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Montana Rep pulls off a miracle

Montana Rep's production of The Miracle Worker closes this weekend
Montana Rep's production of The Miracle Worker closes this weekend

The story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan is probably one of the best loved of American success stories. William Gibson latched onto this story and created a masterpiece of American Theater with The Miracle Worker. The Montana Rep has perfected that masterpiece with its current production.

I have previously seen this story in many forms, from theater to the movie starring its Broadway actress Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke and the remake with Patty Duke and Melissa Gilbert. I believe the Montana Rep production surpasses them all. If Broadway was smart they would ask this cast to bring this classic back to Broadway for a revival - it's that good.

Director Benadette Sweeney has created a production that excels in every way, from the simple hardwood floor set to the multimedia visuals to the perfect casting and props. Caitlin McRae captures the essence of Annie Sullivan in a way that would make Anne Bancroft proud. Her proud Irish heritage shines through, and her glimpses into Sullivan's past provide the drive that propels Annie to succeed in her task of teaching young Helen Keller that "everything has a name."

Every member of this cast adds to the believability of the story. Jim Gall brings out the toughness of Captain Keller, while Lily Gladstone brings out the compassion and love of Kate Keller. Even the supporting cast (Nick Pavelich as James Keller, Sarina Hart as Viney, Therese Diekhans as Auntie Ev and Hugh Bickley as the doctor and Anagnos) hold their own and make this production a gem.

But the star of the show is the young actress tasked with the most difficult part of all - portraying a young blind, deaf and mute child who never speaks a word until the final climatic scene - Hannah Appell. It was almost as if the spirit of Helen Keller was inhabiting her body, so believable was her performance. If this production was on Broadway, she would be a shoo-in for the Tony Award.

But the true test of any production of The Miracle Worker is whether it brings you to tears, and for me, that was a resounding yes. I wept openly and proudly as the water poured over Appell's hands and she came to the realization she could communicate with the hearing world. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

There are still a few performances left of this masterpiece - by all means, get out and see it - you will not regret it.

Thank you to Erin McDaniel for giving me the privilege of reviewing this show.

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