REVIEW: Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type at Columbia Children's Theatre by Melissa Ellington

click Longtime fans as well as newcomers to the children’s book Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin will be enchanted by the marvelous production at Columbia Children’s Theatre. Through songs like “Music To My Ears” and “Electric Blankets Feel Like Home,” the musical by James E. Grote and George Howe invites audiences into the amusing and often surprising world of Farmer Brown and his animals.

When the barn residents discover a typewriter, their newfound ability to communicate with the farmer develops into a dramatic standoff: no milk or eggs until the animals get electric blankets. As Farmer Brown protests, “Cows that type. Hens on strike! Whoever heard of such a thing?” Farmer Brown is played by talented performer Julian Deleon, who brings the beleaguered character to life with engaging charisma. Jackie Rowe sparkles in the fierce and funny role of the Hen, while Paul Lindley II charms the audience as Duck, serving as both narrator and participant in this farmyard tale. Frances Farrar and Georgie Harrington excel as the title characters: Cows 1 and 2 are vibrant individuals with impressive commitment and loads of personality. At certain shows, Taylor Diveley (Duck), Brandi Smith (Cow 1), Imani Ross-Jackson (Cow 2) and Erica Cooper (Hen) will perform.

Cast members capitalize on the physical comedy made feasible by a remote control feature with humorous “rewinding” and “translating” from animal speak. The script retains key elements from the beloved book while also opening up inventive possibilities. For instance, while Duck is presented as a “neutral party” in the book, the play suggests a more complex (and hilarious) situation. Guided by accomplished director Jerry Stevenson, the production team has crafted an appealing farm experience with a touch of whimsy and a whole lot of creativity. Just wait till you see the clever take on a duck pond as realized by set designer Robert Michalski. Costumer Donna Harvey evokes animal characteristics while also suggesting distinct identities, especially with the cows’ outfits. Courtesy of expert choreographer Cindy Flach, the tap sequences provide energy and flair. My tap-dance-loving daughter was star struck by the spiffy tap number that enlivens the title song. Music Director Lindley guides adept singers through the enjoyable score, while stage manager Crystal Aldamuy and sound/light technician Jim Litzinger ensure that top-notch quality emerges in every aspect of Click, Clack, Moo with gratifying attention to detail.

My kindergarten child was overjoyed to see one of his all-time favorite books come to life on stage. “Oh, wow! That was great! Hooray!” he cheered while clapping vigorously. Hooray, indeed. Hooray for this extraordinary cast and crew, hooray for a community that supports local theatre for families and schools, and hooray for a brilliant launch to Season 11 for Columbia Children’s Theatre.

Click, Clack, Moo will be performed on Saturday, September 26 at 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. as well as Sunday, September 27 at 3:00 p.m. (There will also be an adults-only “Late Night Date Night” version of the show presented at 8:00 pm on Friday, September 25). For more information, call (803) 691-4548 or visit www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com.

Double Review: Br'er Rabbit - Columbia Children's Theatre and NiA Theatre

BrerRabbit Thumb Theatre review by Melissa Swick Ellington

A NiA production in collaboration with Columbia Children’s Theatre is a sure sign of clever family entertainment, and the current offering of Br’er Rabbit will delight audiences of all ages. Written by Darion McCloud, H. Loretta Brown, and Heather McCue, this version of the trickster’s tale celebrates music and rhythm, vibrant characters, audience interplay, and cunning creativity. Recognizing the complex legacy of Br’er Rabbit in his director’s notes, McCloud envisions an approach to the folk character that “really does belong to all of us.” With this production, NiA and CCT present an interpretation of the tale which delivers “that upshot of joy.” (Further observations on the history surrounding the “Br’er” tradition are explored in the accompanying interview by young Kat Bjorn.)

A master storyteller himself, the magnetic performer McCloud is perfectly cast in the storytelling role of Anansi the spider. McCloud’s interaction with the young audience members seems natural and genuine. Even his dynamic facial expressions foster an atmosphere of encouraging warmth. As the crafty and appealing Br’er Rabbit, Bonita Peeples plays the resourceful trickster with quick-witted glee. Peeples draws in the audience with admirable skill, made evident by children’s eagerness to cover for Br’er Rabbit when the other animals realize they have been fooled by the rascal. At the performance attended by this reviewer, kids insisted “She’s nowhere!” and “Run for your life!” in their efforts to help the beloved main character. (An added treat: audiences even get to appreciate her glorious singing voice!)

