The Kingdom That Was

Book, Music & Lyrics by Steven David Horwich

INFO:

Opened at Celebrity Centre  1994  3 Performances (as a charity fundraiser for homeless children)
Original Director/Chroegrapher: Steven David Horwich
Original leads: Kurt Andrew Hansen, Laura Ward, Aaron Mendelson, Dy Burbano, Vajdan Sohaili, Peace Byron, Nunei Harrington, Anita Gregory
Cast Size: Approx 4 men, 4 women (Can vary depending on production needs) Total 8 (or more)
Orchestra: 3-14.
Script: Available upon request.
Production Rights: Please write us for information.
Recordings: The demo, found below.  Also, a reasonably decent video of the original production.
Other Shows By Author: 4 Lives In two Acts; And The River Flows; The Wheel Turns; Snowflake; Loveplay; The Third Wish; Beautiful Poison

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:
An intimate fantasy composed of five original “fairy tales”, performed by a wandering troupe of rag-tag actors.  Appropriate for most audiences, though very young children may find the final skit frightening.  A fine show for companies that can only have a single set, and which need simple technical demands, but who has talented (even if reasonably inexperienced) performers.  inexpensive, easy to costume, some staging complications.  Perfect for most Little theaters, colleges, high schools, semi pro, and can certainly be done professionally.

Be Warned:
This is ultimately a show about a nation that does itself in.  Though it was authored in the early 1990s, it seems all the more timely now.  If your audience is extremely conservative (politically or artistically), this may not be the right show for you.  Also, I wouldn’t do this one within three years of having produced Into The Woodssimply because they are fairy tale based (though this show is all original stories).

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: The Kingdom That Was begins with a small group of actors entering the theatre.  They offer, in verse, to tell five tales from The Kingdom That Was, their home, which seemingly no longer exists.

The first tale, “THE WAR OF THE NUTS”, is about two groups of chipmunks who go to war over which should have the best nuts in the woods.  They enlist (variously) the aid of the bird, and the fox, and the battle begins.  But the fight is ended abruptly when men, ravenous from a 20 year drought in The Kingdom That Was, attack the animals, who have brought attention to themselves through their foolish bickering.

The second tale, “THE SILENT BEAUTY”, begins with our lead, Troubadour, recalling a time when he saw a beautiful (but mute) woman in the woods, in the Kingdom.  Various animals (who spoke, back then…) help him to her cottage, as she has run away.  He declares he has fallen in love with her at first sight, but she cannot respond.  Discovering she cannot speak, Troubadour hurries to his father, who happens to be the Kingdom’s Wizard.  The Wizard gives the boy a spell which will restore her speech, but warns that the cure may be worse than the disease.  The boy, nonetheless, employs the spell.  The Beauty announces “I love you!”.  She repeats it.  She repeats the announcement ad infinitum, unable to stop, from the spell.  The Troubadour flees, but the whole world, infected with the spell, now declares “I love you!” to him.  Without escape, he returns to his beauty and breaks the spell, freeing her, and returning her to silence.  The moral of the tale…”If it works, don’t fix it!”

The final tale in Act One is “THE RAIN PRINCESS”.   In The Kingdom, there was a King and Queen, incapable of having a child.  The Queen, though warned not to, climbs the Mount to the Sky, and begs for help.  A cloud takes pity on her, and grants her a child.  The queen has a daughter, but her majesty dies in childbirth.  And as the Princess first cries, all rain in the kingdom halts.  She is locked away, raised in a tower for 20 years, she longs for freedom, and is unaware that outside, the Kingdom is dying of thirst.  Finally, the Wizard (the same) can no longer bare her loneliness, and releases her.  She immediately sees the horror her birth has created, and climbs the Mount To The Sky, the King in pursuit of his beloved.  But his Majesty is too late, as the sky accepts her back as one of their own, and the Rain Princess sacrifices her life on Earth.  As she vanishes into the clouds, the first drops of rain fall on the King, and so he knows she is gone.

Between the stories, the actors themselves banter.  It is clear a few are in love, some crave money…they are like other people.  And they have somehow survived the demise of the Kingdom That Was.

ACT TWO: The act starts with “THE HOOFER”.  A dull-witted farmer owns a Horse.  The Horse (an extraordinarily clever, dancing horse) tills the farmers fields, washes his clothes, cooks his meals…she cares for the farmer in every way she can.  But the farmer dreams of someday owning a Unicorn.  A Big Show Biz Producer, riding by on an ass (donkey), happens to see the horse dancing, and knows a good thing when he sees it.  He convinces the dull-witted farmer that his donkey is a Unicorn, and swapping for the heart broken horse, leads her to “The Palace”.  There, before the King, the Horse is a huge success, as a dancer.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the farmer has at last figured out that a donkey is not a Unicorn.  He drags the donkey to the palace, and demands his horse back.  But the King leaves the decision to the horse, who has received praise for the first time in her life.  She sends the farmer “riding off on his ass (donkey).

The last story, “THE FINAL SPELL”, answers the mystery of the Kingdom That Was.

The Wizard accidentally discovers a spell…the last spell in his book, which will bring the grieving King’s long dead Queen back to life.  Only he knows that, to use this spell will break the law of the world.  The King is furious that the Wizard will not use the spell, and imprisons the man until he relents.  In Prison, he writes his son, the Troubadour, for guidance.  But in the end, it is silence and loneliness he succumbs to, and he agrees to do the spell.  The results are similar to the dropping of a Nuclear Bomb.  The unthinkable is released, all the “dead” (huge puppets) rise, and the Kingdom is consumed by the Earth.

The actors tell the audience that they were away from the Kingdom, performing “on the road”, at the time of the conflagration.  And they warn of similar fates, pleading that the audience care for their own kingdoms with more thought, as they exit the theater, singing softly.

THE SONGS:
“Prelude”; “The Kingdom That Was”; “We Love Nuts!”; “The Working Bird”; “I’m The Fox”; “Willy-O-Woe”; “Silent Beauty”; “Love At First Sight”; “The Wizard”; “I Love You, I Love You, I Love You”; “The Wind”; “Happy Days”; “For 20 Years”; “A New Wind Blowing”; “A Un-e-corn”; “He Doesn’t See Me”; “You’ve Got What It Takes”; “Miracles & Mysteries”; “The Note”; “Finale”

(The following is a complete demo, put together some years ago.  Orchestration by Steven David Horwich.   This material is all copyrighted.)

Act One
Prelude
The Kingdom That Was
We Love Nuts
A Working Bird
I’m The Fox
We Love Nuts reprise
Willy-O-Woe
Silent Beauty
Love At First Sight
The Wizard
I Love You I Love You I Love You
The Moral
The Wind
For 20 Years
A New Wind Blowing

Act Two
A Un-E-Corn
He Doesn’t See Me
You’ve Got What It Takes
Wonders And Miracles
The Note
The Kingdom That Was Finale

MY OPINIONS:
We don’t offer much of an opinion on original shows.  This is a fun, small, intimate, very theatrical musical, good for families, with an important message supporting it.

MY RATING:
We don’t rate original shows.

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is not too complicated, but it also filled with twists and turns generally not found in “children’s shows” (which this is NOT), but rather in richer scores.  Your singers need to be able to sing fairly well, though they do not need to be “expert”.  The music is a cross between pop and theater forms prevalent in the 1990s, so your music director/pianist must play these types of songs well.

The Troubadour – A lyric baritone with a rich, charismatic voice.  A decent range, likable quality in the voice.

