By RJ Johnson
Just in time for the spooky Halloween season, the Anchorage Community Theatre presents Constance and Sinestra and the Cabinet of Screams, directed by David Block and written by Patrick Gleeson and Alexandra Spencer Jones. The delightful macabre musical brings to life thought of Sweeney Todd and Edward Scissorhands in the best of ways.
This award-nominated new musical about love, loss, BonBons, and taxidermy, follows the adventures of two sisters, Constance and Sinestra. They live at the edge of cliff in a ruined and haunted house with their Mad Dad whom they never leave. Are the dangers outside more worrisome than the dangers within? One day Hereford, the neighbor boy, appears and their lives get turned upside down as the world outside come closer into the four walls that they know.
The stage is wonderfully decorated and designed by set designer Nikki Adams and props and set dresser Beth Ann Brogan sets the tone from the moment that the audience walks in the door. Old chests and overturned tables give the small black box theatre an air of a home in disrepair. Jars full of air mixed with fur and leather give the mood of the show that is about to happen. Cast members that are preset but frozen in time add to the creepy ambiance that the show is about to successfully achieve. Lighting design from Dean Brady is as successful as always as he helps the audience navigate changes in time or space. Sound design by director David Block was wonderfully used and added to the scares and thrills of the show, without ever being used at a distracting sound level. Congratulations to the stage managers Katheryn Banner and Isabeau Barnes for using the right levels for all cues.
Vocal Coach Annika Merkel also deserves praise for vocal coaching this musical that uses a wide range of talent. It is sometimes difficult to chorale a wide range of experience and ages into a cohesive unit for a musical that has such a specific genre. The singing throughout the production was clear and beautiful while also maintaining a great standard for what musical theatre should be.
The stars of this production are the younger actors in the show. From the first moment that the Mean Girls, played by Genevieve Grenier and Harriet Hinks, to the moment that we were introduced to Constance and Sinestra, played by Devin Merilatt and Bronwyn Embree respectively, the younger actors of this show dominated their roles and have proven themselves to be strong actors in difficult roles. The lead actors, as Constance and Sinestra had a particularly difficult time, as they were onstage for much of the event and pulled off truth and ferocity at every move. The Mean Girls did not share as much stage time but when they were present, the effect was even more shocking.
Other notable performances from the younger actors came from LuLu Hedman as Hale the half-human, half-taxidermy creation. This character was an audience favorite and while this performance should have been creepy, it was endearing and one of this reviewer’s favorite parts of the show. I was disappointed that the script did not allow for more of the hybrid character. Jake Conrad took on the role of Hereford, the neighbor boy that finally penetrates the walls of the creepy house that encompasses Constance and Sinestra. This young actor had a lot of challenges coming up against very talented actresses that he was sharing stage time with, and he met each of those challenges during the 98-minute production. It takes a lot of talent to share the stage with so many personalities.
The adults did not slouch while they were on stage with these young performers. Suzanne Snyder as the Dead Mum is present on set from the minute the doors open and whether she is frozen in time or singing to her young daughters, she is alive the entire time. Her clear and convinced tone carried many of the group singing numbers. Stefan Morin is perfection as Mad Dad. Sometimes I forget that I am seeing a man I know when Morin is on stage, as he is able to craft an entirely new creation each time I see him perform. Other noteworthy performances come from Rebecca Sunde as Ophelia Van De Scab and Dustin Jorgeson as her husband Victor. Sunde gives a histrionic and creepy performance of her character and Jorgenson does a really great job as the blind chocolatier.
David Block is accomplished and professional is every production that he involves himself with. Constance and Sinestra is no exception. It is obvious to see his hand in this show and it is good to know that he will continue to produce content that allows itself to be slightly edgier than most high school productions.
Constance and Sinestra and the Cabinet of Screams is a perfect holiday production for families that consist of teens and tweens. This production is not recommended for audience members younger than 12 years of age.