Technical wizardry wows at Delaware Theatre Company

Delaware Theatre Company's 2017 production of Something Wicked This Way Comes. (photo by Mark Miller)

Technology took a starring role Saturday night when the Delaware Theatre Company ushered in its 39th season with its most sophisticated production to date: the world premiere of a musical adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

“I’m excited that people see this kind of technology in the theatre for the first time,” said DTC Executive Director Bud Martin. “It’s exciting but it’s not without its risks.”

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Martin had reservations about staging so dark a work in his venue when writer Brian Hill and composer Neil Bartram contacted him last year. Then there was the larger concern: how would they do the magic? Bradbury’s novel combines elements of horror and fantasy as it spins the tale of an evil carnival—Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show– that rolls into a small Midwestern town one late October evening during the Great Depression.

Enter Freckled Sky, the Chicago-based multimedia company that creates new forms of entertainment using high-end technologies. Director Rachel Rockwell saw its visually animated dance act on “America’s Got Talent” two years ago and asked owner Val Syganevich if he’d be willing to apply his expertise to the stage.

 

What started as a production with few physical products quickly morphed into one featuring eight projectors, 16 intelligent moving lights, a computationally intelligent video wall with a series of LED panels and a scrim on which to project special effects.

Audiences see a character set on fire, an electrocution and a maze of mirrors that reflects characters’ fears and desires. And if that’s not enough, there’s a Dust Witch who crosses the stage in a hot air balloon.

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“We’ve never done anything like it and I can tell you that the people I’ve brought in to help us do a show of this scale have said they don’t know of any regional or Off-Broadway theatres that have even attempted to do this kind of work,” said Martin.

Story over spectacle

Fears that the technology would upstage the actors are firmly laid to rest by projection designer Shawn Sagady. “It really comes down to supporting the actors onstage and their ability to tell the story and not trying to be a spectacle,” he said. “It’s always a very fine line that we walk.”

Indeed, while the effects are jaw-dropping, the kaleidoscopic visual spectacle pales beside the story’s human values and the moving affirmation of good triumphing over evil. Rob Riddle is brilliantly malevolent as Mr. Dark, the sinister antagonist who initially holds sway over the other characters, including his partner Mr. Cooger skillfully played by Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton. Meghan Murphy is wonderfully wicked as the Dust Witch whose increased sensitivity to others eventually does her in. Steve Pacek is effective as the twitchy, anxious Lightning Rod Salesman, who narrates the action with Bradbury’s wonderfully poetic prose. Marian Murphy is the prim schoolteacher Miss Foley who discovers that recovering lost youth presents more problems than aging.

Delaware Theatre Company's 2017 production of Something Wicked This Way Comes
(photo by Matt Urban)

But it is the trio of Stephen Bogardus (Charles Halloway), John Francis Babbo (Will Halloway) and Sawyer Nunes (Jim Nightshade) that convey the moral gravity. Bogardus is exceptional as the middle-aged widower wracked with grief over the untimely death of his young wife Beth (Clare O’Malley) and conflicted over his relationship with his son. He is at his finest singing the wistful “Two Hearts” and the encouraging “Being Good.”

Babbo portrays a straight-as-an-arrow Will who studiously avoids danger yet musters the courage to fight the carnival’s evil power. It is his friendship with Nunes’ impetuous Jim that saves the latter from the carnival’s temptations.

Costume designer Theresa Ham, wig and hair designer Steven Bryant, choreographer Katie Spelman and set designer Scott Davis and lighting designer Greg Hoffman all deserve a standing ovation as do the rest of the cast and crew.

And so does the nine-piece orchestra—playing from the theatre’s loading dock– that makes Neil Bartram’s powerful score sound fantastic.

Technically dazzling, wonderfully heartwarming and deliciously evil, this is the perfect entertainment for an eerie fall night.

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If you go:

  • What: “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
  • Where: Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water Street, Wilmington, DE
  • When: Now through October 8
  • For more information and to purchase tickets, go to: www.delawaretheatre.org
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