Santa Monica Playhouse goes live with four-person fairytale musical
By Bridgette M. Redman
Fairytales are always a favorite for family theater because the ways their surprises can effect audiences.
They’re especially useful to draw upon when live theater is still in a state of flux, with changing COVID-19 regulations and safety measures injecting uncertainty into what can safely be presented.
That’s why the Santa Monica Playhouse has turned to such stories as “Snow White,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Puss in Boots” and “The Frog Prince” for its Friday twilight shows running from now until September 24.
For Graham Silbert, who has been involved in the Playhouse for 26 years, it has been a labor of love. He co-wrote it, co-directed it and performs in it. He even helped to costume it. The education department of the Playhouse is where his heart is.
“I started taking workshop classes when I was 9 years old and I just never left,” Silbert said. “I grew up there and right after high school I started working in their education department, traveling internationally with them, and worked for their family theater.”
Now the pandemic has forced them to refocus. They moved a lot of their content online and tried to readapt shows for the online format.
“While it was a fun challenge, anyone who works in live theater will tell you that being on stage and having a live audience is where their heart is,”
Silbert said. “We had to figure out what would be a good show to bring audiences back.”
Many plays require large casts and are difficult to corral due to COVID-19 restrictions.
So, Silbert reached out to Evelyn Rudie, the Playhouse’s co-artistic director, about creating a four-person musical where the performers played the different characters in the show.
“We thought it would be fun to do this mish-mash of different fairy tales,” Silbert said. “We could adapt elements we already had and do mini-abridged versions with a loose tie between them. The audience gets a little of everything with a whole array of fairy tales all put together in 45 minutes.”
It was a task Silbert was well suited for in addition to being the school’s theater field trip coordinator and having performed in more than 50 productions with the Playhouse. He also leads “All the Queen’s Men Troupe” which retells classic fairytales every summer for LA PRIDE.
The result of Silbert and Rudie’s collaboration was “Ever After Take Two” featuring Tiffany Haile, Cydne Moore, Joseph Perez and Silbert. Rudie wrote the music and lyrics and Chris DeCarlo co-directs it. It is the first live musical at the Playhouse since the lockdown.
It’s an interactive show designed to keep the audience engaged and the children excited about what they are seeing. Silbert says they call upon the audience to help answer questions and to cast spells that help make magical elements happen. Then there is a chase scene where Hansel and Gretel are trying to escape from the witch. They ask the audience to help them hide and the witch keeps asking where they went.
“We do try to keep it interactive to keep the kids’ attention and the parents, especially after lockdown where everyone has been binge watching television,” Silbert said.
“They need the ‘Hey, we’re in live theater,’ and let them know they’re working with us.”
It’s been a choice that has worked well for them. On opening night, Silbert said there was a young girl in the audience, likely less than 2 years old who sat transfixed with her head between two seats. She couldn’t answer the questions, but she was staring at them the entire time. The mom told Silbert she’d never seen her daughter so enthralled.
Another day, there was a 6 year old calling out the answers to everything. Silbert said it’s even more rewarding when the adults start doing the same.
“If there is any time in your life you can forget your adult responsibilities, it is at the theater,” Silbert said. “It is a place to be fun, be free and be a kid again.”
The family shows used to be performed as weekend matinees, but currently the majority of the company is in school, has a day job or their lives have changed since the pandemic. They found Friday evening was the most opportune moment for all of them to be together and the 6 p.m. slot was good for parents to be done with work and they can still have dinner afterward and get home at a decent hour.
Each of the four actors have one main character that they play throughout the show and then five to eight other characters they play. Two of them play six of Snow White’s seven companions and everyone plays the Queen of Hearts at one point in the show.
“Whenever you’re not on stage, you’re frantically changing costumes,” Silbert said.
Silbert stressed that “Ever After Take Two” is not just a children’s show — it is family theater and is geared toward all ages. They’ve worked hard to make the musical attractive to young, old and in between. While there are plenty of fun antics for the youngest audiences, they pack in pop culture references and double entendre and word play for the adults.
“We hope to bridge the gap between kids and tweens, and teens and adults,” Silbert said. “A teenager can watch it and not feel like they are watching a show for kids and a kid can watch it and not feel it goes over their head. We try to reach every member of the audience on some level. We want older kids to realize that theater can be fun and exciting.”