoping to rectify that somewhat by including links in this blog post to their website, and to these two albums in particular. I highly recommend them to you!

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Meanwhile, Kimberly was also supposed to be choreographing a dance for the goblins, and we knew we wanted some kind of sound track under the goblin battle near the end of the show. The piece she liked best for the goblins was a percussion piece by a group of Taiko drummers. She reasoned that the goblins hated singing, so their “music” ought to be non-melodic. I agreed with her, but was skeptical that I could track down and get permission from yet another recording artist.

However, J. Scott Kump, our sound mastering engineer (aka the Genius) for the past two seasons, happens to be a percussionist. AND he plays the Goblin King in the show. I shared with Scott Kimberly’s idea for the goblins, and asked if he might possibly know how to create something similar from scratch. Scott jumped at the idea. He first created a digital track for Kimberly to use for her choreography. After he got her approval on the general sound, and length, he set to work recording a variety of acoustic percussion instruments, including some pitched instruments like cow bells and marimba. He also recorded various grunts and laughter from all the men in the cast, to layer in with the drums. The finished product for the goblin dance is fantastic and completely original.

The goblin dancers perform for the royal family

The goblin dancers perform for the royal family

A scene from the goblin battle

A scene from the goblin battle

Theater and the Power of Make-Believe

Those of us able to watch every performance of The Princess and the Goblin are delighted by the varying degrees of audience response, especially when children are present. The first Sunday matinee was particularly full of young and enthusiastic audience members, including my own three-year-old granddaughter.

But it was not Lucy, but another little girl–sitting in the front row–who had the rest of us chuckling. She was so engaged and so vocal.

  • As Sir Walter is scouting about the castle grounds, looking for creatures, we could hear, “Look out! It’s behind you!”
  • As Curdie searched for a rhyme for “bother” she offered “Father”…several times.
  • When someone couldn’t move something, she said, “I’ll help you!”
Esther Powers as a goblin creature is teasing Sir Walter (Dennis Nichols)

Esther Powers as a goblin creature is teasing Sir Walter (Dennis Nichols)

I had been worried that some of our effects–notably the toeless goblin feet, which we ultimately decided to achieve with socks and nothing else–might not be precise enough. But as I watched Lootie take Sir Walter’s keys and “lock” the invisible door one night, it occurred to me that this is how children play. Lucy doesn’t have any trouble with invisible rings and thread. She plays this way all day long.

In several respects, doing live theater for children is much more valuable than producing children’s films. We are modelling “make believe” on a somewhat grand scale, but make believe nonetheless. And in the case of this story, we are putting into their minds a story filled with wonder and subtle truth…truth about spiritual direction, faith in the unseen, and the triumph of good over evil. None of this is preached to them overtly. It’s simply part of the story.

Like most fairy tales, the underlying message is absorbed obliquely. This “poetic knowledge” may be analyzed later–middle school, perhaps. But for now, it is enough to have experienced a colorful story which has such depth. It is an investment in their future which we are happy to be able to offer to parents in our community.

Goblins!!

After months of agonizing over what the goblins should look like, I think the finished product is great fun:

(l. to r., Scott Kump, Eli Ramsour, Laura Fischer, as the Goblin royal family)

(l. to r., Scott Kump, Eli Ramsour, Laura Fischer, as the Goblin royal family)

I must emphasize (for parents who are wondering) that the goblins are funny, not scary. Lots of small children in our opening night audience would agree! Four goblin dancers and two “creatures”–sub-goblin pets or servants who look more animal-like in their faces–complete the entourage. They come and go mostly down the side aisles of the auditorium, and they argue a lot.  But they are definitely comical, as is the hilarious battle sequence near the end. (Any creature who can be defeated by singing at it and stomping on its foot isn’t much of a threat!)

Jadon Moore and Laura Fischer

Jadon Moore and Laura Fischer

Thanks to: Tabitha Chen’s original costume design concept, a great box of ragged clothes from IPFW’s theater department (which previously served Chinese peasants in The Good Person of Szechuan and London orphans in Oliver!), “jewelry” and a breastplate created by Christine Newman-Aumiller, hats sewn by Ruth Keller, and makeup designed by Jeff Salisbury…as well as the Queen’s granite shoes made by yours truly out of foam and duct tape.

Others greatly deserving of thanks where the goblins are concerned:  Kimberly Bronson and Christine Newman-Aumiller, who are doing goblin make-up; and Sophie Knox who designed and is nightly applying the goblin creatures’ make-up.

Goblin King (Scott Kump) with son Helfer (Eli Ramsour) looking on. I love their crowns made of forks...

Goblin King (Scott Kump) with son Helfer (Eli Ramsour) looking on. I love their crowns made of forks…

Background: George MacDonald

MacDonald1George MacDonald (1824 – 1905) was born in Huntley, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the son of a farmer. Educated at Aberdeen and London, he was first a pastor and later a teacher, before turning to writing as a career. His prolific literary output includes some dozen fantasy novels, thirty realistic novels, numerous volumes of poetry, as well as many volumes of his sermons. Although it was his realistic novels which were most popular in his lifetime, his most enduring writings are now agreed to be the fantasy novels, including The Princess and the Goblin, Phantastes, Lilith, and At the Back of the North Wind.

