Before Alan Menken became the go-to composer for big Disney animated musicals, he scored with a seldom seen, highly praised musical-comedy adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, which had a decent run off-Broadway in 1979. Then he and lyricist partner Howard Ashman hit it big time in 1982 with The Little Shop of Horrors, which had a five-year run on Broadway. In between, he wrote several shows that were not produced, including The Dream on Royal Street, with lyrics by David Rogers and book by June Walker Rogers. That show is a musical reworking of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in the Royal Street Hotel in modern New Orleans at Mardi Gras time. Most of the usual characters are there and the plot is updated and intact with even a smattering of authentic lines from the great, well-loved comedy. After hearing a nearby audience member confessing she had never seen or read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I am reminded that the plot may not be common knowledge. It is a whimsical thing too complex to recount here.
The production of The Dream on Royal Street now playing at Sierra Madre Playhouse boasts a cast of young actors who play the quartet of star-crossed young lovers, a trio of back up singers (the delightful Julianna Guzman, Aidan O’Connor and Kiyomi Wu-Inouye), and bell boys who rehearse a song version of the story of Pyramus and Thisby as part of Shakespeare’s famous characters, the “rude mechanicals.”
The kids are supported by some adult theatre veterans. The feuding fairy couple of Oberon (Christopher Showerman) and Titania (Rachel McLaughlan) are, in this telling of the story, a Vegas-bound singing duo at odds with each other. Their manager, Puck (Tom Sebenius), is a harried, put upon sort, a kvetcher who gripes at having to do Oberon’s bidding.
The young lovers who run around in the dark are a sweet bunch of teens. Hermia (Lucy Ferrante) loves hotel staffer Lysander (Daniel Betts), who loves her right back. Hermia’s mother, hotel owner Mrs. Egeus (Leslie Thompson), is determined that she will marry the handsome Demetrius (Fionn James), her assistant manager. Then there is poor Helena (Anna Cohen, who has some serious comedic chops), in love with Demetrius, who rudely scorns her. Through Puck’s fairy magic, the affections get ludicrously scrambled in the semi-dark night.
The quintet of hotel staffers that comprise the rude mechanicals are the adults Bottom (Thomas Colby) an enthusiastic, grandstanding idiot, and the fretful Quince (Rich Cassone), who tries his best to direct the motley crew. Totally stealing the show, the three young performers are slapstick enthusiasts. As Snug, a scrambling Kevin Ying makes losing his hat a prime piece of business. Julian Moser as Flute hates the thought of playing the girl’s role of Thisby, then makes it work with wry humor. And Patrick Geringer as Snout shows an endearing giddy enthusiasm when representing the wall that separates Pyramus and Thisby.
The young people take their work seriously, delivering performances that are heartfelt and sincere. They are just at the beginning of learning the ins and outs of theatrical performance and one can see some genuine, budding talent. They sing well, but need more training. They execute Amy Lim’s detailed choreography with drilled precision. They stand in contrast to the adult performers who indulge in loud, broad, over-the-top playing that blasts out at the audience.
As for the property itself, one can see why The Dream on Royal Street did not go into production in 1981. The music and lyrics are not memorable and the book is clunky. It may be that the style of show, under the direction of Alison Kalmus, was an effort to breathe some life into it. The best reason to see this show is the kids. They are the enchantment in this version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Dream on Royal Street, a Second Stage presentation by Alison Kalmus Theatre, runs Thursdays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm and Sundays at 7:00pm through August 13 at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre, California.