Arts & Entertainment

‘Selfish Giant’ Pairs Kid Talents With Puppet Show

The great plays of Oscar Wilde have been performed all over the world for over 100 years. However, many of his lesser-known stories and plays have not had the honor of being presented to larger audiences. But composer Matt Conner, narrator and puppeteer Stephen Smith and a cast of children at the Creative Cauldron have adapted the little-known Wilde story “The Selfish Giant” into a mini musical.

The great plays of Oscar Wilde have been performed all over the world for over 100 years. However, many of his lesser-known stories and plays have not had the honor of being presented to larger audiences. But composer Matt Conner, narrator and puppeteer Stephen Smith and a cast of children at the Creative Cauldron have adapted the little-known Wilde story “The Selfish Giant” into a mini musical.

The tale revolves around a giant who, upon seeing children playing in his garden, kicks them out and builds a wall around it, only to be met with misfortune when the children are absent. Upon realizing that his garden will be stuck in perpetual winter without children in it, the giant begins his quest toward redemption.

The simply designed set, consisting of a tree, a few square blocks and the giant puppet are all the work of designer Margie Jervis, who constructed the puppet out of coat hangers, feathers and Styrofoam. Jervis has previously designed sets and scenes for the Seattle Repertory Theater, the Seattle Opera and the Washington National Opera before winning a 2010 Strauss Fellowship grant from the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

The score, written by Conner, is composed almost entirely of group songs, with the chorus of young actors singing surprisingly well for their ages, which range between 6 and 12. Conner, who handled the musical composition and script adaptation from the original Wilde story, produced the critically acclaimed musical “Nevermore” at the Signature Theater in 2006. He also wrote a play about the Underground Railroad due to premiere this spring titled “Crossing” and is currently working on a new project based on the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that will open during the Signature Theater’s 2011-12 season.

Smith has appeared on multiple local stages such as Ford’s Theater, Wolf Trap, The Kennedy Center. He received the Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Musical in 2004 for playing Jimmy Curry in “110 in the Shade” at the Signature Theater.

While Smith’s voice was the clearest during the musical numbers, the cast of children, led by second grader Charlie Adams as “The Boy” along with his brother Coulter, sisters Hermela and Mena Haimelariam, Emily Chewning, Madeline Ice, Natalie Ingalls, Tali Klein and Maria Meara, were flawless in their ability to recite lines clearly in front of a packed crowd.

After the final reprise and thunderous applause from the audience, a question and answer session was held between the audience and the people involved in the production. Details about the puppet’s construction and its weight helped audience members better appreciate Smith’s multiple simultaneous roles as narrator, puppeteer and singer as well as the ability of the children to work with and around a large but fragile puppet.

“The Selfish Giant” runs through April 10. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and can be purchased in advance atcreativecauldron.org or by calling 571-239-5288.