Theater review by Raven Snook. New Victory Theater (see Off Broadway). Libretto by Glyn Maxwell. Music by David Bruce. Dir. John Fulljames. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.
Philip Pullman’s 1995 children’s novel The Firework-Maker’s Daughter began life as a school play, and its inherent theatricality bursts forth in this operatic adaptation aimed at young audiences. Set in an unnamed Asian country, it chronicles the adventures of Lila (childlike soprano Mary Bevan), who desperately wants to follow in her father’s explosive footsteps. Since she’s a girl, the patriarch (Wyn Pencarreg) disapproves. So she goes on a hero’s journey to become one herself, facing Razvani the Fire-Fiend with a little help from her friends Hamlet (James Laing), a lovesick white elephant, and his quick-witted keeper Chulak (Amar Muchhala).
Featuring emotional music with hints of the Far East by rising classical star David Bruce and a straightforward English libretto by Glyn Maxwell, The Firework Maker’s Daughter is a gentle introduction to opera for children: It lacks supertitles and a four-hour running time, and thanks to director John Fulljames, set and costume designer Dick Bird, and two hardworking puppeteers from the troupe Indefinite Articles, it’s also an eye-popping, low-tech visual delight. Shadow puppetry, playful projections and colorful sand painting are all inventively employed to conjure the special effects, notably the climactic life-or-death fireworks competition. Even though it’s ostensibly for kids, this pyrotechnic fable about following your passion, wherever it leads, is just as likely to resonate with adults.—Raven Snook