Courtesy of The Blue Ridge Leader
AURORA STUDIO'S TREASURE
Review by Mark Dewey
Published March 15, 2007
Fifteen minutes into Aurora Studio Theater’s current production, “Treasures: The Musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” I said to myself: “Imagine what these people could do in a facility as good as they are!”
With little more than a few props and painted sheets, the cast and crew had already managed to turn the small, rudimentary stage at the Old Stone Schoolhouse into Aunt Polly’s front yard, Aunt Polly’s kitchen, a churchyard, a church sanctuary, a crossroads, an open field, and a schoolhouse. Later settings would include a courtroom, a cave, Becky’s bedroom window, a cemetery, and the woods. So many scenes you couldn’t help but hear the drapery rods rattling when the painted sheets were changed.
Imagine the show such talented people could produce on a stage large enough to hold the whole cast! With spotlights that didn’t flicker on and off and something more substantial than sheets for scenery!
Some time after the church service, when the worshippers had to sit among us, pretending that the first two rows of audience seating were pews, I changed my mind: high production values might distract me from the show’s real treasure: its people.
In her program notes, director Millie Juraschek says that this large cast, most of whom are children, is among the best she’s ever worked with. “It looks as though I labored intensely,” Juraschek says, “when really all they needed was a little encouragement to make my notes come to life…. Their own character development in combination with Mark Twain’s style perfected my vision for this show.”
The play’s main characters are children, most of whom are played by child actors, including young Garrett Milich as Tom Sawyer. Milich sings in an unusual register, somewhere between alto and tenor, perhaps. His voice is clear, strong, and unwavering on pitch. Maddy Curtis plays Tom’s girlfriend, Becky Thatcher, and she sings beautifully, her voice thoroughly convincing in every context.
Casting Christopher Saunders as Huck Finn was a risky decision because Saunders is conspicuously older and larger than Milich—he played a disillusioned army captain in Aurora Studio Theater’s recent production “Arms and the Highlander”—so at first he seems out of place as young Tom’s best friend. But one quickly recalls that Huck is in fact more complicated and more mature than Tom, and those differences are aptly communicated through the difference in stature and age.
The play is a series of vignettes adapted from Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Some of Twain’s dialog comes through verbatim, offering moments of fond remembrance to spectators who know the book. Both the novel and the play are aimed at children; the adults involved in the production expertly set the stage for the children, who remind us that good children’s theater is far from juvenile.
One might quibble that the second act runs a little too long for the patience of children younger than seven or eight, and that the “Everything Is a Treasure” message gets kind of thick in the last fifteen minutes. After all, Twain himself wrote that anyone trying to find a message in the sequel to Tom Sawyer would be shot, though he probably didn’t mean it.
“Treasures: The Musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer” was written by Dolly Stevens and Tom Sweitzer, beloved long-time members of the local theater community. Stevens is currently the director of The Spotlight Studio, where she offers private lessons for actors and singers. Switzer is the artistic director of the Creative Youth Theater Foundation and Head of Theater at the Hill School in Middleburg. The show had its first run eight years ago in the same venue, Hillsboro’s Old Stone Schoolhouse, and it’s now enjoying a revival run through March 25. Musical director for the current production is Diane El-Shafey; Assistant musical director is Carmen Oliverez; and the choreographer is Kellie Barr. For more information, call 540-338-3493.