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Full “Moon”

Theatre IV’s delightful “Sing Down the Moon” puts an Appalachian spin on some familiar tales.

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The play is a collection of six old Appalachian stories, several of which are based on popular fairytales like Jack and the Beanstalk and The Three Little Pigs. But these so-called Jack tales often add nuance and depth to the Disneyfied versions, making them both fresh and familiar. For instance, in the Cinderellalike “Catskins,” the heroine doesn’t have a pair of clueless evil stepsisters, just one clever one who nearly steals the local rich boy right out from under Catskins’ nose.

Regardless of their sources, these tales are packed with adventure and humor to engage the kids, while the production adds hearty music and lovely vocal performances to provide ample entertainment for the grown-ups.

“Moon” is another in the long line of meticulously designed, brilliantly executed plays that Theatre IV has presented on the Empire Theatre stage. Joel Sherry’s set is stunning, with an enormous pockmarked moon as its centerpiece. Unexpected details add delight to every scene — from the pink shoes that the little pigs wear to the accent lighting that turns the space beneath the stage’s trap door into a fiery hell. Making the biggest impression are the larger-than-life puppets that Theatre IV borrowed from the original “Sing Down the Moon” production in Fairfax, Va. They help make scenes with giants and magical animals truly awesome.

Director Steve Perigard has assembled a winning cast of seasoned performers and sends them about their work expertly. The pace never flags during this two-hour show, so there wasn’t an antsy child in the house — even among the younger-than-6 crowd.

Each cast member does such an excellent job that it’s hard to single anyone out as a standout. In “Jack’s First Job,” Theatre IV veteran Ford Flannagan proves to be particularly adept at physical comedy. He plays the dimwitted Jack, who sets out to make his fortune though he can barely walk and talk at the same time, not to mention raking or shoveling. Robin Harris makes for a comely Catskins, her sweet strong voice complementing an engaging stage presence. And Gordon Bass is a hoot as the curly-tailed mother pig in the play’s comic highlight, “The Sow and Her Three Pigs.”

All of this is backed up by a rock-solid band led by musical director Amy Hruska. The sprightly sound of violin and banjo adds energy to many scenes, while the somber double bass adds a melancholy tone to others.

By the time this review shows up in print, there’ll be a precious few weeks of spring weather left but even fewer performances of “Sing Down the Moon” remaining. It may be hard to give up an afternoon or evening at this time of year, but this is one production worth making the sacrifice for. S

“Sing Down the Moon” plays at Theatre IV’s Empire Theatre, 114 W. Broad St., at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday through May 9. Tickets cost $18, call 344-8040.


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