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Thanks to a talented cast, vivacious direction and choreography, and an inspired design team, Theatre in the Park’s 2007 edition of Briarpatch is probably the best-ever production of TIP founder and executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III’s delightful Southern-fried musical comedy based on the Br’er Rabbit tales of Georgia writer Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908). This crowd-pleasing show, which will continue July 26-29 and Aug. 2-5 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in Raleigh, NC, transposes the picaresque characters of Harris’ animal fables from the woods of Georgia to the thickets of David Wood’s native Eastern North Carolina.
Wood’s uproarious retelling of the Harris’ familiar stories has as its centerpiece the big race between the lightning-fast but foolishly overconfident Br’er Rabbit (David Henderson) and the plodding but infernally persistent Br’er Turtle (Mike Raab). Br’er Rabbit’s stunning loss puts him in such a funk that he takes leave of Mrs. Rabbit (Kate Blain) and beats feet to the Big City, where he comes under the spell of sultry chanteuse and nightclub owner Oonie Maroo (Rita Coby).
Br’er Rabbit’s mortal enemies Br’er Fox (David Wood) and Br’er Bear (J.K. Ferrell) follow the braggadocio bunny to the Big City, in hopes of ambushing him and turning him into rabbit stew. But Br’er Rabbit’s grieving wife and a passel of his deeply concerned friends, including King Lion (Bob Martin) and the Rev. and Sis Beaver (Dempsey Bond III and Stacie Alston), journey from the Briarpatch to the Big City, to bring the prodigal bunny back home.
On opening night last Friday, director David Wood’s snappy staging, choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis’ energetic and imaginative dance routines, and the spirited accompaniment by music director Diane Petteway and the Briarpatch orchestra kept the Briarpatch cast hopping and the audience guffawing throughout the evening.
David Henderson and Mike Raab are highly amusing as the constantly bickering Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Turtle, David Wood and J.K. Ferrell are hilarious Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear — the Briarpatch’s version of Dumb and Dumber — and Kate Blain as Mrs. Rabbit and Dempsey Bond III and Stacie Alston as the Rev. and Sis Beaver not only cut the fool with brio, but caress a comic lyric with equal fervor. Rita Coby made Oonie Maroo the epitome of evil, and Bob Martin really had King Lion roaring.
The colorful storybook backdrops devised by technical director and scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson and the Technicolor-vivid animal outfits created by costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson help Briarpatch look like a live-action cartoon. Children of all ages will be delighted with this frisky take on one of Theatre in the Park’s most popular homegrown musicals.
Theatre in the Park presents Briarpatch Thursday-Saturday, July 26-28, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 29, at 3 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, Aug. 2-3, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 4-5, at 3 p.m. in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $28 adult ($24 seniors and $18 children 12 and under). 919/831-6936 or via etix @ the presenter's site. Note 1: Arts Access, Inc., will audio describe the Aug. 2nd show. Note 2: There will be a Briarpatch BBQ, catered by Red Hot & Blue, after the Aug. 4th performance, starting at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 ($8 children 12 and under) in advance and $12 ($10 children 12 and under) the day of the show. The ticket price includes a meal of barbecue or chicken, sides, drink, and dessert. Theatre in the Park: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/. Briarpatch: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/v02/sections02/currentproductions/briarpatch.html [inactive 11/09].