It is possible to squeeze Tim Burton's fantasy film into a dinner theatre stage? Read our Scissorhands Musical Review to find out.
Scissorhands: A Musical Inspired by the Film is the current offering at the Rockwell Table & Stage, a trendy bar and restaurant that features al fresco dining outside and dinner theatre inside. Trying to squeeze Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990) onto a tiny dinner theatre stage may seem like a fool's errand, but the results are better than expected, thanks to enthusiastic musical arrangements and virtuoso vocal performances. The result is not going to replace the film, but it makes for a very enjoyable experience, especially with the added benefit of the Rockwell's crafted cocktails.
Scissorhands Musical Review: The Play
Rockwell's front room features a small, square stage in the middle of the seating area. In that space, there is no way that the Scissorhands musical can possibly capture the fantasy ambiance of the film, which relied on imaginative production design to overshadow any narrative deficiencies.
Instead, the play uses songs to convey the emotional impact of the strange tale of an artificial boy fettered with awkward sheers instead of fingers. Assuming audience familiarity with the film, the book by Bradley Bredeweg and Kate Pazakis pushes rapidly through the narrative with a minimum of expository scenes, in order to get the musical interludes as quickly as possible. The result feels a little like a rock opera, with the story serving as a pretext for the music, which is the highlight of the show.
Scissorhands uses popular songs, Christmas carols, and brief snippets of Danny Elfman's film score, performed in clever arrangements and an occasional medley by a four-piece rock combo. The latter two sonic elements are mostly background ambiance; the pop songs form the backbone of the show. Thanks to careful selection and placement, the lyrics to these pre-existing tunes (such as Nirvana's "All Apologies") sound surprisingly relevant to the plot. Even The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" - which seems a bit on the nose, under the circumstances - works wonderfully, conveying the frustration Edward (Jordan Kai Burnett) and Kim (Natalie Masini) experience because of the physical deformity that prevents even such a simple expression of tenderness between them.
Everyone in the cast seems capable of belting out a tune - their combined voices are almost too big for the small venue - but if forced to turn it into a contest, we would pick Dionne Gipson as The Inventor, whose opening rendition of Aerosmith's "Dream On" immediately erases any doubts about whether Scissorhands is going to work as a musical. The danger of opening on such a high note is that it seemingly leaves nowhere to go but down; yet somehow the show keeps topping itself with ever better musical numbers.
The Inventor represents one of Scissorhands major changes from its source. No longer a tinkering old scientists (as embodied by Vincent Price in the film), the character is now a maternal caregiver, who appears throughout the play, both in flashbacks and as narrator, providing an opportunity for Edward to engage in dialogue about the nature of his artificial existence.
There is a slightly campy feel to the production, which has some performers cross-dressing to fill their roles. Combined with some visible tattoos, this undermines the film's contrast between the fairy tale world of Edward's abandoned house on the film and the everyday suburban world he enters after being discovered by an Avon lady desperate to make a sale. It's a tad obvious this suburbia is portrayed by cool people pretending to be square.
For all the spacial limitations, director Bradley Bredeweg manages to stage Scissorhands in imaginative ways. Though major action takes place in the central stage, the entire room is utilized, with scene transitions indicated by characters moving to different corners (the cast cannot resist occasional asides about the musical's backup band being located in Kim's living room). Props are minimal (a miniature house representing Edward's abode, some sketches outlining the Inventor's creation process, and an angel "ice" statue representing one of Edward's sculptures), but there are some brilliant touches, such as having hooded cast members using folding fans to waft confetti across the stage like drifting snow - a simple effect that captures the magic of the movie perfectly.
Scissorhands Musical Review: Food & Drink
Besides tickets, Rockwell Table & Stage requires a two-item minimum purchase from the menu, which can be either food or drinks. This is likely to result in an additional charge of $60 or so on top of the admission price (ranging from $20 to $64).
Being a hip place, Rockwell Table & Stage is not the place to order something simple The designer menu includes such items as Filet Mignon Tacos, Skillet Cauliflower 'N' Cheese, Strawberry-Poached Pear Salad, and a Quinoa Burger. We tried the latter, along with a side of Capt'N Crunch Onion Rings. The burger was well prepared, but the fancy quinoa was not match for an Impossible Burger or even a simple black-bean patty. We're not sure whether the onion rings literally had Cap'n Crunch cereal in them, but they were crunch and sweet; again, no match for a simple order of onion rings available at any decent diner. Our favorite item was the simplest, a mac-n-cheese skillet, which we ordered without the bacon normally included.
Libations from the bar were another matter entirely. From the regular menu we ordered the Aviary, with peach vodka, prickly pear cactus puree, and pineapple juice, and it was fabulous, though probably best suited for those with a sweet tooth. We followed up with one of a half-dozen special "Scissorhands Drinks," all featuring Chopin Potato Vodka. The Joyce (named after the cougar who tries to get into Edward's leather suit) also includes Chambord, Grenadine, Lime Juice, and Club Soda, topped with an orange slice. Not as sweet as the Aviary, it was nevertheless excellent. We would recommend either or both.
Scissorhands Musical Review: Conclusion
Quinoa aside, Scissorhands is a clever musical permutation of a beloved film - roughly analogous to the musical version of Hairspray. Though obviously produced on a much smaller scale than the previous musical-stage adaptation of Edward Scissorhands (Matthew Bourne's ballet interpretation, seen at the Ahmanson in 2006), the Rockwell Table & Stage version captures more of the movie, and the songs give voice to characters in a way that the wordless ballet could not. For all of the artificial fantasy trappings of Tim Burton's original, the film was imbued with poignant emotional resonance, mixing innocence, frustration, and tragedy in its doomed love story about a strange, awkward outsider who could not fit in to conventional human society. As a stage adaptation of the film, the Scissorhands musical is adequate, but hearing the characters vent these feelings through hit songs is a surprisingly satisfying experience that transforms the familiar tale into an energetic rock oratorio.
This musical stage adaptation replaces the fairy tale ambiance of Tim Burton’s film with campy fun and the energy of a spirited pop-music concert.
Directed by Bradley Bredeweg. Written by Bredeweg and Kate Pazakis. Musical director: Gregory Nabours. Choreography: Chris Downey, SaraAnne Fahey, Nick Guerts. Lighting: Joey Guthman. Musicians: Gregory Nabours (piano), Emily Rosenfield (guitar), Greg Sadler (drums), Blake Estrada (bass). Cast: Jordan Kai Burnett, Emma Hunton, Natalie Masini, Dionne Gipson, Carly Casey, Ryan O’Connor, Morgan Smith, Keir Kirkegaard.
Scissorhands continues at Rockwell Table & Stage on January 13, 19-20, 26-27. The address is 1714 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Call 323-661-6163 for more information, or visit: Rockwell-LA.com.