He married Louisa Powell in 1851, who bore him eleven children between 1852 and 1865 (five girls and six boys). Four of his children died before him (in adulthood).  Consumption (tuberculosis) was a family plague, taking the lives of two children, and causing him great suffering through much of his later life.

The Princess and the Goblin was published in 1872, but its sequel (The Princess and Curdie) wasn’t published until ten years later. Meanwhile, in 1880 the family moved to Bordighera, a resort town on the Italian Riviera popular with British ex-patriates. MacDonald’s health deteriorated in 1897 after the publication of his last novel, and he suffered a stroke the following year, after which he never spoke again. Two of his sons designed and built a home for their parents in Surrey, England (south of London), and they moved there in 1900. MacDonald and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1901, and Louisa died a year later. MacDonald lingered in ill health for three more years prior to his death in 1905. He was cremated and his ashed are buried with his wife in Bordighera.

George MacDonald, with wife and family, ca. 1876

George MacDonald, with wife and family, ca. 1876

Ongoing impact of MacDonald’s writings

 Not only was he a popular writer, who made his living by his pen, but he is claimed as a significant influence by many later well-known authors, particularly authors of Christian faith. Among these are: W. H. Auden, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and Madeleine L’Engle. Chesterton called The Princess and the Goblin a book that “made a difference to my whole existence.” C.S. Lewis claimed, “I think I have never written a book in which I did not quote him.”  

MacDonald was also a friend of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), and a mentor to Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson). In fact, after reading the manuscript of Alice in Wonderland to his sons, MacDonald urged Carroll to publish it based on the boys’ enthusiastic reaction.

MacDonald with daughter Mary and son Ronald, ca. 1864. Photo by Lewis Carroll.

MacDonald with daughter Mary and son Ronald, ca. 1864. Photo by Lewis Carroll.

This book’s many manifestations

Many editions of The Princess and the Goblin exist, and many illustrators have been inspired to create visions for us of what this story might look like, including Jessie Wilcox Smith. There was also an animated version produced in 1992. Several different stage versions exist. And in 2012 famed choreographer Twila Twarp fulfilled a long-time desire by staging a full ballet based on this book.

P&G cover

P&G cover2

P&G smith

Presenting: The Cast and Crew of “The Princess and the Goblin”

We have a first in this all for One production:  there are more non-speaking than speaking roles in the show! Although this adaptation by Sandra Fenichel Asher was written with the intention of being simple enough to tour, with actors doubling roles, and puppets portraying the goblins, we are having tremendous fun creating a fully-staged production.

While still somewhat stylized and presentational, there is no doubling of parts, and we have added knights for the battle scene, goblins who dance, as well as actors who become part of the set! Here is the full cast of The Princess and the Goblin–speaking roles are listed first.

PRINCESS IRENE: Annika Kroeker
LADY (the Great-Great Grandmother): Lorraine Knox
CURDIE: Jeremiah Paden*
LOOTIE: Erin Bean*
SIR WALTER: Dennis Nichols
CURDIE’S MOTHER: Ruth Keller*
GOBLIN KING: J. Scott Kump
GOBLIN QUEEN: Laura Fischer
GOBLIN PRINCE (HELFER): Eli Ramsour

KNIGHTS:
Nate Chen
Terry Ellis

DOORS/WALLS:
Esther Mussmann*
Lydia Powers*
Karli Wilson*

GOBLIN CREATURES:
Jadon Moore*
Esther Powers*

GOBLIN DANCERS:
Kael Bronson*
Jenna Cummins*
Brianna White*
Joelle White*

* Denotes this actor’s first appearance in an afO Home Stage Production.

 

The Plot of “The Princess and the Goblin”

P&G posterIn a remote country house, the king’s young daughter, Princess Irene, is being guarded by her faithful servant Lootie and captain of the guard Sir Walter. This faithful adaptation by Sandra Fenichel Asher from the 19th century fantasy by George MacDonald, opens with young Irene frustrated by the extreme caution of her nurse. Restless and curious, Irene explores the huge old house one day and discovers a staircase she never climbed before. It takes her up to the attic where she meets her mysterious great-great-grandmother, who gives Irene a magical gift which only she can see. Meanwhile, a brave young man named Curdie, a miner and son of a miner, works underground and spies on the goblins. He has learned the secret of how to fight against these hard-headed creatures who have large toeless feet:  they hate singing!

When Irene and Lootie become lost one evening after straying too far from the house onto the mountainside, Curdie happens along and protects them. But soon, just as Curdie has learned of the goblins’ plot to kidnap the princess, he himself becomes their prisoner! How will he escape? Who will warn the princess and her friends?

The humor and suspense culminate in a full-stage battle pitting Curdie and the members of Irene’s household  against the goblin royal family, minions and creatures.  This story of heroism and courage also looks at what it means to have faith in what is unseen.