The Reluctant Dragon' is a funny, fitting farewell
By PAUL BABIN
July 09, 2011
BARNSTABLE — The Barnstable Summer Family Theater's production of "The Reluctant Dragon" has been 23 years in the making. Well, not exactly. But the story, originally penned by Kenneth Grahame in 1898, is a longtime favorite of director John Sullivan's and his adaptations have evolved steadily since he first staged it in 1988.
That first production featured just three songs. It wasn't until 2001 that Sullivan called in lyricists Clayton Stang and Andrew Rapo and made the play a full-blown musical. Now, 10 years later, Sullivan has added a new ballad to the mix and dumped one tune in favor of a "snappier number." The result is one of the funniest children's plays I've seen, and a fitting finale for the Barnstable Summer Family Theater, which will close up shop for good when this show ends July 22.
Sullivan retired as Barnstable High School's drama coach this year after a remarkable 34-year career. This, his final production, features a cast of many of his former students, including, you guessed it, "American Idol" contestant Siobhan Magnus. She made her Barnstable summer theater debut as Gwen in "The Reluctant Dragon" when she was just 8 years old. This time she plays the disenchanted wife of a greedy innkeeper (Andrew Rapo) who is shamelessly out for profits. Magnus' singing is extraordinary, particularly her solo performance of "Somehow, Someday," a song about unfulfilled dreams. The lyric, "Just watch me fly somehow, someday" is ironic considering her meteoric rise to stardom.
"The Reluctant Dragon" frequently surprised me by breaking the so-called "fourth wall" between the actors and the audience. For instance, when a frantic shepherd, played by Dave Sweet, tries to warn the townspeople about the supposedly deadly dragon that lives in a nearby cave, he's stopped in midsentence. The mayor (Duncan Macallister) calmly reminds him that he must "sing his story," as he is performing in a musical production in front of a live audience. That sets the tone for the rest of the play, which is shamelessly silly and self-conscious.
Basically the townspeople get caught up in the hype surrounding the mysterious dragon and call on St. George, played brilliantly by Peter Murray, to slay him. Murray, who has played this part before for Sullivan, gives a comedic performance worthy of Mel Brooks. His best moments come when he tries to seduce a "young damsel" — wearing a sundress and carrying a parasol — that's really just the dragon in drag. (Funny how he doesn't notice the giant green tail sticking out the back). Sullivan plays the dragon himself, and his banter with Murray is infectiously funny. When St. George asks where the young lady would like to meet him for a lunch date, the dragon retorts, "How 'bout the moon?"
In his program notes, Sullivan makes the following observation: "Saying goodbye is never easy — but I leave knowing I did the best I could, worked as hard as I could, and in so doing gave a few people some fun memories and a lot of laughs."
This show had me laughing hysterically from start to finish, proving that the old master still has some tricks up his sleeve.
What: "The Reluctant Dragon"
Written by: John Sullivan and Jim Hill, with music by S. Andrew Rapo and lyrics by Clayton Stang
Presented by: Barnstable Summer Family Theater
When: 7 p.m. July 12-15 and 19-22
Where: Barnstable High School Performing Arts Center 744 W. Main St., Hyannis