Original rap will energize HFCC’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ audiences

Photo by Sue Suchyta

London Johnson (left) prepares to rescue the princess during a “Sleeping Beauty” rehearsal Thursday (Oct. 13) in Adray Auditorium. Other cast members include Dominic Lumuscio (second from left), Asia Robbinson, Tim Pollack, Kahrah Noel, Kirk Marcellus Hogan, Andrea Wells-Preister, Adam Kamrad, Joanna Graham, Robert Gray, India Jackson (seated, eleventh from left) and Drake Highgate (seated, right). Cast members all play multiple roles. The show runs Nov. 4 to 20, with 10 a.m. school matinees on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at Adray Auditorium in the MacKenzie Fine Arts Center on the Henry Ford Community College campus in Dearborn. For tickets and more information call (313) 845-9817 or email gadzuiblinski@hfcc.edu.

By Sue Suchyta
Henry Ford Community College’s annual theater production for young audiences, “Sleeping Beauty,” will energize the house with the preshow rap “Sleep” written for the production by cast member Asia Robbinson of Detroit, and performed by the cast with original hip hop choreography created by cast member Joanna Graham of Westland.

The show will run for three weekends, Nov. 4 to 20, with 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows and 2 p.m. Sunday matinees in the Adray Auditorium in the MacKenzie Fine Arts Center.

School matinees are at 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the three-week run.

The annual production is performed during the week for school groups to introduce local elementary and middle school students to live theater.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students with school identification and $6 for children 12 and under. Groups of 10 or more pay $5 per seat.

For tickets or more information call (313) 845-9817 or email gadzuiblinski@hfcc.edu.

Christopher Bremer is directing the show, for which Gerry Dzuiblinski is the technical director. Miekyle Turner is the assistant director and stage manager.

Because of the demanding daytime school performance schedule, the cast members will be able to perform multiple roles and will play different parts depending on the performance schedule. Most of the male cast members will be able to perform any of the male roles in the show.

The women in the cast include Shauna Hazime of Dearborn Heights, Courtney Butterfield of Redford Township, and Asia Robbinson, India Jackson and Betty L. Daniels of Detroit.

Other women in the cast include Danya Talab and Samantha York of Dearborn, Andrea Wells-Preister of Allen Park, Joanna Graham of Westland and Sabrina Loving of Romulus.

The male cast members include Adam Kamrad of Dearborn, Dominic Lomuscio of Dearborn Heights, Tim Pollock of Wyandotte, Robert Gray of Redford Township and Joey Kulza of Brownstown Township.

Other men in the cast include Detroit residents Drake Highgate, Kirk Marcellus Hogan, London Johnson, Kahrah Noel and Vic Angelo Offutt.

The story of “Sleeping Beauty” that most remember is that of an angry fairy who, when she is excluded from the infant princess’ christening party curses her to die of a spindle prick when she becomes an adult. A good fairy negates the curse as best she can by softening the death curse into a hundred-year sleep.

However, in addition to the inclusion of upbeat original music and dance, the HFCC cast performs a version of the story that offers insight into why the “bad fairy” was so angry and vindictive.

Daniels, one of the actresses who play Griselda, the “mean” fairy, says that their version is not locked into a bygone era, which allows them to make it hipper.

“The kids can identify with the language and the attitude,” Daniels said. “It’s a different reality base.”

Daniels said that the story suggests that the mean fairy wouldn’t have become that way if the others hadn’t excluded her.

“The whole idea is that if you ostracize a person, then you’re turning them down a path that makes them not a part of the group,” Daniels said. “If you had included them in the group they would have (had) a different personality.”

Daniels, who is older than most of the other cast members, said she updated the mean fairy from the character she remembers to a character hipper and with attitude.

Butterfield, who plays several different roles in the show and who handles the school group reservations, said that some of the special effects being used will be eye-popping to the student audiences.

“We’ve got colorful costumes, it’s nice and quirky, and it is fun, fast-paced and it will keep their attention as well,” Butterfield said.

She said the story is not exactly what audiences expect it to be, and there are some plot twists to the story.

She also hopes that children will understand that the personality of characters in a story reflect the way that they are treated.

“You should include everyone… this all happened because Griselda (the mean fairy) didn’t get invited,” Butterfield said. “And she was left out so she felt bad. So if they take (away) that you need to include everybody and don’t be mean, I’d be happy.”

She added that “Sleeping Beauty” is a fun, fast-paced show that children and adults will have fun watching.

Butterfield, like much of the cast, plays multiple roles depending on the performance schedule. She plays both of the good fairies, Morwinda and Torwinda, and also plays the queen, Penelope, and Beatrice, better known as “Sleeping Beauty.”

“It’s definitely different because they’ve each got different personalities,” Butterfield said. “So it’s a little bit of a challenge to get all of them.”

Robbinson, who wrote the pre-show rap song, said it is the first hip hop rap song she has written that is just for kids. She focused on the central plot of “Sleeping Beauty,” and drew inspiration from the musical styles found in Disney and Nickelodeon shows.

“I tried to make it fun, tried to make it have enough energy to the point where they can dance,” Robbinson said. “It’s a way to liven the audience up before what happens goes on.”

She said it was Bremer’s idea for her to write a song for the show, since it was her first audition for a play and she was very nervous.

When he asked her what her skills were, she said she could write anything, including songs.

When Brehmer challenged Robbinson on a Tuesday to write a song for the show in two days, in time for the next Thursday rehearsal, she rose the occasion and created the rap song “Sleep.”

Dzuiblinski said audiences will get a modern version of the “Sleeping Beauty” folk tale.

“Because there are both traditional and modern elements in it, hopefully they’ll be able to relate it to their relationships in their lives,” Dzuiblinski said.

He added that in addition to providing the student actors with an opportunity to play to young audiences, it gave two students the chance to create original music and choreography.

“It’s a high energy opening for the show, and it kind of sets the tone for the show in the sense that they’re not going to be seeing a purely traditional version of the fairy tale,” Dzuiblinski said. “And it hopefully gets the audience’s focus into the show very quickly.”

He said it adds a twist that lets one see the fairy tale from a different point of view.

“Rather than try to create – as many fairy tales do in the end – the punishment of the evil character, it’s like, OK, well, she’s lonely and she’s mean so let’s invite her to our party so she can be part of us, part of the group.”

Dzuiblinski said there is a brief talk-back session after the show so the audience can share their thoughts and opinions with the actors.

“We also want to build audience members so that young people enjoy live theater and not just media performance,” Dzuiblinski said. “I hope that the audiences enjoy (it) and have a lot of fun because I think it’s a really fun show.”