[Free Lance-Star] Young life: Riverside Children's Theater presents 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'

By Collette Caprara FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR - Oct 17, 2018

The latest feature from Riverside Children’s Theater, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” will whisk audiences away to a fantastic realm where trees and woodland creatures are animated and talkative and a wise sorceress’ magical feats are just a hand-wave away. At the same time, it brings home a lasting life message that the world of nature has a magic of its own that is perceptible only to those with the heart and eyes to appreciate it and that we have the power to achieve our dreams if we are willing to listen and work hard. All of which is conveyed through a crew of winsome—sometimes comically over-played—characters and a good measure of physical comedy that will elicit smiles, giggles and laughter.

As the action begins, young Charles (Chasqui Mooney-Guerra), orphaned and hungry, happens to find himself in the midst of what he will discover is an enchanted forest. His hardscrabble life has taught him to fend for himself, take what he needs when there is opportunity, and choose the easiest and quickest path to get what he wants. When he helps himself to the bounty of an orange tree and ponders the possibility of eating a groundhog, he unleashes a chorus of flora and fauna, proclaiming the dignity and value of all forest beings as well as the advice of a woodland mentor, the Baron (Thomas Hammerbacker).

Charles learns that the central power and protector of the forest and its creatures is a sorceress, Marguerite (Kim McDowell), who is wise, a bit set in her ways, and in search of an apprentice who she can train to help in her mission. For Charles, it’s a “job opportunity,” and he presents himself as the likely candidate.

Yet the qualifications that Marguerite is seeking most in her apprentice are qualities of character—a humble willingness to learn and listen, follow directions, and take the steps necessary to achieve a goal. Though from their first meeting she intuits that Charles is the one, she presents him with three tasks to see if he can measure up before she entrusts him with any power. With each challenge, Charles’ arrogance and disobedience cause him to fail, and the sorceress, angry and disappointed, dismisses him.

Charles’ plight opens the door for the entrance of sinister, wheedling conman Big John King (David Schubert), and his slithering demon minion (Angela Beale). A second-rate conjuror with plans to take dominion of the forest, King sees Charles as a tool to find and defeat Marguerite, and, with syrupy concern and unfounded promises, lures Charles to divest the information he needs to attack the sorceress. After gaining what he wants, King promptly imprisons Charles and, with his demons, attacks and overpowers Marguerite.

Though Charles managed to flee the dungeon and was safely in the distance, when he learns that Marguerite is laid low and about to meet her demise, he summons the courage to bound back and confront King and his evil cohorts. In an enthralling battle of magic—complete with levitating wands and hurling fireballs—Charles is victorious and restores Marguerite’s power, securing her benevolent dominion and his role as her apprentice.

“Charles’ victory was not because of his magical abilities but because he chose to do the right thing, in spite of the danger involved,” said Thompson, “That is another important message of the story—that it is always within our power to do what is right.”

The production is a truly an uplifting treat not only because of the extraordinary talent of its cast of 12, but also because all the actors seem to enjoy their roles and take them to the fullest. The self-congratulatory, Southern-belle Miss Orange Tree (Olivia Thomas) elicits teasing criticism from her fellow flora, Miss Grapevine (Talitha Muggeridge) and Juniper Bush (Elijah Beale) and Who the owl (Mathias Spangler). One of the most hilarious scenes of the show is the wild tantrum of guilt that Jeremy the Groundhog (Madeline McDonough) displays in an effort to win sympathy (and a muffin) from Charles. And, as the growling, grunting, grossly inept axe-swinging guard Gordagu, Thomas Hammerbacker elicits gales of laughter.

“This show will be a bonding and memorable experience for families,” said Thompson. “A live performance has much more impact than something you see on television or a movie, because you are right in the middle of it. I hope families will leave with a smile and the message that magic is not about being able to cast spells, but being aware of and caring for the world around us. That’s a magic all of its own.”

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.