Columbia Children’s Theatre brings a beloved character from children’s literature to life in Skippyjon Jones in the Cirque de Olé. This production will delight both long-time fans of Skippyjon Jones as well as those making their first acquaintance with the spunky little Siamese cat convinced he is a Chihuahua. Based on the children’s book by Judy Schachner, the musical features book and lyrics by David Morgan with music by Ricky Hernandez and additional music and lyrics by Shannon Morgan. From the domestic life of a cat family to the magic of a circus stage, Skippyjon Jones seeks adventure and glory as his Chihuahua alter ego. Director Jerry Stevenson, Assistant Director Crystal Aldamuy, and Music Director Paul Lindley II share an enjoyable blend of madcap hilarity and artful precision. Skippyjon Jones benefits from the collaboration of actors, designers, and directors working at the top of their collective game. Accompanied by my seven-year-old daughter and our friends, this reviewer attended the first Sunday matinee, which delivered plenty of zany hijinks. Skippyjon Jones in the Cirque de Olé hits all the right notes.
With one look at the cast list, seasoned CCT audience members will settle in happily for a luxurious hour while new visitors may find themselves pleasantly surprised by the top-notch talent. Beth DeHart, Kendal Turner, and Carol Beis launch the show with giggly energy as a feisty trio of kitty sisters of Skippyjon Jones, and the actors shine in additional roles when the circus comes to town. As the beleaguered and loving Mama June Bug Jones, Brandi Smith soars with a gorgeous soprano and belts a memorable “caterwaulin’” country number that will inspire any parent to reminisce about that special mystery, the pre-kid life. Anthony Harvey contributes a powerful (and uproarious) performance as “strongdog” Putzi Shtrungleboot, while Skippyjon Jones’ companions Pintolito, Don Diego, and Poquito Tito (played by the remarkable Julian Deleon, Andy Nyland, and DeHart) keep the audience howling with laughter. A performer of great magnetism and charisma, Lindley adds another winner to his considerable collection of CCT roles as the irresistible Skippyjon Jones. With only a trampoline and a flashlight, Lindley mesmerizes young viewers through the kind of imaginative play that children recognize and embrace. Clever banter provides ample humor that sets adults chuckling (“Downton Tabby,” anyone?) and slapstick shenanigans inspire shrieks of delighted excitement from the kids.
The production staff achieves adept scenic design (Jim Litzinger and Stevenson) and charming costumes (Donna Harvey and Stevenson). Keep an eye on the mirror, for the crafty timing of Skippyjon Jones’ “reflections” is not to be missed. Much of the circus sequence’s enchantment grows from the continual unfolding of surprise and amazement. The level of artistic collaboration evident in the ingenious employment of projections and shadow work rivals anything I’ve seen on a stage in New York, in South Carolina, or anywhere in between. From the moment Turner as the Ringmaster began to create exquisite shadow imagery and throughout the extraordinary interplay between actors and projections, this reviewer kept thinking, “I’m so glad our kids get to see this.”
After the show, my friend observed that each time she sees a CCT performance she thinks they can’t get any better – and then the next production succeeds in a wonderful new way. Performances of Skippyjon Jones in the Cirque de Olé will be Saturday, April 18 at 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, April 19 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 for children three years old through adults, $8 for seniors and active duty military, and $5 on Saturday nights at 7:00. To purchase tickets, visit www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com or call (803) 691-4548.