The entire ensemble delivers first rate performances which include McCue as the brainy and sassy Br’er Tiger, Charlie Goodrich as Br’er Bear, Michael Clark as Br’er Lion, and Jimmy Wall as Mr. Man and Tar Baby.  Supported by percussionist Don Laurin Johnson, this talented group weaves a captivating web of magical sounds and sights. Moments of aural symphony encourage audience members to clap along, and in the case of my preschooler, offer an enthusiastic “Yeah!” At certain performances, alternate actors appear in the roles of Br’er Lion (Clark Wallace), Br’er Bear (Brown), and Mr. Man/Tar Baby (Julian Deleon and Goodrich).

An innovative approach to physical theatricality pervades the production. From the beguiling staging of the opening spider sequence to the finely tuned collaboration of Peeples and McCue in the big chase through the rousing group dance in the final scene, these performers embody characters and story with boldness and flair. Adults will particularly enjoy the pop culture references (check out that Scarecrow!) and wordplay such as the “arugula” jokes, while the kids relish the opportunity to offer ideas on sticky substances for the Tar Baby (peanut butter and jelly, gum, melted candy, and marshmallows were popular choices).

McCloud provides creative vision as director, costumer, and sound designer, and Wall conjures effective visuals as makeup designer. Costumes evoke animal identity while also inviting children to imagine. McCue (company manager), Crystal Aldamuy (stage manager), and Jim Litzinger (sound and light technician) contribute to a cohesive production team.

As one youngster declared early in the performance, “I knew it was going to be funny!” Columbia families have come to anticipate high quality theatre at CCT, and the collaboration with NiA to produce Br’er Rabbit is an enjoyable success. Treat yourself to the rollicking good time of Br’er Rabbit, and you will likely agree with my preschool son’s post-show exultation: “That was FUN!”

(l-r): Heather McCue (Br’er Tiger), Jimmy Wall (Tar Baby), Darion McCloud (director, Anansi), Thespian Formerly Known as Scarecrow, Charlie Goodrich (Br’er Bear), Michael Clark (Br’er Lion)

 

Rising Second Grader Interviews Cast of Columbia Children’s Theatre Br’er Rabbit by Kat Bjorn (with some help from her Papa, Arik)

 

Kat’s Papa:  Hey folks, technically this part isn’t a review of Columbia Children’s Theatre’s current production, Br’er Rabbit, but seriously, you have to see this show—even adults without kids.  You see, there’s a Scarecrow Formerly Known as Prince; Br’er Lions & Tigers & Bears, oh my!; plus more Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da than you can shake a briar patch at.  Also—

Kat Bjorn:  Papa, shhh!!  I’m starting the interview now.

Papa:  Okay, time to go be scribe.  Seriously, see this show!

 

Kat Bjorn:  What does “Br’er” mean?

Darion McCloud (Anansi the Storyteller):  That’s a good question.  It means “brother,” but it can be used for boys and girls—all humanity, really.

Heather McCue (Br’er Tiger):  Lady tigers thank you!

 

Kat Bjorn:  (pointing at Br’er Lion) Are you a lady?

Michael Clark (Br’er Lion):  Are you referring to my fabulous wig—I mean mane?

 

Kat Bjorn:  Take off your mane.

Br’er Lion:  Don’t mind if I do; it’s getting hot in here.

 

Jerry Stevenson, CCT Artistic Director:  He’s not even a natural blonde.

Kat Bjorn:  If “Br’er” means “brother,” and they’re brothers, how come Br’er Lion, Br’er Tiger and Br’er Bear are always trying to kill Br’er Rabbit?

Br’er Tiger:  Do you have any brothers and sisters?  I have a sister, and we fight like cats and dogs.

 

Anansi the Storyteller:  Also, let’s face it, they’re predators.  And rabbits taste good.

