Reviewer says ”The Miracle Worker” delivers oneThe new Phipps Center production of "The Miracle Worker" is a must-see.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
@t:I have been reviewing the productions at The Phipps Center for more than 20 years and I have been privileged to see many great actors in many memorable roles but “The Miracle Worker,” which opened last weekend, is in a class all by itself.
The story of Helen Keller and her first teacher, Annie Sullivan, was a familiar one to me from the books I read by Keller when I was a very young girl to the Academy Award-winning movie back in the 1960s. I thought I knew what to expect when I took my seat Friday night. But what I experienced wasn’t about what I knew but more about what this amazing cast made me feel.
Sophia Whitley of Amery plays the five-year-old Helen Keller, a little girl who cannot see or hear and who, though surrounded by people who love and cater to her, is utterly alone. Whitley, who is 9, is the center of attention on stage, not just for what she does but also for what she doesn’t do-namely utter a line. It goes way beyond her ability to appear sightless and to make only guttural sounds. This incredibly physical role with its several “fight scenes,” would be a challenge for even a seasoned actress. But Whitley moves with the same energy and intensity from the beginning of her bouts with Sullivan right through to their end. Scambled eggs never got such a workout.
Giving as good as she got is Tara Elizabeth Lucchino as Annie Sullivan. This is Lucchino’s debut at The Phipps and she will be remembered for it. She expertly manages to communicate her own cruel struggles as a child and show how they fuel her determination to give Helen a voice. Her own voice in the play is witty and razor sharp. And on top of it all, she is front and center in all those fight scenes.
Whitley and Lucchino are surrounded by a great supporting cast that includes Marc Paez as Captain Keller, Katie Wodele as Helen’s mother Kate, Erik Olson as Helen’s stepbrother, James and Denise Baker as Aunt Ev. They take the audience with them as they go from skeptics to true believers.
This seems to me to be a near perfect production from the cast and director to the costumes, set, lights and music. So it is a shame that there were empty seats in the theater the night I was there. When the final scene played out, you could almost hear the gooseflesh rising and there was no mistaking the sniffs and sighs and wet eyes as the lucky ones who were there rose to leave.
Director Rebecca Rizzio obviously loves this story and believes in its message and its characters. She said it best in her program notes. “Annie gave Helen language. She did the impossible. It is why this story lives on and never fails to touch us so powerfully. We want to believe in miracles. And Annie Sullivan worked one.”
And so has Rizzio, and Whitley and Lucchino and the whole cast. So fill up those seats folks. This is one that should not be missed. Who can’t use some reminding that hard work and determination can make miracles happen?
“The Miracle Worker” runs weekends through April 15. There is no performance Easter Sunday, April 8. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (715)386-8409 or online at www.thephipps.org