By Paige Kieffer
The Old Log Theatre’s children production of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” on stage through Aug. 11, is a new adaptation of the original story that teaches children about bullying.
Written and directed by R. Kent Knutson, this new adaptation of the classic “Jack and the Beanstalk” story contains all the original characters and several more characters. The story begins years after the beanstalk has been chopped down by Jack, played by Thomas Henry, who has since gone missing in his adulthood.
His son and namesake, Jack, played by Nate Turcotte, lives on a small farm with his mother (Kendall Kent) and they’re about to lose their home. Jack is bullied mercilessly by the town mean girls Harper (Ali Daniels) and Henrietta (Chelsey Grant), and his only friend is his hilarious, talking cow Bessie, who is played by Diana Wilde.
Jack naively sells Bessie and his home for a few magic beans that were given by a greedy businessman Mr. Big (Thomas Henry) in exchange for a new home.
Jack and Bessie embark on a similar path of saving the family farm, by planting one of the magic beans and climbing it to the land of giants where Jack meets the giant’s wife Francis (Siobhan Bremer), her son Gus (Michael Johnson), a hen that lays golden eggs (Chelsey Grant), and a harp (Ali Daniels) of gold that sings.
Jack ends up learning more about what happened to his long-lost father, after Gus says his father, the giant played by Philly Wenderoth, is also missing. They discover that both their fathers were dear friends and not enemies, like in the original story.
Many lessons are learned along the way including the dangers of bullying and the true power of friendship.
“This is weird, but I never really liked the original ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ story and it scared me as a kid,” said Knutson. “It’s about a kid who steals things and chops down a beanstalk and the giant falls so we changed all that. The reason we did that is because it teaches kids lessons about bullying, friendship and family by using the same story ideas. We did make it more contemporary and more of a story that fits today.”
Knutson also wrote and adapted last year’s children’s production of the classic tale “The Reluctant Drag-on,” which is mentioned during “Jack and the Beanstalk.” He said, that after working as an educator for 45 years, he seeks to teach children vital life lessons with each adaptation.
“Were talking the old stories and giving them a little twist of their own and creating our own Old Log stories,” said Knutson. “We’re always challenging kids in education, which you have to do in a way that hooks them and gets them interested, and theater does that.”
Besides learning life lessons, the play includes other lessons, including vocabulary. During the play Jack learns the word “inseparable,” and the children watching get to learn along with him and the words are repeated throughout the story.
Turcotte, who plays Jack and will be a ninth-grader this fall at Minnetonka High School, said that children get to learn life lessons with Jack. He says Jack is a little naive, but has a big heart.
“Jack learns and begins to understand that sometimes people aren’t what they seem,” said Turcotte. “The giant, he’s yelling all the time and that makes him sound really scary but he’s just actually hard of hearing. He’s misunderstood and Jack has a big heart and gets to know him.”
Jack also learns that the mean girls, Harper and Henri, who bully Jack, actually have a crush on him. In the end Jack sees the girls who they are and they become friends.
“The duo of Harper and Henrietta, they get the notion that teasing Jack and not saying the nicest things will work in getting his attention,” said Grant, who plays mean girl Henrietta and the hen Heni. “They seem happy with that at first but they soon realize that’s not how they want to be and Jack points that out and sticks up for himself and his cow Bessie. You can see both girls immediately change and realize that didn’t work, but being nice can. It’s lovely and a really great moment.”
Erik Paulson, scenic and lighting designer, Sara Wilcox, costume designer, and Jeff Geisler, sound designer, also enhanced the realism of the production. “Jack and the Beanstalk” also uses projections like Old Log’s other production “Ghost: the Musical” that’s not on stage. Skyscrapers, clouds and a beanstalk are all created with the projection system.
“Kids watch so many cartoons and have so much media around, but theater is different,” said Grant. “Anything can happen, it’s live, they can interact, so it’s almost another level for them and they can have different experiences. These kids are so young and you can see their eyes grow wide with anything is possible. We have all this sound and designs that are better interactive wise for the kids because they feel like they can learn along with the characters.”
The children also get to interact with all the characters, including the 10-foot giants, after the show.
Performances are 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 10 a.m. Wednesdays, 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Thursdays, 12:30 p.m. Fridays and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays.
Tickets are $14 for Tuesday through Friday performances and $16 for Saturday performances. Group rates are available
The Old Log Theatre is located at 5185 Meadville St., Greenwood.
For more information or tickets, visit oldlog.com or by call 952-474-5951.
Follow Paige Kieffer on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunsailor.