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THEATER REVIEW: “Sleeping Beauty Wakes” is more of a snooze

Poor old dad. He’s been waiting 900 years for his lovely daughter Rose (Aspen Vincent) to wake up, and this “underfunded sleep disorder clinic in a mediocre hospital” may be his last hope.

Dad is, of course, the King (Bob Stillman), who traded away all the magic in his kingdom to live long enough to see Beauty (aka Rose) awaken.

Yep, it’s the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, now updated and in musical comedy form. “Sleeping Beauty Wakes,” a co-production with Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center, plays through Aug. 21 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre. Rebecca Taichman directs.

This show reunites book writer Rachel Sheinkin with two members of rock/pop trio GrooveLily – composer Brendan Milburn and lyricist Valerie Vigoda. The three produced “Striking 12,” based on Andersen’s story of the Little Match Girl, which played at the Old Globe in 2003.

Rose’s quartet of fellow patients are a disparate lot who have quite the opposite problem: they can’t sleep. The Doctor (Kecia Lewis-Evans), who makes no bones about the fact that she’d rather be doing research than working with patients, takes Rose’s case, though she assures the King that “your insurance will never cover this.”

You have to love the idea of Sleeping Beauty in a sleep disorder clinic. And Sheinkin has added other clever touches, such as the fact that Beauty’s savior isn’t a prince but a hospital orderly named Mike with his own sleep problems – a combination of narcolepsy and cataplexy. Too much emotion and he crumples into an unconscious heap on the floor.

But despite Sheinkin’s promising idea, the result looks as if the King also bargained away all the magic that should be in this show.

Let’s take the look of it. There’s not much you can do with set or costumes when the scene is a sleep disorder clinic, though Peter Nigrini’s projection design helps some.

There’s little magic in the music, either. The best melody in the bunch is “Still Small Hours,” which bears an uncanny resemblance to that old Sinatra standard “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.”

But most of the songs sound more like piano exercises – short, simple musical phrases repeated seemingly ad infinitum, with only the words changed.

The cast contributes uniformly good acting and variable voices. Stillman and Ryness have lovely high tenor voices with interpretive skills beyond most of the music they’re given.

Lewis-Evans, excellent as both the doctor and the wicked fairy (in a shiny silver gown with long metal fingernails) who in flashback condemns Beauty to that long sleep, has a lovely, rich mezzo voice that seems underutilized here.

Vincent’s Beauty (aka Rose) has a clear voice with plenty of power, but needs a little vibrato to temper that loud, straight tone that drills right into the eardrums.

Doug Varone’s choreography is inventive (how often do hospital beds figure into a dance?), but not especially interesting to watch.

The doctor’s description of sleep could just as easily apply to the writing of a musical: “We don’t know how it works. We don’t know why it works, so when it stops working, whatever else you hear, the protocol is a crapshoot.”

Better songs would be a good start.

The details

“Sleeping Beauty Wakes” plays through Aug. 21 at the Mandell Weiss Theatre of La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m.

For tickets call (858) 550-1010 or visit HERE.