To be or not to be… evil.
Lucky Penny and first-time director Kirstin Pieschke have opened a portal to magic with their production of Disney’s Descendants: The Musical. Based on the series of Disney Channel movies, the show runs in Napa through Feb. 12.
Don’t let the title deceive, Descendants is not a typical fairy tale. Set in the starkly different worlds of “good” (The Kingdom of Auradon) and “evil” (The Isle of the Lost), the story of seemingly star-crossed lovers Ben (Samuel Schneider) and Mal (Emma Sutherland) is complicated.
Ben, the son of Belle (Larissa Kelloway) and Beast (Brad Fisher), is about to be crowned King of Auradon. His first decree is to give the children of the lost a second chance.
Mal is Maleficent’s (Andrea Dennison-Laufer) daughter. She and fellow “Evils” Evie (Pilar Gonzalez), whose mother, Queen Grimhilde, is Snow White’s evil stepmother; Jay (No’Eau Kahalekulu), Jafar’s child; and Carlos (Alex Corey), the son of Cruella De Vil (Staci Arriaga), are chosen to join classes at the school for fairy tale children and invited to Ben’s coronation.
When Maleficent learns of the plan, she decides to make her daughter steal Fairy Godmother’s magic wand. But Maleficent is not the only malice with which the four have to contend. Self-important Audrey (Sheccid Donatt), Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, and pretentious Chad (Atticus Fisher), Cinderella’s son, make life miserable for the newcomers, eventually turning the entire school against them, forcing the “Evils” to make the impossible choice: legacy or self-identity.
Schneider plays Ben with earnestness and grounded idealism that is matched well by Sutherland’s seriousness and presence as Mal. Gonzalez and Kahalekulu play truthful, fleshed-out versions of what could have been one-dimensional characters, and Corey’s Carlos, though a little unsteady at first, settled into an enjoyable performance. Though not helped by inconsistent mics and the use of unforgiving pre-recorded music tracks, the ensemble brings so much energy onto Lucky Penny’s tiny stage that it is hard not to feel their infectious joy.
Though the production often falls into the trap of musical delivery given priority over dramatic performance, this play is a good bet for the whole family. Teens will enjoy the nostalgia of the piece, and younglings will like the colorful costumes (designed by Ashley Hammons) and fun dances (choreographed by Staci Arriaga). Older audiences will appreciate the deeper message of the show.
Any play that has the ability to engage the whole family is worth catching.
‘Disney’s Descendants: The Musical’ runs through Feb.12 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center. 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thur–Sat, 7pm; Sun, 2pm. $20–$43. 707.266.6305. luckypennynapa.com.