Heaven knowsSleeping Beauty was sorely in need of an update. The pretty-but-passive princess of the animated Disney version was so 1950s. In the Seattle Children's Theatre's current production (through Sat., Feb. 4, at Seattle Center; 206-441-3322, www.sct.org), she is replaced by a spunky, swashbuckling young woman much more to contemporary taste. But at the same time, the script reaches back to the Grimm roots of Beauty's story, capturing some of the age-old magic of the tale.
This musical version, written by Charles Way and directed by Rita Giomi, is set in a lovely, pre-Raphaelite fantasy kingdom rendered by scenic designer Carey Wong and costumer Catherine Hunt. There reside a childless king and queen (Kevin C. Loomis and Bobbi Kotula) and witches good and bad (Julie Briskman and Anne Allgood). The good witch conspires to place a foundling in the waiting arms of the royals, and the first act follows the familiar tale of christening and curse. The focus of the second act turns to Prince Owain (MJ Sieber), who must overcome his self-doubt to rescue the princess, Briar Rose. A riddling spider king, a half-dragon, and a number of brief songs by Chad Henry embellish the story.
Themes of good versus evil, self-reliance, and the scary thrill of growing up are clearly enough presented for most school-age children to understand. (The show is recommended for ages 5 and up.) But the production is not overly simplistic or sappy, thanks to a good deal of fresh humor and polished performances by nearly the whole cast. It's heartening to see some of Seattle's trustiest troopers—Allgood, Briskman, Kotula, and Sieber—delivering the goods for a room full of entranced kids. Leading the charge is the charismatic Khanh Doan; her Briar Rose, who could lick Keira Knightley in a sword fight any day of the week, is a heroine fit for a new century.