Using a bit of bluegrass, and evoking the best of Americana, the Nashville Children’s Theatre brings the old Appalachian (and originally Scot-Irish-English) folk hero, Jack, to life—merrily blending his many adventures into a single yarn for the stage.
Jack (Patrick Waller), a young lad living in the mountains with his mama (Bobby Wyckoff) and brothers Will (Jenny Littleton) and Tom (Henry Haggard), starts each day with a chipper can-do attitude despite the poverty his family faces. This attitude sets him on a journey that sees him friending a Blue-Beard Giant (Bobby Wyckoff), facing-off against an Old King (Henry Haggard) and finding love with the King’s Daughter (Jenny Littleton), whose life he saves.
Along the way he learns that calling “Sooey” (which is traditionally used on pigs) unleashes the magic of a series of precious gifts (ax, gunny sack, and pickle jar) he’s been given by those he helps along his sojourn. These come in handy when arising to a series of challenges presented by the Old King, who continually promises, and retracts his promise, to award his daughter’s hand in marriage and half his kingdom.
Patrick Waller’s Jack is industrious, honest, observant, and naïve (but smart enough to also be tricky when needed), making him unknowingly funny and hero material, easily.
With a supporting cast that does the rest in a rotating line-up of colorful characters, Jack’s Tale: A Mystic Mountain Musical Adventure is an enjoyable family show that also impresses upon kids the importance of kindness and integrity.
It’s filled with wonderful backwoods slang—crik, vittles, holler, reckon, and taters— spoken with twang and an onstage band that keeps the show rooted in America’s historical identity. Ongoing narration captures the spirit of oral storytelling and the music—bluegrass staples fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, and bass—is never absent for long.
Jenny Littleton has a magnificent country voice, just like what you’d expect straight out of Tennessee, especially when she sings a love song upon meeting Jack. It’s a sweet, tender moment with two incorrigible kids finding meaning in life beyond fortune and fame. Jack, after all, is the one who sewed some beans and slayed a giant—those kinds of act don’t go unnoticed in the wilds.
Bobby Wyckoff (who gets to do all the fun, absurd characters) as Raggedy Bones, death incarnate, is just spooky enough while Henry Haggard’s Old King is a slow-as-molasses, small-town crook.
Energy, and speed lag near the end—especially as Jack is again tricked by the Old (and dishonest) King, locked into a box, thrown into the sea, and swallowed by a catfish (gotta love tall tales). But worry not, all comes right at the end as they make a new life in what appears to be a new land, mirroring the trans-Atlantic trip many immigrants—and their oral traditions—took long, long ago.
Fun music with catchy hooks and an animated cast, Jack’s Tale, is a great lesson in all-things American heritage, from our music to our values, but mostly our way with spinning a simple tale into a folk legend.
Jack’s Tale: A Mystic Mountain Musical Adventure, ran for 2 performances, Feb 14 and 15, 2015 at The Kennedy Center.
Jack’s Tale: A Mystic Mountain Musical Adventure . Book by Scot Copeland, Music by Paul Carrol Binkley, and Lyrics by Paul Carrol Binkley and Scot Copeland . Directed by Scot Copeland . Featuring Patrick Waller (Jack), Bobby Wyckoff (Mama, Blue-Beard Giant, Raggedy Bones), Jenny Littleton (Will, Old Woman, King’s Daughter), Henry Haggard (Tom, Beggarman, Old King), Paul Carrol Binkley (Guitar, Mandolin, Dulcimer), Michael Casteel, (Banjo, Mandolin) Toni Ferguson (Fiddle), and Joe Murphy (Bass) . Music Directed by Paul Carrol Binkley . Scenic and Lighting by Scott Leathers . Costume Design by Patricia Taber . Dramaturg Laurie Brooks . Stage Manager and Sound Designer: Daniel C. Brewer . Produced by The Kennedy Center’s Performances for Young Audiences and Nashville Children’s Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.