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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jana J. Monji

Tina Landau's Beauty manages to re-configure the tale of Sleeping Beauty into a forward-thinking feminist tale. Intellectual and funny, this delightful little musical waves aside the sanitized Disney version and puts back some of the gore in which children (and adults) secretly delight.

Set designer Riccardo Hernandez's corroded metallic moving partitions glide and clang shut (thanks to Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen's original music and sound design) taking us to a world beyond time. The beauty, Rose (Kelli O'Hara), is dressed in white, but her dress color doesn't simply evoke the image of chastity. Disappearing between the shifting walls and subtleness of Scott Zielinski's lighting design, O'Hara's figure seems like an apparition. She is, after all, the phantom living in the dreams of our Prince Charming, James (Jason Danieley).

Landau's conceit is that the fairy, Constance (Lisa Harrow), whose curse caused the princess to fall asleep on her 16th birthday, is watching and waiting for the right man to wake the girl up. A young man on his way to a party, stumbles into a mysterious timescape while looking for jumper cables. He meets Constance who knows about his dreams of a woman who so haunts him he thinks "better not to sleep, better not to dream." With a scruffy beard, dressed in the casual manner of a grad student, James isn't heroically handsome.

Landau has made our prince an intellectual, sensitive guy filled with doubts, particularly when he meets a trio of hopefuls who tried to conquer the briar jungle to conquer the princess only to die before even making it to the castle. What makes this prince charming for Landau, and us, is his thoughtfulness touched by a smidgen of doubt. His ability to consider what Rose might really want and to doubt that she might rightfully be his makes him more appealing than the three failed suitors who, by way of a choreo graphed shorthand, show themselves to be lustful louts.

Rose is a very modern girl and to a certain extent this makes sense. She was daring enough to venture where she wasn't supposed to go, unafraid to enter an unfamiliar part of her father's castle whe she finds her fate. Landau takes that small kernel from the original 17th Century Charles Perrault version of the story and nurtures it into full flower. O'Hara's Rose sleeps until she finds an era and a man suited to her own temperament.

The juxtapositioning of past values and current trends, Renaissance style clothing and modern duds and the abstraction of the briars into metallic looking beams that rise and lower into place between the shifting barriers creates a timeless world where we see how much humans have shifted in their ways in the 1,000 years the beauty has been sleeping -- and how much is all too familiar.

In taking on the concept of beauty, Landau talks about awakening to the beauty within. She posits that it isn't beauty that is asleep but as Constance puts it, a world that is slowly falling asleep into a "great slumber of denial"

The musical elements include a haunting wordless melody that acts like a siren song to lure James further into the briar after his elusive dream woman. A renaissance inspired ditty describes the court life and a humorous more modern tune is used for the dead men to tell their plights. In her role as director, Landau makes the tone and time fit seamlessly into an integrated whole, bringing a morality and intellectual depth into this fairy tale that adults and older children can enjoy.

Director and writer: Tina Landau
Cast: David Ari (ensemble/Prince), Corey Brill (ensemble/King Bertrand), Jason Danieley (James), Lisa Harrow (Constance), Simone Vicari Moore (ensemble/Madeleine), Kelli O'Hara (Rose), Adam Smith (ensemble/Prince), Amy Stewart (ensemble/Queen Margaret), Richard Tibbitts (musician).
Set Designer: Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Designer: Melina Root
Lighting Designer: Scott Zielinski
Original Music and Sound Design: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes wotjpit intermission
La Jolla Playhouse at Mandell Weiss Forum on UC San Diego campus
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Through 10/19/03
Review based on Sept. 21 performance.
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