By Nick Luckenbaugh; Directed by Megan Mekjian
Produced by Libra Theater Company in association with The TRUF
Off Off Broadway, New Musical
Runs Through 11.15.14
Access Theater, 380 Broadway
by Seth Bogner on 10.5.14
Jeremy Earhart and Erin Long in Royal Fables. Photo by Ai Ling Loo.
BOTTOM LINE: A sweetly tuneful dessert of a new musical.
Once upon a time there was a new musical that granted the princesses of our well-worn fairy tales a chance to better articulate who they were and how they felt during the moments that preceded happily ever after. These somewhat vapid characters with their superficial dreams live in the hearts of young girls everywhere and have taken up permanent residence on our pop culture landscape. In Royal Fables each of the fourteen princesses, ranging from the ubiquitous Cinderella to the unfortunately named Princess Who Wanted to Solve Riddles, is given her moment in the spotlight. The result is a song cycle that manages to be affecting without ever reaching its loftier intentions of fairy tale enlightenment.
The score, with music and lyrics by Nick Luckenbaugh (played with panache by band members Ansel Cohen, Jimmy Lopez, and Mike McGuckin) has a contemporary musical theatre vibe combining elements of rock, folk, and country. Taking his cues more from Tesori’s Shrek the Musical than from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Luckenbaugh has a knack for writing melodies that are agreeable to the ear but somewhat forgettable. And while the tunes may be sweetly unsatisfying, the lyrics are written in a radio friendly style far too vague to provide any surprising insights into the specific character delivering them. Mostly the score comes across as moderately mundane, at odds with the high stakes circumstances in which the princesses find themselves.
Surprising then that the standout performances of the evening come paired with the softer, more subdued, folk-leaning songs. These melancholy musical moments seem suitable for princesses purported to be introspective self-aware women hiding mysterious inner lives. Credit is due to the actresses and director/choreographer Megan Mekjian’s staging. “The Chase” (sung by Raina Helen Fraley as Snow White), “How Love Should Go” (performed by Hayley Biegel as Rose Red), and “World’s End” (featuring Kristin Kelleher as The Traveling Princess), all seem to reside in a realistically wounded place and are delivered quite effectively. Mekjian uses her attractive young cast (costumed beautifully by Travis Alexandra Boatright) to her full advantage, even having them loiter on stage as the audience takes their seats. Her choreography provides the context from which the songs will spring, but it sometimes feels like filler and the jerky modern dance athleticism required leaves the singers short of breath.
The design of the production is simple but effective, with Michelle Tobias’s lighting casting eerie shadows on the white walls and whimsical cardboard towers serving as playing spaces and prop storage (scenic design by Travis Alexandra Boatright, Nick Luckenbaugh, Megan Mekjian, and Michelle Tobias). In the end, Royal Fables is an amiable and unassuming concert. Although pleasant enough, the music and lyrics lack the guile that would propel this familiar source material into unexplored and unexpected territory. The princesses remain beautiful and clear voiced, the princes are characteristically banal, and the ending still resembles happily ever after.
(Royal Fables plays at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, through November 15, 2014. Performances are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 8pm. Tickets are $18 and are available at libratheater.org or by calling 347.352.4549.)