In a year that has upended the arts and so many beloved traditions, the A.R.T.’s annual holiday show is a joyful respite. “Jack and the Beanstalk: A Musical Adventure,” a 55-minute streamed event available through Jan. 4, showcases the talents of undergraduate cast members scattered around the country in a production that overcame pandemic restrictions with ingenuity — and a little help from friends.
In many ways, the collaborative creation reflects the themes that composer/playwright Julia Riew ’21 instilled in the book, music, and lyrics. “I wanted to write a show that was very, very uplifting and positive and happy. Not only because it’s a children’s show, but also because that’s the kind of show that people need right now,” said Riew, speaking from her family home in Connecticut.
To emphasize the show’s “four pillars of kindness, determination, courage, and creativity,” Riew explained, she departed from the original folk tale when necessary. Instead of having Jack sell the family cow for the magic beans, for example, she has him give away some milk to a thirsty old woman. It is in gratitude for this kindness that the old woman hands the young adventurer some magic beans.
The online format created both creative challenges and opportunities. For starters, Riew had to cut down the script, which she’d started in January, to better fit on-screen attention spans and rework staples of children’s theater, such as soliciting audience interaction before a character can progress. The format did give her some room to grow, however — at times, literally. The villain, King Giant, for example, “actually is a giant, because I could just make him larger” through video magic, said Riew. “And we can actually see a beanstalk growing out of the ground, because we got to work with animation.” To help replace some of the in-theater experience, the online show has its own downloadable “Jacktivity Pack” and original cast recording. (In addition, the family-friendly ticket is good for seven days, to allow for repeat viewing.)