by JESSICA HOLLAN
The script. The blocking. The actors. The singing. The costumes. Now I knew what I was walking into; I had spent collectively a near 10 hours in rehearsals for Prodigal Hearts. I knew the lines. I could sing along to every song. At this point, I was probably such a groupie that I thought nothing could surprise me. Boy, was I wrong.
Walking into a packed house, I was filled with immense pride for all the actors that I had come to know so well. I found a seat and fumbled around for my phone, joyfully holding it up so that I could get pictures of the performance. So when Rachel Chiles walked out in her Ace of Spades costume, I was so surprised I nearly dropped my phone (again). I didn’t recognize her. I had spent countless hours watching her rehearse, getting to know her. But when she walked out on stage, she was not Rachel. She was the Ace of Spades.
The attention to detail that all the actors put into their costumes was remarkable. I knew they were dressing nice, but I thought, Hey, this is just a run through – nothing elaborate. But the thought behind the costumes was incredible. Brandon Utley’s Alex McKinney was in blue (the color scheme of Alice from Wonderland), and Heather Traska donned the stage in green and black leather, looking very much the part of a character based off the Wicked Witch from Oz.
And had that simply been the most they had put into the performance, I would have still been very much impressed with the entire production for the thought process behind the scenes. But it wasn’t. I praise the blocking (although minimal, it was streamlined in a clean fashion that both elated and amused the audience) and the facial expressions all the actors conveyed. I was especially impressed with Julius Eckroth’s Chess, the Cheshire Cat. In all my time in rehearsals, I had never seen such a beautiful display of emotions; however, this performance was full of it, and it was lovely. Utley and Dillon Mikan gave stunningly enthusiastic performances at a level I was not expecting of a read-through script debut.
That is all well and done, but Prodigal Hearts is first and foremost a musical, which brings us to the singing. Talent. Sheer and utter talent. Act II was dominated by a heart wrenchingly emotional duet between leads Utley and Ian Holbrook. Heather Traska stopped hearts with her dramatic solo and Rachel Chiles dominated the audience with her rap, “Bow or Die.” My favorite song came in a form of comedic relief Maddie Hatter (played by Liv Woods) and Chess (Eckroth) in their quirky duet about breaking out of prison. The entire performance closed on the White Rabbit’s (Tabitha Miner) hauntingly gorgeous voice, luring Alex back into modern society.
Of course, none of this would even be possible if not for the mind of Holbrook. From the first moment I read the script (albeit before I should have; there is a certain level of advantage to being friends with the cast), I knew I loved it. After seeing it performed, I loved it even more. The entire performance was absolutely wonderful.
After the finale, I congratulated Holbrook on a spectacular performance and he told me he is looking to clean up the script one last time before (hopefully) performing it on an actual stage next year. And you better believe I will be sitting front and center for that performance, too.