by Cate Blouke
Special to the American-Statesman
Adults could learn a lot by paying attention to children’s stories. They tend to teach valuable lessons about sharing and caring and treating people well – which it seems like a lot of us forget by the time we go off to college.
“Stone Soup,” the Theater For All production of Summer Stock Austin’s season, playing through Aug. 9 at the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theatre, is a classic folk tale turned into a charming piece of musical theater.
Written and directed by Allen Robertson with his “Biscuit Brothers” co-writer Damon Brown, the show tells the story of an adventurous young traveler, Alex (Vincent Hooper), who stumbles into a stone city that’s uncharacteristically hostile to strangers.
The evil mayor Imperia (Sarah Yoakley) has taken the adage “good fences make good neighbors” and gone off the deep end with it. In an effort to maintain her power, Imperia has stirred the townspeople into such a fearful frenzy, they’re working day and night mining stones to build a wall one thousand feet tall. This has the effect of creating an ominous atmosphere of suspicion, as well as allowing for some delightful choreography involving shovels-turned-batons.
Robertson’s music is catchy and fun, and it’s just a shame that the musical accompaniment in the production is recorded rather than live. It ends up sounding a bit shallow next to the robust singing of the cast.
But the ensemble is talented and brings energy and enthusiasm to the show. To balance the grim tone of life in the bleak stone city, there’s plenty of humor and some nice physical comedy between the citizens Winkin’ (Noah Villereal), Blinkin’ (Ronan Melomo), and Nod (Monica Oliva).
When the townspeople refuse Alex any food, he convinces them he can make “stone soup” in the town well. Charming them into inadvertently cooperating, he succeeds in both rescuing a girl, Nadia (Kalie Naftzger), from the bottom of the well (where Imperia had thrown her for questioning authority) and cooking a delicious soup with the ingredients the townspeople contribute.
In his role as the curious and charming explorer, Hooper brings unswerving optimism and smooth dance moves to the production. A gifted performer, Hooper shines just as brightly in this show as he does in SSA’s concurrent production of “Footloose,” where he plays a much more somber role.
In the end, “Stone Soup” is a cute and funny family show, with some nice meta-theatrical flourishes (when Imperia calls for back up dancers) and just the right amount of moralizing.