Sam Archer in Edward Scissorhands(© Bill Cooper)
Sam Archer in Edward Scissorhands
(© Bill Cooper)
What made filmmaker Tim Burton's 1990 gothic fairytale Edward Scissorhands so memorable and indelibly endearing was its underlying subtleties, its beatific, quiet charm, and a whimsical elegance that warmed even the steeliest cynic. The title character left an impression on audiences that stabbed much deeper than the skin-deep cuts that his scissor-hands always managed to inflict.

Those merits of the film, coupled with a wonderfully creative design aesthetic, make it easy to see what compelled director/choreographer Matthew Bourne to bring Burton's highly stylized and original story to the stage. Yet, it is those same merits that work against Edward Scissorhands, which has just begun its American tour at San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre.

The problems with Bourne's production largely stem from his decision to nix all dialogue in favor of a purely choreographed show. This wordless interpretation requires that the original story be tweaked for the sake of clarity; unfortunately, its carefully planned subtleties have been blown up and exaggerated so as to be suitable for the stage.

Bourne has also changed the story in one significant way. In the cinematic version, Edward's horrific hands are accidental; his father, a lonely inventor, dies before he is able to give his creation human hands. But in Bourne's version, a real boy named Edward is electrocuted while playing with two glorious pairs of scissors during a lightning storm. His grieving father, seemingly inspired by the very tools that caused his son's death, sets out to create a new son from scratch and purposely gives him several pairs of those fateful shears for hands. This plot twist is not only illogical, but downright silly. From there, the piece becomes a series of hugely overdone scenes and painfully obvious clichés.

For example, "The Suburban Ballet" which introduces the audience to the jumble of stereotypes that populate the town of Hope Springs in the 1950s is colorful but not enormously inventive. We meet the typical all-American family (one of the children even wears a propeller hat); the religious zealot family, clad in black and bearing glum expessions; and the white trash family, who are never without a can of beer or a publicly worn bathrobe. While it's extensively choreographed, the number is far too long and representative of subsequent scenes, all of which feel engineered rather than inspired. Moreover, whereas Burton's mundane suburbia nicely offset the already outlandish Edward's descent into the quintessential and wide-eyed American town, nothing in the theatrical version stands out -- including the title character -- because everything stands out.

Without question, Lez Brotherston's imaginative set and costumes are wonderful to behold. Working with a vibrant color palette, Brotherston's creates many visually stunning scenes. His cookie-cutter tract housing, one of the hallmark features of the film, is effective and smart. The second-act "Annual Christmas Ball" scene is a gorgeous and interesting buffet of contrasting colors and textures.

In "Topiary Garden," when Edward reveals his landscaping talents to Kim (Kerry Biggin), the girl for whom he pines, the shrubbery he has pruned comes to life. It makes for a magical scene that highlights the stage production's potential while simultaneously confirming its shortcomings.

Due to the physical demands of the show, it is double cast. Sam Archer played Edward Scissorhands on opening night; he does what he can with the role, but he winds up seeming buffoonish rather than sweet. (Richard Winsor plays Edward on alternate evenings.) The cast's work aside, the inescapable fact is that this stage adaptation neither broadens nor deepens the themes of the film, nor does it deliver the whimsical charm of its screen counterpart.