TThe tusked star of Kate DiCamillo’s novel The Magician’s Elephant arrives, like Dumbo, from the sky. This elephant does not fall into a traveling circus, but into an opera house in the city of Baltese and its arrival lifts the spirits of its war-weary inhabitants. Now, this musical adaptation, directed by Sarah Tipple, is coming to the Royal Shakespeare Theater to welcome audiences again for the first time since it closed last March.
The musical was set before the pandemic, but its story of collective mourning, recovery and reconnection rings with our present moment. And who doesn’t love an elephant? Puppet director Mervyn Millar and fellow designer Tracy Waller have created a beauty that, controlled by three puppeteers inside, tickles the butt with her trunk, flaps her ears and instantly delights audiences midway through this morning.
The arrival of the elephant binds the life of orphan Peter, desperate to solve the mystery of his sister; Peter’s tutor, Vilna, who trains the boy to be a soldier and not a dreamer; Countess Quintet, furious that she is no longer the center of attention; and Léo, a policeman with the soul of a poet. The novel’s slight plot has undergone a slight tinkering, and over 145 minutes the characterization remains as thin as it is in the original. The key role of Madame LaVaughn, the noblewoman crushed by the elephant, is reduced to just a few lines.
In their adaptation, Nancy Harris (book and lyrics) and Marc Teitler (music and lyrics) judiciously construct three comic roles. Forbes Masson is criminally funny as an exasperated police chief whose baton is filled with alcohol. Miriam Nyarko, triumphant in RSC’s The Boy in the Dress, is stunning again as fiery orphan Adele, with a much bigger agency than in the novel. And in the role of the narrator, Amy Booth-Steel is as great as she was despicable in the National Theater panto Dick Whittington, playing with the same gleam in her eyes and the same spring in her step, often winking. eye to the public.
There are also witty rhymes in the songs. Guilty As Charged discovers that Masson is desperately trying to blame the elephant for a crime, and The Count Who Does Not Count is a lament from the eclipsed other half of Countess Quintet, who has “a title no one reads”. Jack Wolfe as Peter delivers an enchanting ballad, A Lot Like Me, but few of the melodies stick with you and the show’s liveliest sequences are tempered by a moralizing and overly sentimental air that slows down the episodes in between. Even turning a manure bucket isn’t as gleefully chaotic as it could be. Sometimes, to paraphrase RSC’s own Matilda, you have to be a little meaner.
It’s a brave Christmas spectacle that uses such cold and dark colors, but designer Colin Richmond’s elephantine gray and ivory palette captures the dreary days of the Baltics. The concentric arches of her ensemble make us feel like we are under an elephant, or even inside its trunk, and as a countess, Summer Strallen’s black and white dresses align her with her enemy colleague. of animals Cruella de Vil.
Harris and Teitler raise a wide range of issues, aptly exploring how the elephant is exploited and dividing the community, but the exaggerated messages about achieving the impossible begin to seem forgettable. But the elephant itself, heroically powered by Zoe Halliday, Wela Mbusi and Suzanne Nixon, is unforgettable.