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First Stage’s Flawed But Fun ‘Thief Lord’

Theater Review

Jan. 25, 2010
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Milwaukee’s top-notch children’s theater, First Stage, recently opened a world premiere production of The Thief Lord. The show, based on the best-selling novel by Cornelia Funke, continues through Feb. 14.

The book is ripe for a stage version, as it contains magic, mystery, adventure and a group of young orphans who are clever enough to outwit the adult characters. Wisconsin actor and playwright James DeVita neatly brings all these elements together. The show will be best enjoyed by children old enough to read the book, as the relatively long stretches of dialogue (particularly in Act I) may cause younger kids to fidget (as occurred on opening night). The production really takes off in Act II, as a magical carrousel transforms children into adults, and adults into children. Naturally, the results are pure mayhem.

First Stage shows are always double cast, and the Guardian Angels performed on opening night. Particularly strong performances were given by Avi Wolf Borouchoff and Tyler Johnson as a pair of brothers who are first seen eluding the police. They are rescued by a band of orphans led by the self-proclaimed “thief lord,” impressively played by Nathan Kluge. All the children play well off the adult actors, which include Drew Brhel, Joe Foust, Elaine Wyler and Molly Glynn. Adult actors remain the same for each performance.

The production’s only drawback is a set that suggests the bridges and canals of Venice. It is lovely, but limiting. The story jumps around to various locations without any set alterations. Lavish homes, an abandoned movie theater, etc., are only suggested through dialogue. It is particularly disappointing that the island (where the carrousel is stored) didn’t merit special treatment. For instance, the island is accessible only by boat, yet no boats appear to ferry the brave orphans. The carrousel’s size is also limited by the set design. The carrousel is a key element to the story and one wishes it could have been more prominently displayed.

Aside from the lack of production elements, the show has many fine moments. Director Jeff Frank keeps things moving along at a fast pace.

The Thief Lord runs through Feb. 14 at the Todd Wehr Theater.


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