Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Beanstalk! The Musical!
Raleigh Little Theatre
Review by Garrett Southerland

Betsy Jones, George Russing,
and Joshua Messmore

Photo by Meka Harrell
We know well by now that "there are giants in the sky." Raleigh Little Theatre considers the story of Jack and his magic beanstalk anew with Beanstalk! The Musical!, playing through April 1. This production reopens the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, which has just completed a six-month facelift with updated lighting and sound equipment and a beautifully renovated lobby area, where a new, wall-sized window looks out over the large rose garden behind the theatre complex.

The story might be all too familiar for some, and there few surprises here: Jack (portrayed by three actors in sequence: the enthralling Joshua Messmore, Noah Zimmermann, and Matthew Bain) lives with his mother (Jacqueline Kelly) and his not so productive cow (Caroline Farmer). In need of money and food, Jack's mother sends him to sell the cow and bring back something of better use. Little does Jack know that this errand will turn into a great adventure that will bring magic, danger, and a bit of mystery into his humdrum life. It is unclear whether it was the intention of Ross Mihalko and Donna Swift, the bookwriters, for the character of Jack to be portrayed by three different boys or if it was a director's attempt to allow for more children to play the role. The book does take some small detours from the typical fairy tale. Though the score (music by Linda Berg and lyrics by Ross Mihalko) is far from Broadway caliber, it is hummable and simple enough for children to understand and enjoy.

Joshua Messmore, who opens the show as the first Jack, shines both in his characterization and his beautiful singing voice. Dan Bain definitely fits the bill in stature as the giant; his portrayal reminded me a bit of Jon Lovitz portraying Frankenstein on an episode of "Saturday Night Live." Narrator George Russing is also a delight each time he is on the stage. The more memorable moments, however, come not from the principals but the supporting cast—the magical (and not so magical) creatures are all highlights. Caroline Farmer as the cow and Zoe Wright as the hen wins over the audience with laugh after laugh. Ellie Faggion as the harp impresses with her beautiful soprano singing voice. And Denise Sepic, as "the one who got away," has the audience grinning from ear to ear each time she enters. Special mention must be made of Betsy Jones, who stepped in for an ailing Caroline Lipson as the giant's wife at the performance I saw. I never would have guessed that the role wasn't hers completely.

Directed by Kathleen Rudolph, the production makes wise use of the limited space this theatre allows. Scenic design by Elizabeth Newton adds just the right touch of whimsy and innovation, effectively creating the two locales (on the ground and in the clouds) required by this story. Jenny Mitchell, who impressed here last season with her imaginative costume designs for James and the Giant Peach, impresses again, especially in the costumes for the cow, hen and harp.

This production would be a great way to introduce a young one to live theatre. It runs an hour, giving little children just enough time to sit still and enjoy a show. Though the humor and songs are a bit simple for an adult's audience, the children were enthralled at the performance I attended. And though the ending (as is true with most fairy tale endings) may not be the most logical, there's much to enjoy nonetheless.

Beanstalk! The Musical!, through April 1, 2018, at the Raleigh Little Theatre in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh NC. Tickets are $18 (children 12 and under, $12) and can be purchased online at or by phone at 919-821-3111.

Book: Ross Mihalko and Donna Swift
Music: Linda Berg
Lyrics: Ross Mihalko
Direction: Kathleen Rudolph
Music Direction: Yvonne Koch
Costume Design: Jenny Mitchell
Scenic Design: Elizabeth Newton
Lighting Design: Cailen Waddell
Sound Design: John Maruca

Narrator: Betsy Jones
Narrator: George Russing
Jack 1: Joshua Messmore
Jack 2: Noah Zimmerman
Jack 3: Matthew Bain
Mother: Jacqueline Kelly
Cow: Caroline Farmer
Skunk Merchant: Grace Kelly
Cheese Merchant: Rian Parker
Potpourri Merchant: Cole McFaden
Beanseller: Matthew Hurley
The One That Got Away: Denise Sepic
The Giant: Dan Bain
Giant's Wife: Caroline Lipson
Hen: Zoe Wright
Harp: Ellie Faggion