Author Philip Pullman may be thought of as "that atheist children's book writer," but his stories are full of vivid characters, intriguing action, and a desire to explore the deep mysteries of life.
The Children's Theatre Company premiere of The Scarecrow and His Servant bring all of that to the stage in a colorful and striking production built upon the sterling performances of the two leads.
The fantastical story involves a sentient Scarecrow (Dean Holt), complete with turnip head, on a quest to get back to the patch of land he originally guarded. A chance encounter with a young, very hungry boy named Jack (Brandon Brooks) gives him a guide.
The trip home isn't easy. Like Candide, the Scarecrow has an innocent view of the world. That and his inner good nature leads to all sorts of trouble, be it at the theater or on the battlefield. Beyond that, there are evil forces arrayed against them, led by the black-clad Cercorelli (Gerald Drake), who is the agent of the evil industrialists who want to take over the Scarecrow's former home plot of land to build more poison factories.
All of this gives the creative team, including adaptor Jeffrey Hatcher and director Peter Brosius, a chance to really unhitch their imaginations. G.W. Mercier's sets are vibrant, colorful, and fanciful, perfectly matching the tone of the story. The same can be said of Mercier's costumes, which bring all manner of odd creatures and people to life.
The real stars here, however, are the performers. Holt is masterful as always. He is given extra size by performing the entire show on stilts. Beyond physical demands like that, his character is full of life and a naive charm. Brooks continues to show that he is more than just a talented teen performer, but a performer with real depth and heart. As Jack's story unfolds, Brooks gives us more and more of the hurt that lies at the character's heart, which only makes the relationship between boy and scarecrow all the more engaging.
The balance of the company does good work as well, with the likes of Reed Sigmund and Autumn Ness excelling in a variety of roles. The usually congenial Drake obviously relishes playing the villain. Clad in a black-velvet suit and fetish-shiny black boots, the actor gives a performance guaranteed to scare the little ones (and the big ones, come to think of it) in the audience.
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