Review: Magnificent SEVEN

Time flies and you’ll have fun as Circle Theatre jumps into British panto with Seven in One Blow.

by David Novinski for Theater Jones

About the time when the desire to travel great distances to see your family is being replaced by a stronger desire to get away from them, you really start to appreciate the concept of “family friendly” entertainment. One well-placed excursion can make or break a visit with those the in-laws.

When the time comes to get everyone out of the house during this holiday season, consider Circle Theatre’s Seven in One Blow or the Brave Little Kid by Randy Sharp and Axis Company as the destination for your vacation from vacation.

It’s a British panto, a theatrical tradition that combines the free-wheelin’ festival feel of vaudeville with the charming familiarity of folk tales. There’s song and dance, audience interaction, lessons for the kids and laughs for the adults. Director Robin Armstrong keeps the action brisk and lively letting her cast playfully gambol through.

Seven in One Blow‘s a retelling of the folktale about a tailor who, upon killing seven flies in one smack, makes a belt proclaiming as much. Only, he leaves out the word “flies.” Naturally this is before strict legislation concerning truth in advertising. So, people assume he means that he has killed seven men in one blow. You can imagine the adventures that result.

In Circle’s version, this tale is retold by a homeless man, Mack, (Shane Strawbridge) to his friend, Frankie (Eric Dobbins). In Mack’s version, the tailor is a latchkey youth referred to as “The Kid” (Mikaela Krantz). Upset that his parents are so often away from home, he leaves his lonely apartment for parts unknown. On designer Clare Floyd DeVries’ city street set passersby are transformed into folk tale characters. An irate businessman becomes an Ogre (Jim Johnson) who The Kid befriends after besting him in a test of squeezing water from a stone and rock throwing by substituting cheese for a rock and a bird for the stone.

Accompanied by the Ogre and his former captive, The Scarlet Pimpernel (Brad Stephens), The Kid travels to a kingdom with tax revenue issues: scared citizens don’t pay up. The ruler, QK (Kevin Scott Keating) who is a King with a hand puppet Queen needs the money to buy their daughter, Princess Fartina (Hannah McKinney) everything she wants. In exchange for her hand in marriage and half the kingdom, The Kid promises to free a witch’s captive, conquer a beast and “do something about the heat.”

The witch (Sherry Hopkins) is keeping December (Michael James) hostage. Her weakness is a fear of music. With the audience’s help the witch is scared away freeing December. The monster turns out to be a Pea (Amy Elizabeth Jones) who is just frustrated that nobody likes her. When The Kid returns to the kingdom, QK plans to welch on the deal but Princess Fartina stands up to him. The Kid is only interested in the kingdom half if it means his parents don’t have to work so much and be gone all the time.

The cast all shine in one moment or other but the evening on the whole belongs to Shane Strawbridge who serves as the storytelling, song-writing, ringmaster. He performs Mack like a Nathan Lane version of Riff from West Side Story. He’s streetwise but knows how to deliver a laugh line. Mikaela Krantz’s The Kid begins a bit like a tipsy Sandy Duncan but will win you over quickly with her beguiling earnestness. She and Jim Johnson as the Ogre have the most fun with the stilted storybook language that obscures the violence of the tale from the younger audience members. A special mention goes to the whole cast for their finale step dance. But most impressive was Sherry Hopkins who did it in an evening gown without missing a step, slap or stomp.

In order to thoroughly market test the show, I took two of my sons, six and nine. They enjoyed the entire evening, including the snacks at intermission. The nine year old declared it “good,” which is high praise from him. The six year old continues to revise his choice of favorite part. These reactions indicate that Seven in One Blow has the kid entertainment potential of Puss in Boots.

But what really tips the scales in favor of Circle Theatre is its parent entertainment potential. For laughs alone, Boots can’t hold a candle to Blow. The story is for the kids; the jokes are for the parents. And that’s what’s important. After all, who’s paying for the tickets?

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit www.circletheatre.com.

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