Spotlight: The Walleye Kid: The Musical
This show debuted in 1998 as a drama and now returns in musical form. It's a deep and evocative story that links the uncertainties of an adopted child's life with the subterranean currents of myth. It begins with a Minnesota couple (played by Jake Endres and Janet Hanson) lamenting their childless state until their wish is granted in the form of a Korean child who emerges from an ice-fishing hole. The early going leans a bit heavily on depicting Minnesotans as well-meaning oafs, and Rick Polenek's crude and kitschy set adds one layer too many of northern hokum. When the child Annie (Isabella Dawis, precocious but never treacly) takes a metaphorical trip to Korea in search of her roots, though, the show becomes more sure-footed. Dawis is confident and appealing in her role and Sara Ochs as her shamanic guide adds a trickster's sly, winking sarcasm. Kurt Miyashiro's music and lyrics are sturdy enough, though his pieces for solo performers carry more weight than his clunkier ensemble numbers (a notable exception being the rousing "Honor and Pride"). The production's main weakness is its length--there are nearly 30 songs to be gotten through, and some judicious trimming might not have lessened the considerable emotional impact. Director Jon Cranney's ensemble keeps the show emotionally cohesive, though few individual performances stand out. Momoko Tanno is in fine voice, and Ochs adds a turn as an agonized princess who serves as a stand-in for Annie's unknowable mother. What sets The Walleye Kid apart is its capacity for expressing longing--first the parents' hunger for a child, then the child's need for knowledge of her past. Annie is finally made to understand her life in terms of symbol and fable, and is so pleased that she willingly returns to her hometown populated by benevolent doofuses. It takes a little too long to get us there, and there are rough edges aplenty along the way, but there's heart to spare on the stage.
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