By Lynn Venhaus
An engaging cast and relatable story comes alive with joyful music in the world premiere of “Spells of the Sea.”
This uplifting original musical adventure is a joint project from Metro Theater Company and Megan Ann Rasmussen Productions, the first time Metro has partnered commercially with a producer, but one that fulfills its mission – “a commitment to create new work that responds to the emotional intelligence and needs of young people with respect and joy.”
Based on the well-coordinated book, music, and lyrics by Guinevere “Gwenny” Govea, it has additional creative contributions by Anna Pickett, who is the assistant director.
With equal parts whimsy, wonder and wisdom, “Spells of the Sea” has good intentions and a compassionate message. It is designed to reach a wide audience of all ages – recommended for those age 8 and up.
Our hero is Finley Frankfurter, a 15-year-old fisherwoman who is not successful in catching fish, but her dad Ferris is a whiz at it. Only her beloved, kind dad, who basically saved the coastal town, has a life-threatening illness.
Can Finley save her dad? Finley is a sweet teen without any confidence, but she grows as she is called to step it up for her dad — and most importantly, finds her purpose. The creator Govea is a charming Finley, a strong singer and actress, conveying a heartfelt relationship with her dad. Colin McLaughlin, a versatile local musician and actor, is a natural as Ferris Frankfurter. He smoothly guided the boat around the stage. You root for Finley even when she lacks courage.
The town villain is H.S. Crank (Jon Gentry), a grumpy old lighthouse keeper who turned off the light 20 years earlier, causing needless pain and turmoil in the town. Can he redeem himself? Gentry, a sturdy vocalist, is well-suited to be this complicated guy, and we learn why he’s like he is soon enough.
This unlikely pair travels the ocean to find the Elixir of Life, an elusive remedy, and they encounter mermaids, pirates, and scary whirlpools.
The odyssey comes with honest lessons on family, friendship, and belief in yourself. Trust your abilities. It’s a just-right sincere message straight from the heart.
Govea is a fresh voice to get to know – a recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, she developed this story as a podcast during the pandemic. She interacts well with this spirited cast and is a hyphenate with a bright future.
The amiable supporting players include Molly Burris, Syrhea Conaway, Hannah Geisz, Noah Laster, Mitchell Manar, and Tyler White in multiple roles. Burris exaggerates her entitled princess for comic effect, Laster is a robust pirate captain, and the statuesque White is an exotic mermaid serving as a narrator – and also choreographed the show. Laster and Manar contribute as musicians on stage as well, which adds realism.
The cast is a tight-knit, well-rehearsed, enthusiastic group conveying an earnest story that they believe in, and work well together on stage. With their pure voices and pleasant harmonies, they easily connected with the children in the audience.
The impressive design team has created an enchanting world – with scenic designers Margery and Peter Spack effectively draping materials subbing as sky and sea. It’s a dramatic flourish, and Cristie Johnston, as scenic artist, added some nifty touches too.
The hues are striking, especially with lighting designer Jayson M. Lawshee’s dazzling work. He has creating shimmering seascapes and dawn to dusk time of day depictions that complement this mysterious world.
Costume designer Cynthia Nordstrom combines the everyday with the sparkling to characterize the roles in a smart way.
MTC Artistic Director Julia Flood has created a buoyant setting, and the crisp music direction by Deborah Wicks La Puma adds polish to the proceedings, as does Rusty Wandall’s sound design.
“Spells of the Sea” captivates in an authentic way, aided by the intriguing aspect of nature and the enduring relationships in our life journey that teach us guiding principles.
Metro Theater Company presents “Spells of the Sea” live at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, through March 5 and virtually streaming Feb. 16-March 5 at metroplays.org. It is 70 minutes without an intermission.
Tickets are $20-$36, including ticketing fees, and available through MetroTix, 314-534-1111.
Online virtual streaming begins at $20 and is available through the MTC website, https://www.metroplays.org/spells-of-the-sea. (The video for the virtual streaming is from an early February filmed performance.)
Performances are Sundays at 2 p.m., Fridays at 7 p.m., and Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Socially distanced performances are at 4 p.m. Saturdays.
There are theme weekends during the play’s run – costumes are welcomed, and there are photo booths with props available for guests to enjoy being a princess, a pirate, or a mermaid in the lobby each weekend.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.