Since starting out four years ago with a sold-out one-man adaptation of David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries, Urban Aphrodite has been a force in Shanghai’s theater world. After recent forays into tribute concerts and a three-man take on Fast Times at Ridgemont High, they’re back with two shows for the family: The 39 Steps and The Princess Bride.
“We do so much stuff for the adults, but my big desire is to make sure that we keep families and kids at the heart of what we do for at least one or two shows a year,” says Urban Aphrodite founder Ann James.
“Both of these shows are great for students, because you can see a lot of plot development and the structure of a good play. The 39 Steps is proven. It’s been on Broadway for a decade and the West End for even longer.”Best known as an Alfred Hitchcock classics, the 1935 spy thriller becomes captivatingly ridiculous and stripped down on stage. Four actors are tasked with portraying the story’s 100 characters with director Danny Wall promising a minimal set that forces the audience to build the show with their imagination.
“The show has the elements of a great Pixar film,” adds Brian Wang who stars as the show’s protagonist Richard Hanna. “There’s all this action to keep the kids entertained but there’s this other layer that the adults will appreciate.”
While The 39 Steps reinterprets the context of Hitchcock’s original, James promises that Urban Aphrodite’s adaptation of Rob Reiner’s 1987 family classic The Princess Bride will be more straightforward. (cast pictured below)
“There’s something about the film that’s so sweet, so I wouldn’t want to bastardize that or make fun of that,” she explains.
The large cast features a number of Urban Aphrodite veterans like Wang (Hamlet), Peter Domgard (Fight Club), John Harper (The 39 Steps), Ryan Larsen (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Eric Taci (Hamlet), as well as Shanghai newcomer Anna Lande.
An 8-year-old actor named Amadeus will portray the grandson, with James considering a 2D storybook set design to capture the film’s feel on stage.
Backstage at both shows, students will be involved in the crew. It’s part of Urban Aphrodite’s efforts to engage the community by offering volunteer hours that can be accrued to fill the requirements at IB schools.
Tasks range from preparing props and costumes to doing scene changes. Each show involves up to four student volunteers with past crews taking part in Urban Aphrodite’s school tour of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) and their futuristic adaption of Hamlet that was restaged at Shanghai Grand Theatre in February as part of the kick-off of their yearlong Shakespeare celebration.
“We want to give students the choice to say we want to be involved in drama,” Brandi Dowd, The 39 Steps Producer, says. “They might have no idea what they’re getting themselves into, but we’ll figure it out together.”
“That’s how we all got started involved in drama - because someone gave us the chance. What better gift can Urban Aphrodite give than to not only put on give shows, but give that spark to kids to build that community.”
The 39 Steps: Apr 21-24, 8pm (10am student matinee on Thurs and 2pm family matinee on Sun), RMB200-220. The Pearl, (email@example.com)
The Princess Bride: May 12-22 (Thurs-Sun), 8pm (2pm family matinee on May 21), RMB200-220. The Pearl, (firstname.lastname@example.org)