Doubtless I am one of millions of parents who have read aloud Margaret Wise Brown’s classic bedtime tale, Goodnight Moon, at the conclusion of a marathon parenting day in soft, poetic fashion, a nocturne prelude to my child’s sojourn into sleep. Our interpretations were all wrong; my eyes have now seen the moonlight thanks to writer Chad Henry and Columbia Children’s Theatre (CCT) artistic director Jerry Stevenson. Instead, the cute gray Bunny, tucked under the green blanket and played with exquisite, thumping animation by Paul Lindley II, is no less a precocious daydreamer than Maurice Sendak’s Max.
Why we parents were so easily duped remains a mystery. After all, what child’s bedroom is replete with a fireplace, telephone, tiger skin rug and 19th-century French mantel clock? Parental instinct should have told us something was going on.
Transferring a timeless, if not somewhat abstract, classic children’s story into an engaging musical is a daunting theatre challenge. (I would rather be charged with turning Coriolanus into a ballet.) But foremost props—pun intended—should be lavished upon the CCT set design team of Jim Litzinger, Patrick Faulds, Donna Harvey & Co. Immediately upon entering the auditorium, one is presented with a vibrant, life-size mirror image of illustrator Clement Hurd’s nocturnal bedroom world. By the time the metaphorical curtain rises, patrons of all ages are convinced they are inside the pages of a cosmos where all the universe’s inanimate objects are accorded equal rights to a kind goodnight. So well-crafted is this stage that neither children nor adults suspect that it is about to spring to life, including choreographed argyle socks, gyrating lampstands, trap door frames, literal clock faces, prankish blankets, and an anthropomorphic telephone that scared me into thinking it was a green version of comedian Carrot Top.
For every child, hare or human, bedtime is a diurnal odyssey in which the 60-minute period between hitting the sack and falling asleep leads to under-the-covers-flashlight adventure—no matter how many times Old Lady Bunny appears to operatically croon, “HUSH!” While parents are pleasantly amused by the night-time imagination of Bunny, every child in the audience will likely consider the events on stage a familiar evening occurrence in his or her bedroom. What’s so unusual about wall pictures coming to life and breaking into a Fosse chair and tap number? Or dolls in the dollhouse crying out to their master? Or a hula-hooping mouse?
The between-the-lines key to every successful children’s show in this genre is of course a sufficient number of adult-targeted puns and slapstick gags—of which this show has no shortage, thanks to the cross-dressing antics of Lee O. Smith as a hirsute bovine and balding tooth fairy. Another key is an audience filled with children who could care less about the cache of candy their parents have lavished upon them, because they are so eager to behold what happens next. Several times I surveyed the throng of crisscross applesauce-seated children and saw nothing but riveted eyes.
Other performances of note include Elizabeth Stepp as the Bronx vaudevillian “ya-da-da-da-da” Dog; Anthony Harvey and Hannah Mount as the playful Kittens-turned-tap dancing Musical Bears; and Evelyn Clary as the Mouse, which my four-year-old daughter could not stop talking about until her head hit the pillow; then again, her name is Kat.
Director Stevenson once again regales us with a children’s play which is a worthy venture for every Columbia family in the next few weeks—only this time, he has demonstrated a bit of literary magic, proving that every story, even the most seemingly simple, is an open work, as complex in interpretation as all the “looth tooths” in the sky.
~ Arik Bjorn
Kat Bjorn’s Interview with the Cast of Goodnight Moon
KB: Why is the play called “Goodnight, Moon”?
Cast: [deep thoughts] That’s a good one.
KB: Why is the mouse young?
Mouse: Are you suggesting I’m old, kid?
KB: No, I think you’re a teenager. [big hug from mouse] You’re supposed to be four; I’m four, too!
Mouse: I’ll take teenager.
KB: What is mush?
Cast: [more deep thoughts] It’s like oatmeal but has completely different ingredients.
KB: Why would the bunny rabbit not go to sleep?
Bunny: There’s just so much to do! I don’t want to go to sleep. I have so much energy!
Director: He ate chocolate in bed.
KB: Have you read the book Goodnight Moon? Did you like it?
Bunny: I read it as a child. I really did like it; it was really fun to bring it to life on the stage.
KB: Do you say goodnight to everything in your house?
Black Kitten: Yes.
Dog: Only animate things.
KB: Quiet, everybody! Raise your hand if you say goodnight to everything in your house.
[Black Kitten raises hand timidly]
KB: Thank you.
Cow: I do, too. But I have serious OCD.
KB: Ahem! Have you ever eaten mush?
Dog: I like grits better. It’s very mushy. It’s like soggy rice oatmeal.
Director: It’s actually spray insulation.
Goodnight Moon runs September 21-30 with performances at the following dates and time: Friday, September 21 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, September 22 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sunday, September 23 at 3 p.m.; Friday, September 28 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, September 29 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; and Sunday, September 30 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and children 3 and up. The Columbia Children’s Theatre is located in the second level of Richland Mall, 3400 Forest Drive (corner of Beltline and Forest Drive). Enter the second level parking garage walkway and park in Level 2-L for easy access. Call 691.4548 for more information or to reserve tickets for groups of 10 or more. To learn more about Columbia Children’s Theatre , visit http://columbiachildrenstheatre.com/ .