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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (streamed online)

Sweep away any ideas about dancing brooms carrying buckets of water for a cartoon mouse. With just an orchestral nod to Paul Dukas, this goes back to the J. W. Goethe poem for its inspiration, while adding a contemporary twist to the tale.

In Midguard, local business Lydekker harvests light from the Aurora Borealis to create a source of cheap power. Resident magician Gottel is sure this is a bad thing, but a magistrate rules against him and the exploitation continues. Gottel’s daughter Eva tries to impress visiting student Erik, setting off a chain of events which eventually puts literally the universe to rights.

Taking the broom as a metaphor for Mother Nature, Ben Morales Frost (music) and Richard Hough (book and lyrics) blend in current hot topics ecology, economy and equality to allow (arguably more stage-friendly) light rather than water to mix with magic at the centre of their tale.

The result is one of those very rare theatrical productions which require absolutely equal weight to be shared between music, book, lyric, performance and stagecraft in order to stand any chance of flying. Fortunately, the balance here is right and, just like their inspiration, there are frequent shafts of dazzling colour soaring across the theatrical skies.

Online streaming is also an advantage. The camera allows us into, rather than just gaze up at, the magician’s home in the opening scene and later to experience the excellence of the puppetry from characters’ rather than audience perspective.

Even as an ensemble show, several actors make particular impact. Newcomer Mary Moore (Eva Gottel) is helped by being given the best songs. “Ode To My Father” is a classic “I want” construction. Act one closer “Spellbound” proves a duet to be reckoned with - and chance for Yazdan Qafouri (Erik) to demonstrate his own abilities. Lastly, “You Hardly Know Me” is a fine second half showing. Her handling of well-crafted special effects (designed by Scott Penrose) demonstrates too her future versatility.

Mark Pickering (Fabian Lydekker) receives the heavy-duty comedy, and rises to the occasion in scene-stealing style. Dominating every single one, only his mother Lamia (Dawn Hope, above even her usual fine form) has a chance of reasoning with him – though neat-timer Vicki Lee Taylor (Nanny) has even more effective methods.

Title character Gottel is surprisingly lightly written compared to the others. David Thaxton does as well as any father of a teenage daughter can within confined circumstances. Fortunately, later on when Maia Kirkman-Richards gives his fears stunning physical form and puppetry director Scarlet Wilderink adds glorious animation, he rises finally to the occasion.

It is the details which often lift this show. Anna Kelsey issues factory outfits in shades of green, an ironic reference given the workers’ function. Her sets are littered with touches that define homes, streets and workplaces as more than simple visual cues – and the fun main machine is rather a triumph. Clancy Flynn’s lighting partners the designs by choosing the bright warmth of this living community over Nordic gloom.

Choreographer Steven Harris and director Charlotte Westenra balance expertly the needs of both recorded and live experience. The pace is brisk with ensemble numbers having both stage and cinematic quality. Of note are the transitions between scenes – seen, but as natural as they are unobtrusive.

The book may be a little thin, particularly in the second half as one misplaced song and one or two redundant lyrics slow rather than speed action to its conclusion. These do show up against the better material, as proof of how strong the latter mostly is.

There is enough imagination and variety in the show for it to be sure of becoming a staple of musical theatre festivals and high schools in years to come. That this production will be available as a reference for future casts will thus be a bonus. It is worth taking this opportunity to be first in on an emerging public favourite.

4 stars.

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Photo credit: Geraint Lewis. Used by kind permission.

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