It says something about the caliber of the work of the Children’s Theatre Company that the world premiere of “The Scarecrow and His Servant” is such an enchantment.
Peter Brosius’ marvelous production of Philip Pullman’s young-adult novel, which opened Friday in Minneapolis, has eye-popping design (scenic and costume elements were created by G.W. Mercier), clever language (Jeffrey Hatcher did the pun-happy adaptation) and a dynamic acting company. Altogether, they take us on a journey that feels like a weird storybook adventure come to engrossing life.
The fanciful plot revolves around inheritance, family feuds and an unlikely friendship between a hungry orphan boy named Jack (Brandon Brooks) and an effigy that springs to life after being struck by lightning. Childless farmer Pandolfo (Reed Sigmund) dies, leaving his productive land to his Scarecrow (Dean Holt) instead of to his poisonous relations.
But those relatives, represented by Cercorelli (Gerald Drake), are intent on getting the land. They go after the stilt-walking Scarecrow and Jack, who fight off armies, drift out to sea and end up on a desert isle.
To a man and a woman, the cast is splendid. Holt, flawless on stilts, has impeccable timing and a wonderful physicality. His Scarecrow is only brainless when it’s convenient. Otherwise, he is full of wit and winking verve.
Brooks’ Jack, the straight man to Holt’s Scarecrow, is all heart and wide-eyed innocence. His eager-beaver Jack is an ideal helpmate as he tries to save his master and change their relationship to something more equitable.
With his overlong shoes, hands and moussed hair, Drake’s Cercorelli is imbued with elements of Dracula and a mafia don, with a side of Liberace. From his studied walk to his sinister articulation, he entertainingly commands the stage like a lost member of “The Addams Family.”
Reed Sigmund offers both unbridled physicality as Colonel Bombardo and quietude as the Judge, just two of his many roles.
The cast, all of whom play multiple parts, includes Autumn Ness as Granny Raven; an unrecognizable Traci Allen Shannon as a tantalizing Cook; Kory Laquess Pullam as Doctor Carpenter, and Lauren Davis in a number of energetic ensemble parts.
The acting company really delivers in “Scarecrow,” a show that has something that I never imagined I would see onstage: a tender moment of cannibalism. Jack’s motivation for becoming the wingman for the Scarecrow is hunger. He stays hungry until the end of the two-hour production when, while on the desert isle, the scarecrow offers his turnip noggin to the hungry boy. Jack sates himself. I started to go “eww” but the scene turns and I was back into the charms of a “Scarecrow” escapade.