Turns out Old King Cole is still a merry old soul. In the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades’ newest entry in the Professional Children’s Theater Series, "Princess Fiona Escapes From the Shoe," a young princess finds herself in Fairy Tale Land. Spurned by the Littles (Bo Peep, Jack Horner, Miss Muffet), befriended by an Itsy (Bitsy Spider), and ultimately saved by the king, Princess Fiona begins the play by running away from the old woman who lives in a shoe.
Dahlia Chacon is Princess Fiona.
Confused? You’re not alone.
"Nobody else knows the story either it’s not like when you do Beauty and the Beast and everybody knows it," said Deborah Roberts, head of the JCC’s School of Performing Arts and artistic director of the Palisades Youth Theater. Roberts, who is producing the play, rewrote Neil Berg’s original script for her youth ensemble.
The first two performances will be this Sunday, at 11:30 a.m. and ‘ p.m., at the JCC on the Palisades. On April 6, the play will move to the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, with showings at 1 and 4 p.m. Tickets to the JCC are $15, and can be bought at the door. Bergen PAC tickets run from $9.50 to $’1.50, and are available at bergenpac.org.
From left are Dahlia Chacon, Ian Palmer, and Kylie Goldstein.
"It’s a very funny show, and the audience will learn all of these wonderful nursery rhyme characters that all of our grandparents knew but none of us do," said Roberts, who has been with the JCC since 199′. "They’re wonderful characters that have lasted for two or three centuries now.
"At the same time, it’s about a girl who wants to try new things even though people are telling her not to buck the tides and be adventurous. She’s throwing tradition to the wind."
Roberts has a star-studded cast, and included in the ‘0 junior actors and actresses are some who have been on Broadway, regional theater, film, and television. Marlon Sherman, 9, is coming off a stint as Chip in "Beauty and The Beast." Jennifer Mollet played Celie in "The Color Purple," while Zack Rand playing Little Jack Horner and Kylie Goldstein acted in "Les Miserables."
Roberts said that the JCC has a natural talent base, since many kids have "parents who love culture, so these kids have been exposed to theater and all sorts of arts since they were little."
With so much experience in coaching young performers, Roberts said she’s come to understand their skills and limitations.
"I think that kids can create off the tops of their heads and have wonderful impulses more than adults do, but they can’t repeat them," said Roberts. "You need to direct [kids] fairly carefully, especially if they’re musical theater kids, because they’re used to being taught dances and moves. If you can get them to be real and believable, the energy level can be so exciting."
Still, it can be hard to get a kid to buy in to dialogue that he or she is reading off a script.
Said Roberts, "They just have to realize that although they’re saying lines that aren’t theirs, it’s them talking. Sometimes you can get them to substitute a situation of their own [to make it more believable]. And some kids just have the knack for it."
The JCC stages productions almost year-round. On April 3, for instance, Encore Performing Arts will present "The Fool and The Flying Ship," a musical chronicling the exploits of three young brothers seeking a flying ship in order to win the hand of a princess.
Meanwhile, Roberts is working on another musical to be held in the summer, when the JCC’s Center Stage Musical Theater Camp will be open to students entering grades four through eight.
In addition, Roberts is running a number of workshops, and said that a teen production is set to begin as soon as the director finishes his tour with "The Lion King."
"He’s playing a hyena and understudying Timon," said Roberts.
For now, the focus is on Fiona’s fairy tale explorations. At the play’s heart, Roberts said, is the struggle for acceptance in a new place.
"It’s a story about any outsider coming into a group," said Roberts. "A girl arrives in nursery land and meets Little Jack Horner and Little Bo Peep, and they all think she’s strange because she doesn’t have a story that she follows."
Roberts continued, "Everyone’s against her until Old King Cole says that Fiona is the one with the guts and glory, and let’s give her a chance. It’s really a story of a courageous newcomer with new ideas who is ostracized, and through friendship and somebody wise enough to see the merit in her, she triumphs. It is a happy ending."