Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord
This fantasy musical centers on the young woman Twilight who is on a quest to find a hero and solve a riddle in order to forever vanquish darkness in the magical forest of Callowell. Along her journey she meets pirates, mermaids, gypsies, and other creatures and her adventure echoes themes and moments from such beloved fantasy tales as The Wizard of Oz, "Alice in Wonderland," and even parts of Homer's "Odyssey."
Director Chris Hamby has been working on the piece for close to twenty years. It first began as his original play and then grew into a musical with the addition of music from Joseph Martinez and Stephen Schermitzler and lyrics by Hamby, Melissa Alvarez, and Martinez. Hamby's story is intriguing and his characters are original, even if they are based on familiar archetypes. His script is full of adventure but also peppered with moments of comedy and warmth. The varied score includes a few upbeat numbers, including a rocking, R&B-fused power ballad for the evil Maevilin that is superb, along with several comical songs and a few numbers that feature haunting melodies. Schermitzler provides the orchestrations and they are lush and full of life.
While, overall, Twilight is an inventive and rich experience, there are some areas that could be better focused. The script is basically a series of short scenes in which Twilight meets new people along her journey and learns from her encounters. With the exception of just a few individuals, every character only appears in one scene. This results in minimal character development as well as the need for a bit more clarity in some of the scenes about exactly what Twilight is learning from these individuals. Several times the people she meets read the riddle Twilight is carrying around with her, but never truly help decipher it or offer much guidance to her. This makes these moments seem slightly unnecessary. Also, Twilight doesn't really get a big solo song until toward the end of act one, which seems a long time to wait for the title character to sing about her experience. However, these shortcomings only detract minimally from the overall experience of the piece. They are simply areas that could be improved upon, as I truly believe that with just a bit more focus and clearing up of a few confusing moments, this musical could be one that many youth theatres would seek out to produce.
The large company of talented Youth Works actors brings plenty of life and refined musical theatre experience to their roles. Lily Castle is impressive as Twilight, with a soaring, beautiful voice and a combination of both excitement and confusion in the character's feelings about the adventure before her. As Maevilin, Quincy Janisse uses her powerful voice and deliciously evil ways bring fire and life to this wicked character. As Twilight's Mother, Emily Benoit is full of warmth and as Zephyr, the narrator of the story, Camden Wawro is mischievous yet direct in her delivery. Hamby gets full, rich portrayals from his leads as well as from the large ensemble cast.
Production elements are nothing short of spectacular, with Dori Brown's lush forest setting and Jeff Davis' spectacular lighting design constantly changing and shifting; together, they create some amazing stage pictures. Kathi Miller and Brenda Moulder's costumes are inventive, varied, and full of rich, colorful details. Brian Maticic's fight direction for the climactic battle scene is impressive, especially since he is working with such a young cast. Jay Melberg's music direction achieves beautiful sounds from the large cast and seven-piece orchestra, and Matthew Sanders' sound design features some otherworldly noises and magical sounds. Paul Pedersen's choreography adds colorful moments to many scenes, including a few where his dances are in the background but still add a rich, almost haunting, effect to those moments.
Youth Works at Theater Works continues to impress me with not only their ability to effectively produce large scale musicals, moving dramas, and inventive new works, but also in the rewarding and rich performances that their casts always deliver. Even with a few quibbles around the clarity of the story, with the combination of an immensely talented cast, clear direction, an impressive score, and outstanding creative elements, Twilight's Quest is an exceptionally satisfying adventure.
Twilight's Quest runs through May 22nd, 2016, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930.
by Chris Hamby