The rest of the cast double in numerous roles.  All should sing well.  Make sure you get a couple of tenors (or mezzo altos) for the chipmunks.  Two women should handle pop power ballads well (A New Wind Blowing, He Doesn’t See Me), and the Rain Princess should really be a trained soprano; one man who plays the Fox should have a good R & B tenor or lyric baritone feel.  All should harmonize well.  The agent in Act Two should have a nice, brassy belt.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS

The show does not need any “dance”.  That said, movement should be precise, lively, theatrical and fun.  Your director may be able to choreograph, if he/she is pretty comfortable with movement to music.  Movement should come out of the lyrics as much as the music.

During the Prelude, the set and costumes are set up, and the audience introduced to the company and the troubadour-ish feel of the show.  This should be entertaining, clever, fun, with good energy, but not stupid energy like you see in a lot of kid’s shows.  This is NOT  a kid’s show.

“The Kingdom That Was”, the opening number, is a ritual, the opening of a re-telling, something these actors have apparently done many times, about their home, now gone.  Movement should be simple, let the audience see your cast, hear the lyrics.  There should be a sense that something perhaps important is starting.  It is an ensemble piece, but the Troubadour should be front and center.

The movement for the Chipmunk story can be highly stylized (they are animals), and yet theatrical, with “shuffle off to buffalo” kind of movement (Nuts), or over-the-top jazz (Fox), or over-the top military movement (Working Bird).  Fun, lively, but again, not stupid, dumbed down stuff for five year-olds.

The second story, Silent Beauty, focuses on the Troubadour and one woman (who should be a strong actress and move well, since she doesn’t really sing much).  The two big numbers, “Silent Beauty”, and “I Love You I Love You I Love You” are the “big” production numbers for Act I.  These should be built on the animal’s characters, as well as the human ones, the animals can move in exaggerated animal ways, but again, please, not dumbed-down, think musical comedy, not kid’s shows.  These numbers will probably require some precise rehearsal, they’re all about timing in movement and music.  Keep this story pretty high energy, precise, and fun.

The last story in Act One, The Rain Princess, should feel ritualized.  It tells of how The Kingdom That Was started to fall apart, how things there became “unnatural”, and the price that was paid for certain powerful people breaking “The law of the world”, and the entire story should feel staged, as a ritual might.  This story should use masks to represent the wind.  (We had a mask on a stick, held by the actor singing the role, a good yard beneath the mask which “floated”.)    The material that takes place in the palace should be less fanciful, but just as stylized and ritualistic, with masks again.  The piece should feel “dance-like” without involving any heavy duty dance of any sort.

Act Two’s first tale is about a horse who can tap dance, yes a four-footed hoofer.  There will be some tap involved for the two actors in what should be a highly stylized (rather than shoddy Vaudeville) horse costume.  Again, keep it fun, let it feel like real theater.  “You’ve Got What It Takes” should be pure show-biz sleaze (without getting vulgar or alienating).  Nice showy “Broadway glitz” choreography for the agent, who ought to be able to move well.  You might put the company behind him, give them something to sing, make it more of an 11 o-clock number.

The final skit is all massive puppets and intimate scenes, no dance to speak of, and it should almost entirely be staged by a director – with the exception of “Wonders and Miracles”, your final production number.  As the wizard describes the things he has created, we should ‘see them” using multi media, or placards, objects on sticks, people in masks, however you can do it.  Get creative, make it a parade of material goods that builds and becomes uncontrollable.

CASTING CONCERNS:

The Troubadour is your first concern.  Ideally, he’s charismatic, reasonably good-looking, a likable actor with a nice sense of self-deprecating humor.  This is an ensemble show, but The Troubadour is the first among equals.  Try to cast a reasonably mature actor, say in his 30s at least, but far better if he feels like he’s lived a bit, in his 40s or even his 50s.  Must sing very well, move decently.

The Silent Beauty should be energetic, comic, smart actress who can play “big” without losing the character.  We should understand why Troubadour cares for her, there should be something attractive and vulnerable about her, even when she’s putting out a tough exterior.

