Cornerstone Youth Theatre is gearing up to stage one of the literature’s best-loved classics.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – The Broadway Musical runs Oct. 31st-Nov. 1st, and Nov. 7th-8th with evening shows at 7 p.m. There are also daytime performances on Nov. 1st at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and on Nov. 8th at 3 p.m.
All performances will be taking place at New Life Fellowship Church (20 Kelloway Cresc.)
Written by Mark Twain and set in 1840 Missouri, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the tale of young Tom Sawyer and the never-ending mischief of which he so often finds himself a part of; whether it’s matching wits with Aunt Polly, tricking his friends into white-washing a fence for him or narrowly escaping the clutches of a murderous villain.
Along with best friend Huckleberry Finn and love interest Becky Thatcher, the greatest Tom exploits are plucked from the book and plopped on the stage. The story jumps off the page and comes to life in this musical adaptation of one of North America’s favourite books.
Stephanie Orr, who is co-directing the play along with Tori Grebinski, said it’s been a delight interpreting such an enduring piece of literary gold. This rendition is also a musical, with the book by Ken Ludwig and music and lyrics by Don Schlitz.
“I have seen this production before and knew it was a good retelling of Mark Twain’s story – it stuck to the flavour, cleverness and drama of the original. There’s a real conflict, and this story really presents that along with all of the fun.
“There are portions of this story which are really powerful in that it’s fun and it’s clever, and Mark Twain’s perception of humanity is so clear. Things aren’t all black and white or so easily compartmentalized. It’s very deep writing.
“I think he was such a student of human nature, and such a student of conflict; of people who are pretending everything is good when it’s not. He just nails that so concisely. We can see ourselves in so many characters. But it’s fun – it’s not heavy-handed.”
Orr added that the style of the music woven into the production is also new for Cornerstone Youth Theatre. The 16 pieces have a kind of bluegrass style, country-type feel. “That presented the kids with a fun and new challenge.” Her cast, which ranges in age from eight to 18, numbers about 65.
Orr, who last co-directed Grimm Fairytales this past winter, said leading such a large cast has been a really fun and energizing experience.
“The kids are really good – they are focused and they really want to do this. They’ve auditioned for these parts and it’s evident right from day one that this is an activity they want to be part of. They are extremely creative and cooperative. It’s also neat to see that kind of enthusiasm and fun in such a broad age range.
“The kids also continue to build on their skills – they are really good risk-takers and willing really to trust the artistic team. Laurette Woodward is our musical director for this session, and she is so gifted in teaching and encouraging the kids and has such a great musicality and affection for the students. If it wasn’t for people like Laurette, it would be very hard to mount a musical like this.”
Interestingly, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer opened on Broadway at the Minskoff Theater on April 26th, 2001 and closed less than a month later. It was surprising, as reviews were strong. But as Orr points out, it just didn’t seem to be the right time for the play to succeed. “It had really good reviews, and really good reviews from people who brought their children.” But Broadway audiences at that time didn’t seem to be interested in something of a more family-oriented, wholesome nature.
“Although it was reviewed very well, they just didn’t have the ticket sales,” she added, pointing out that some have said folks weren’t really accustomed to bringing their kids to Broadway shows for the most part. Looking back at the time, Orr also said the bulk of the shows at the time were more of the ‘envelope-pushing’ type. “It just wasn’t the right time.”
However, the well-crafted, engaging production has enjoyed continual success in the years since in community theatres, she said, adding it seems to be the right season nowadays for staging a classic like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
“We need a little light, a little hope and a little encouragement.”
For Orr, the joy of being part of Cornerstone Youth Theatre stems largely from the inspiration she receives from her young actors.
“There is something so refreshing about it,” she explains. “The kids that I see – they are the future of this country. They are sharp, enthusiastic, intelligent, kind kids. To be able to work with them, and feel the spirit of hope in them is great. These are our adults of the future, and they are exciting to be alongside of. They are really inspiring. It’s emerging, uplifting and hopeful.”
For more information about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, check out www.cornerstoneyouththeatre.org or call 403-986-2981.