A blue and purple castle, enchanted princesses, teen romance--the Young Conservatory Players newest fairy-tale offering, "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," opens today at South Coast Repertory's Second Stage.
But according to director Diane Doyle, underneath the fantasy about 12 princesses who escape their locked room each night and dance their shoes to shreds, are some very real lessons.
"The oldest one has a horrible feeling about the youngest because their mother died when she was born," Doyle explained. "The youngest one has no bonding with a mother figure. Dad locks them in at night to protect them; he wants them to stay frozen in time.
"They live in a little fantasy world because they can't deal. It's just a natural defense mechanism."
Doyle has talked to her actors, mostly female, ages 13 to 18, about the psychological undercurrents, but she said the preparation hasn't been all serious.
"I have 12 fabulous teen-age girls--it's like a giant slumber party whenever we get together," Doyle said. "I adore them. We've laughed so hard, we've cried."
Curt Cornelius, 18, plays the gardener who breaks the enchantment and wins the hand of the youngest princess.
"They tease him all the time," Doyle admitted.
Richard Jennings, who scored "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and other SCR productions, has composed the music. The classic fairy-tale itself has been given a new adaptation by Orange County playwright Richard Hellesen, whose "Once in Arden" played at South Coast Repertory last season.
"I told Richard I needed 12 personalities with names and idiosyncrasies," Doyle said. "That's what he gave me. It's not slapsticky, and the dialogue is great. We have this great, real play, set in gothic times."
Doyle is pleased to be back "home" at South Coast Repertory. (Founders Hall, at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, is YCP's usual presentation space, but the Center needs it for rehearsals.)
There are advantages to the smaller SCR Second Stage, Doyle said.
"We're carpeted over here, and the noise level is way down, so the audience can focus on what they're seeing," she said.
Doyle is enthusiastic about the show's set and costume design.
"We have a huge set, and we're using the whole space, all the aisles," she said. "And we've definitely got a period play going, which I love. No T-shirts and jeans in this one.
"The castle is pretty wonderful--it has to be nine different locations. Odle designed it. He always solves the problems."
"Odle" is Dwight Richard Odle, who has many adult SCR productions to his credit, including "Once in Arden." He found the Young Conservatory Players production to be a creative challenge.
"It's stylized, but we're trying to go to every little girl's fantasy of what a fairy-tale castle is," he said. "It's a fairly elaborate set for YCP shows as they go, but the nature of the show is such that it was needed." He had to make the castle serve both as exterior and interior settings, from throne room, bedroom and garden to "a magical party scene."
As far as costumes go, Odle enjoyed working in an "early gothic look," with "a fantasy color palette" to give each princess her own color and reflect each individual character.
Odle, who has "sort of become YCP's resident designer" over the years, in addition to his work for SCR, emphasizes that this is "youth theater" and aimed at ages 8 and up.
"People seem to think children's theater is for babies," he said. But this show "is not just a silly fairy tale. It's fun," but it also has its "motivational" aspects and is "a bit more literary."
Doyle's goal is to "take the audience away from everything for one hour." Because of the smaller space, she said, "the kids in the audience will be right there with the actors. You can't phone it in, you gotta do it, and I love that."
"The Twelve Dancing Princesses," plays Friday and Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday and Dec. 23, 2 and 4 p.m.; Dec. 22, 2, 4 and 7:30 p.m. at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Running time: 1 hour. Through Dec. 23 . Tickets: $8 to $10. Information: (714) 957-2602.