Though they seemed cumbersome – after all, who could actually function with near foot-long appendages coming from the fingers? – Kelly Krieger had no problem with the presence of his scissorhands.
“Actually, I might feel better just keeping them on,” the 16-year-old said with a chuckle as he sat down late last week to chat with The Weekender about Phoenix Performing Arts Centre’s latest production, “Edward Scissorhands: The Musical.”
You definitely read that right: the popular Tim Burton film has been adapted for the stage, and though the word “musical” might conjure up song and dance scenes, this show twists it just a bit further and eliminates speaking altogether, telling the story solely through contemporary dance.
“We had nothing to judge by,” said director Lee LaChette of the process of putting on the show and looking for material. “There are only two numbers on YouTube, so everything we’ve done we created out of our heads; we made it how we felt the story should be told.”
The scarcity of material comes from the fact that “Edward Scissorhands: The Musical” has really only been put on by one dance company, New Adventures, the company of creator Matthew Bourne. It debuted in London in 2005 and subsequently toured in Britain, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States, earning a 2007 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience.
LaChette saw a YouTube video of one of the pieces from the show, the “Ice Dance,” and fell in love with it.
“I started digging through any names and any companies that I could possibly get a hold of over in London,” LaChette said of her efforts to bring it local. “The company that did it, Matthew Bourne’s, I contacted them. ‘How can I get the music? How can I get the rights?’ They finally came back and said we were able to do it; all we had to do was license the music. We did that and we just created from there.”
A HANDS-ON PERFORMANCE
An enormous capability for creativity is certainly necessary in putting on an oddball story such as this. “Edward Scissorhands” is a romantic dark fantasy that tells the tale of an artificial man named Edward who has scissors for hands. He lived most of his life as a recluse in his castle away from town, but he is taken in by a suburban family whose daughter he falls in love with. From there he must face the difficulties that come with adjusting to functioning in society.
Johnny Depp portrayed Edward in the film adaptation with Winona Ryder opposite him as love interest Kim Boggs, and other actors involved include Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, and Vincent Price.
It’s also interesting to note that not one cast member was even born when the movie was released in 1990. This has in no way impeded their ability to fully become each character, as the fact that no dialogue or singing is involved has helped everyone get even deeper into the personalities of their stage personas.
Michela Pantano, 17, plays the Creator (known as the Inventor in the film), and her character is one that gets more back-story than her on-screen counterpart, which is typically played by a male.
“Instead of the little boy being my son, like in the movie, he’s just a boy I’ve grown to love,” Pantano said. “One day, he’s outside cutting snowflakes, and as I come strolling through, he sees me and offers me a pair of scissors. When we finish our snowflakes, we realize this strong connection that we have.”
After the Creator leaves, a young Edward holds up his scissors and is struck by lightning. Upon her return, the Creator sees only the scissors on the ground and she knows something has happened to the boy. She then makes Edward what he is: a human-like being who wields large scissors as hands.
Gina Pettinato, also 17, plays Kim, a character she said she very much relates to due to her shyness, yet ability to overcome it around the right people.
“One day, Kim’s mom brings Edward home, and at first she’s really frightened of him, but then she eases up a little,” Pettinato said of her character. “She gets to know him, and she begins to fall in love with him.”
It’s evident that Krieger nails the part of Edward even when he’s simply standing about in costume, all wiry with crazy black hair and scarred face. He knows the creature’s facial expressions and falls into them as if they’re his own, and he works the plastic scissors that adorn his hands as though they’ve been there his whole life.
“I love the sound they make,” he said as he clicked away, demonstrating how Edward cuts and shapes things as in the famous topiary scene from the movie, which makes an appearance in the form of a full-on dance on stage.
Krieger saw “Scissorhands” for the first time at the age of 7 and was immediately drawn to it. It’s clear he feels for the character.
“He’s misunderstood. When he comes down from his home, he’s like a baby; he doesn’t know right from wrong or what the world is like. To take him on as an actor, it’s more like a baby coming into the world, or a toddler; he’s a big toddler. People think he’s a monster, but he’s a very kind and gentle soul who is unfortunately misunderstood and… it’s sad.”
To this day, the movie has not lost its effect, even though he’s watched it again and again.
“I watched it again the other day. I already had my character developed, so I didn’t take from anything he did, but when I watched it, I still… I felt something. I felt something for him; it was just such a powerful performance.”
“It’s all in the face,” is the answer you receive from each actor when asked the most important part about doing a show sans words.
“It has to feel like there’s a story being told when there’s nothing being said,” Krieger said, “and that’s the best way to do it.”
It also helps that Pettinato, Pantano, and Krieger all have dance backgrounds, making expression through movement come easier to them than most. Pantano has danced at David Blight since she was two, Pettinato has done ballet, tap, and jazz for three years, and Krieger has danced and his theater history goes way back, giving him the opportunity for various roles with dance numbers.
“It was a challenge,” LaChette said of directing this show in particular. “A lot of the kids that are in the show have been with me for quite a few years doing shows, so they’ve already worked with me and they know what I expect out of them. Doing something like this, I knew they’d be capable of doing it. Developing characters over the years kind of helped them now to develop a character without speaking, and it actually came pretty easy to most of them.”
It seems as though such a show has actually helped them get deeper into their characters, as opposed to a typical production.
“In a normal show, the singing and dialogue helps you discover your character, but with this… I mean, you can watch the movie right now, but it’s not like you can go out there and talk like your character. All you have is your body and your face to rely on,” Pantano said.
LaChette, who has been thankful to have Amanda Hunisch as an assistant choreographer on the show, has also given some actors the opportunity to choreograph their own dances, lending further richness to the character. Pettinato had a hand in choreographing “Portrait of Kim,” and Pantano choreographed her opening sequence.
The setting is simple, a dark blue backdrop lit by LED “stars” that showcases Edward’s castle and the Boggs’ home to the side. There are minimal things to see on the stage aside from the actors, but they’re a spectacle all their own. LaChette said that for the number in which Edward is cutting topiary, the whole cast is involved and decked out in “green man” suits, which are covered in leaves.
Shows like this are right up LaChette’s alley.
“It’s good for [the kids] to do different kinds of things,” she said of the members of Phoenix. “I’m off the wall, they’ll tell you. Like I’m doing ‘Seussical the Musical’ with my middle age kids, and we are not just doing ‘Seussical;’ they’re going to be using puppets. Everything I do I do in a strange way. I always put a twist on it so they know to expect something like this out of me.”
All three cast members nodded in agreement, with Krieger paying perhaps one of the highest compliments a director of this show could receive.
“She’s a lot like Tim Burton herself.”