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books, blabberings, and a life semi-common
The name “Sleeping Beauty” often brings particular words to the forefront of the mind – princess, fairy tale, spindle, kiss – but it’s not often that the famed princess from so long ago becomes synonymous with the modern day world of electrodes, sleep clinics and disorders, and dreams. But some may soon, now that Sleeping Beauty Wakes is in the middle of its run at Princeton University’s McCarter Theatre and will soon head across the country to La Jolla afterwards.
The premise of SBW is that of the classic fairy tale – at her naming ceremony, a bad fairy who was left uninvited appears and places a curse on an infant Rose. Her parents, the king and queen of the kingdom, do all they can to keep her safe but she falls into a deep sleep. Unlike the classic fairy tale, centuries pass until only the King is left with a still-sleeping Rose. In the modern day world, she is brought to a sleep disorder clinic where her father hopes she will wake up. Desperate for his child to awaken, he has traded all the power of the kingdom (from way-back-when) in order to stay alive until the day she opens her eyes.
Full of life, humor, and poignant moments, Sleeping Beauty Wakes is a lesson in dreams and power, fears and love, and most importantly, self-preservation and independence. The dueling worlds of real life and a dream land push and melt into each other flawlessly, creating a universe that is able to speak to audience members of all ages. With characters that are imperfect and with each character trying to overcome obstacles, it seems like a recipe for sadness and anger. Instead, hope and love is threaded across the span of worlds that easily wraps audiences and demands complete attention.
In the title role of Sleeping Beauty, Aspen Vincent is, in a word, brilliant. Though I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, her portrayal of Rose is a mixture of innocence and power. She moves flawlessly across the stage in fluid motions that are reminiscent of a young girl finding her way through life. Her voice is strong and emotional, attributes that are best heard in the song, “Good for Me,” where Rose sings of her anger over what she cannot do and her wishes to be independent.
Whatever I like, you take away
You drive me back from where I go
You never listen to what I say
Whatever I want, the answer’s always no
For my own good
I will decide what’s good for me
While there are a plethora of songs that showcase individual talents (the King singing “I Think You Understand”) and harmonies (“Still Small Hours” sung by the Patients), “Good for Me” is the showstopper, the song that audience members will have in their minds as they leave the theatre.
In good company, Vincent is joined by Bryce Ryness, best known for his award-nominated turn as Woof in Hair. He plays the Orderly – Mike – in a role that is both sympathetic and humorous. Though an orderly, he has his own sleep (among other) problems that he portrays in a way that causes laughter with every turn. Beyond the humor, however, is a lovely connection between Ryness and Vincent – a connection, it seems, that was forged 10 years ago when they first met and became friends. The ease with which the two characters move together and work together in harmony is a shining moment, as can be heard in the songs, “Awake” and “I Dare Say I’m in Love.” The love story between Rose and Mike is one that seems to be simplistic and pure despite the hardships on either end, something that is not seen often in theatre today. While there are driving forces that attempt to keep them apart, the naivete of the situation is perfect for the story and the flow of plot.
Though it isn’t perfect, Sleeping Beauty Wakes is a show that begs to be premiered on Broadway – and soon. Though a few scenes may need to be tightened a bit with more clarification at its start, this show is one that seamlessly blends the format of a classical Broadway with the songs of a rock musical. With an ensemble that moves beautifully together, a set that is a show in and of itself, and orchestrations that are so flawless that it sounds like a recording, Sleeping Beauty Wakes can easily join the number of Broadway shows that have garnered vast amounts of fans who return many times over. More than that, it is also a show that has potential staying power.
For those in the tri-state area, check out McCarter’s Sleeping Beauty Wakes website for more information and to buy tickets. The show runs in Princeton until June 5th.
For those in the Southern California area, the show will be at La Jolla Playhouse from July 19th to August 21st.