The good folks who run the show at Dallas Children’s Theatre must have their very own Luck Dragon. Americans for the Arts, the national non-profit that advocates for the arts in Washington DC, just announced the 2009 recipients of National Endowment for the Arts grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Close to $30 million in awards (a miniscule sum compared to bank bail-out or military funds) has been designated to support 631 local arts entities nationwide, all affected adversely by the economic recession inherited from the GW Bush administration. Twenty grants went to arts organizations in Texas. Dallas Children’s Theatre has the singular honor of being the only theatre company in the North Texas region selected for inclusion. Rated by TIME Magazine as one of the top five theater companies in the nation performing for youth, the company website says, “Dallas Children’s Theater serves more than 270,000 young people and their families through its main stage productions, national touring company, and education and outreach programs.” A worthy entity to endow with stimulus funds.
Everyone should have a personal Luck Dragon: a fantastic creature with all the beneficial attributes of a unicorn, ET, Tinker Belle and a magic carpet rolled into one. Falkor the Luck Dragon, as created by regional equity actor Gregory Lush, energizes the show in Dallas Children’s Theatre’s current production of German author Michael Ende’s beloved 1979 fantasy hero’s journey tale The Neverending Story. Lush’s Luck Dragon feels real, brims over with such playful enthusiasm and genuine caring; most audience members (adult and child alike) would love to tuck him in a pocket and take him home. Fantasy tales are hard to bring to life on stage, when cinema can do much more with special effects. DCT‘s production is so engaging you forget it isn’t a movie. Balancing colorful visuals as screen projected settings with Kathy Burks’ life-sized Taymor-like multi-cultural puppet magic, DCT Associate Artistic Director and play Director Artie Olaisen creates a believable yet entrancing fantasy reality. His human actors develop interesting characters both easy to relate to and follow. It can be a challenge to hold the attention of today’s youth audience; the rustling and oohing and whispers I heard reflected an audience quite wrapped up in the stage action.
Appropriate for ages seven and up, the tale revolves around life dilemmas faced by a lonely, timid boy named Bastian Bux, played with Harry Potter-like charm and sincerity by Alex Heika, a sophomore at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. Bastian loves books and acquires a strange story “with no end”. As he turns the pages and lives the tale, roaming across the Swamps of Sadness and the Silver Mountains in the world Fantastica, he meets all kinds of creatures of the imagination with lessons to teach. He encounters sorcerers and bats, witches and night hobs, gnomes and spiders, a Childlike Empress (ethereal Heather Pratt), a young earnest hero Atreyu (debut performance by SMU graduate and Dallas Theatre Center associate Andres Ortiz) accompanied by his lovable, loyal horse Artax (Karl Schaeffer) and the scheming, evil Gmork (played with dastardly menace by David Lugo). The 1985 Hollywood film version may have popularized this saga, but the stage adaptation by Canadian playwright David S. Craig and DCT’s production do equal justice in faithful and breath-taking realization. There’s something really special about seeing a fantasy world come flesh and blood alive. Gregory Lush’s brave, winsome, sparkling, ever playful, ever watchful Luck Dragon, with a splendid costume that could rival anything Michael Jackson ever dreamed up, seals the deal.
Celebrate the National Endowment for the Arts’ stimulus grant to Dallas Children’s Theatre by attending this lyrical, imaginative production of a stunning children’s fantasy tale. Maybe you’ll find a Luck Dragon in your pocket? Catch it before it fades away.
Cast includes: Alex Heika, Andrés Ortiz, David Lugo, Douglass Burks, Gregory Lush, Rhianna Mack, Karl Schaeffer, Heather Pratt, Anastasia Munoz, Sally Fiorello
Artistic team: Director – Artie Olaisen; scenic design – Randel Wright; lighting – Linda Blase; costumes – Aaron Patrick Turner; sound – Marco Salinas; puppet design – Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts
Tickets: 214-740-0051; http://www.dct.org
The Neverending Story runs through July 12 with an evening performance on Friday July 10 and matinees July 11 and 12.