The Rain Princess should be feminine, regal, young-ish (so we sense a life lost when she dies young), lovely, a good soprano.

The owner of the horse (we used a girl, you certainly do not need to) must play low comedy well, and then fit into the ensemble without skipping a beat.

The Wizard should b e a bit older (or able to play with altitude believably), as he’s the Troubadour’s dad.  Should be a baritone, a strong actor who can handle comedy and high drama.  After the Troubadour, this is the most important role to get right.

The Wind (could be male or female, we used a man) should have a beautiful, haunting singing and speaking voice.  Needs an inventive, interesting actor who sings quite well, moves smoothly and effortlessly.

The Fox should move well, sing well, play musical comedy well.  He also plays the King, and as such should project a fatherly regal-ness.  Get a strong performer who can act.

The Working Bird actress (could be male) should have a good belt, a nice feel for over-the-top acting, and warm sensitivities when working in the ensemble.  A decent singer who moves well.

SETS:
We had a terrific set when we did the show (thanks to that master of stage management and all things theater technical, Steve Jacobson).  It was a large, very artsy, painted cut away with stairs built inside it, sort of hidden, representing a snow-capped mountain that watches over the Kingdom That Was, and it occupied most of mid-stage, giving us levels to play which were very useful during The Rain Princess, as she climbed to the heights to vanish.  This is your key set.

On the stage floor, you can HAVE THE ACTORS choreographed during transitional or introductory music and dialogue to bring on or remove faux free standing trees (the first two scenes), thrones (the third scene).  Act Two scene I would work best with a neon sign that lowered from the rafters and lit up, with the words “The Palace”.  Make this piece sort of lowbrow theater.

The final skit REQUIRES massive skeletal marionette-like puppets (think Bread and Puppet Theater) that can be raised from floor level to open up, billow and unravel like huge ghosts, stretching to the theater’s ceiling.  Very important that these be breath-taking, even frightening.

The sets are few and simple, but very important to the feel of the show.

COSTUMES:
The costuming should feel rag-tag, borrowed or stolen, and a little overtly theatrical.  Distressed, worn, patched, with holes, smudges, these actors live in a hard-scrabble world.  But the colors can be bright and solid, if worn.  They are a wandering troop of poor actors who have lost their home.  They attempt to maintain a sense of self-pride and worth, however.

PROPS
One word – MASKS!  There are other props, this could easily be a prop-heavy show, especially with expendables like “snow” or “rain” (confetti).  But the masks must be designed and built.  They should feel like theater.  They represent animals (chipmunks, the fox, the bird, snakes, etc), natural forces like the wind, a tree, and clouds, and some people.   They should be stylized, ritualistic, fun, and clearly create the sense of the existence of more than the actor holding them.  Often, place them on sticks to be carried rather than worn, so we can see the actor’s faces.  They must allow, and indeed enhance, the actor’s performance.  It would be good if they felt a little exotic and artful, a remnant of the lost Kingdom That Was.

LIGHTING:
Must be fluid, smart, adaptable to the changing scene and emotion.  You’ll want to often isolate a part of the stage, leaving the rest in some form of relative dark.  Get a very good, capable, creative lighting designer, and make sure whoever is running these cues is good, as there are likely to be many light cues.

MAKE-UP:
You’re using masks, so keep make-up almost natural, with touches of traveling players (like rouges cheeks, maybe).

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right):
Director, Music Director, Set Designer, Mask Designer, Lighting Designer, Troubadour, Silent Beauty, Wizard.

MY THOUGHTS:
This is a small musical, very theatrical, good for families in most communities.  The larger than life masks and animal/forces of nature characters will provide children something to wonder at and watch, and the stories work for both kids and adults.  It is an inexpensive show, overall, to produce, and not too hard to cast.  But your director needs to be experienced, creative, theatrically knowledgeable and able to infuse a show with motion, keep it moving, make the emotions pop.  This is no show for a director who has never done a musical.

A perfect show for many situations.