‘The King’ lives again in latest Opal theater production

Rick Whitney (King Winifred) ponders his decision to attack the neighboring kingdom in a poignant solo. Whitney displayed an amazing array of emotions, from sadness to hilarity.

Last year, audiences delighted to the world premier of “The King Who Wanted a Whale,” a children’s book by local author Hal Holbrook adapted as a stage play at the Opal Center for Arts and Education.

Now, local audiences will have a chance to see King Rupert and his minions continue their antics in “The King is Dead! The King is Dead!” But this year Holbrook has added music.

Holbrook is an accomplished musician, playing both the banjo and the guitar, and has been a member of the group “Windy Ridge” for several years. His compositions for this show are catchy and entertaining, repeating rhymes and choruses that make the audience want to sing along. 

Sometimes they do. 

He accompanies the actors with live banjo and guitar. 

The funky little Opal Center, located in a storefront on Main Street, is the ideal place to enjoy this play. The characters wear suggestions of animal costumes, outfits that could have been created by children from a dress-up box or the Goodwill, but for this show they do the job perfectly. 

This is, after all, a show that suspends reality and takes the audience into the world of a child’s imagination. The children dressed as soldiers are brave and well-prepared, the Royal Steward (Betsy Smith) is graceful and dignified and the Royal Chief Engineer (Elaine Slatore as an iguana) brings great energy to the stage. Slatore, an experienced actress, brought her usual level of professionalism.

Both the kings, King Rupert (Paul von Rotz) and King Winifred (Rick Whitney) were appropriately regal and stalwart. Even though von Rotz was occasionally fighting his ram’s horns, his smile made it all worthwhile.

This audience member noticed a few particularly memorable spots in the show: Charles Mattoon’s bird/narrator moved about the stage with the grace of a really big bird. His tie and his matching feather boutonniere were a perfect touch; the audience was totally silent during King Winifred’s (Rick Whitney) poignant solo reflection about his decision to go to war, a clear sign they were hanging on every note; and King Rupert’s Messenger Boy (Eliana Piltz) was delightful with her song and dance to “I Gotta Hurry.”  

Rounding out the strong cast under the direction of Carmen Dowell were Dale Flynn, the Royal Chef; Raven Foraker, multiple parts; Nyles Julien, multiple parts; Zoe McCartney, King Winifred’s Messenger girl; June Smith, multiple parts; Monica Venice, multiple parts; McKenzie Jarvis, multiple parts; Ricky Orendorff, multiple parts.

The projected backgrounds along with minimal set pieces completed the feeling of being inside a children’s book. The audience was free to focus totally on the actor’s expressions, broad gestures and delightful songs that were the heart of this show. 

The play, like all good children’s stories, even came with a moral: Be careful about spreading rumors.

The Sound and Light operator, Junior Rodriguez, handled his responsibilities smoothly even though he had learned a new system very recently.

One of the most satisfying aspects of watching a show like this one is knowing that the youngest actors, the ones struggling to maintain character and keep their focus, are learning amazing theater lessons. 

In five years these are the actors and actresses who will be taking the stage at the Very Little Theatre and the Cottage Theatre. 

One great example of the collaboration between the author and the cast was the song, “Better Than Caviar.” Originally this song was to be Brittany Dreier’s song with the rest of the cast just joining in on the “Better Than Caviar” chorus line. 

At one rehearsal, however, the entire cast was singing every word along with Brittany. The author, the director and the cast held a vote and it was decided: everybody would sing the entire song. 

Now that’s collaboration!

Additional performances of “The King is Dead! The King is Dead!” will be on March 24, 25 and June 1 at 7 p.m. Matinee performances will be May 26 and June 2 at 2:30 p.m.

General admission tickets are $12 or $10 for students and seniors.

Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com and at The Crafty Mercantile on West Main Street next to the Opal Center or at the door.

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