Kat Bjorn:  The characters, right?  People don’t really eat people.

 

Anansi the Storyteller:  Correct.  NiA Company does not endorse cannibalism.

Jim Litzinger, CCT Managing Director:  Nor does Columbia Children’s Theatre!

 

Kat Bjorn:  Next question.  My Papa says the Br’er Rabbit tales were sometimes codes for African-Americans a long time ago.  What does this mean, and what’s a code?

 

Anansi the Storyteller:  A code is when people say one thing but mean something else.  And your Papa is right.  During slavery, black people were treated really badly.  They used these stories to feel better.  Br’er Rabbit was code for black people; Br’er Fox and the other Br’er predators were the slaveholders.

 

Br’er Tiger:  It had a lot to do with power

Anansi the Storyteller:  Right.  They had to speak in code or risk getting punished.

 

Kat Bjorn:  Why does Br’er Rabbit carry a knapsack in the show poster but not in the play?

Anansi the Storyteller:  Um, director’s choice, I guess.

Papa whispers to Kat.

Kat Bjorn:  Did it have anything to do with budget?

Jerry Stevenson, CCT Artistic Director:  Knapsacks definitely would have broken the bank.

 

Kat Bjorn:  I’m pretty good at crafts.  I could make a knapsack pretty cheap.

Anansi the Storyteller:  We’ll have to hire you next time as a financial consultant.

 

Kat Bjorn:  Excuse me, Mr. Scarecrow, can you tell us about “Purple Rain”?

Anansi the Storyteller:  Actually, that’s the Actor Formerly Known as Scarecrow.  The scarecrow’s real name is Button-Bright.  It’s named after a character in L. Frank Baum’s Sky Island.  The Prince mask is another story altogether.

 

Kat Bjorn:  In the book we’re reading at home, Uncle Remus is the storyteller.  But in this play, it’s Anansi the Spider.  Why?

Anansi the Storyteller:  Actually, many of the Br’er Rabbit stories were originally African folktales.  And in Africa, Anansi the Spider narrates the tales.

 

Br’er Lion:  Well, I never got there, did I—thanks to Br’er Rabbit!  So we’ll never know!

Kat Bjorn:  How do you prepare to act like an animal character?

 

Bonita Peeples (Br’er Rabbit):  I use my imagination!  I try to think childlike.  And rehearsal is a great place for me to practice my imagination!

Kat Bjorn:  What was your favorite part of the show?

 

Jimmy Wall (Tar Baby):  When they’re planning to cook Br’er Rabbit.

Br’er Rabbit:  When Br’er Rabbit interrupts Sister Moon in the shower.

Br’er Lion:  The Tar Baby story.

 

Kat Bjorn:  Final question:  How come Br’er Rabbit always outsmarts Br’ers Lion, Tiger & Bear, but isn’t smart enough to realize Tar Baby isn’t really alive?

Br’er Rabbit:  You can’t be smart about everything—but I did get myself out of that jam, didn’t I?

 

Bre’er Rabbit runs June 12-21 with performances at the following dates and times:  Friday, June 12 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, June 13 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 14 at 3 p.m.; Saturday, June 20 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 21 at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $10 for adult and children 3 and up.  Seniors & Military ticket prices are $8.  Tickets are $5 for the Saturday 7 p.m. performance.  The Columbia Children’s Theatre is located at 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.  To learn more about Columbia Children’s Theatre , visit http://columbiachildrenstheatre.com/ .

 

 

 

 

 

"Jack Frost" - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the world premiere of the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

jackfrost1 Columbia Children’s Theatre presents Jack Frost, a world premiere musical with book and lyrics by Crystal Aldamuy and music by Paul Lindley II, through Sunday, December 14. Here in Columbia, SC, we have plenty of reasons to be grateful for the presence of CCT in our community, such as high quality children’s theatre performed by professional actors, educational outreach programs, and theatre training and performance opportunities for youth. Yet another reason to cherish CCT emerges with the production of Jack Frost, which further establishes the theatre’s commitment to the development of new works. Past original productions have included adaptations of Puss and Boots, The Snow Queen, A Christmas Carol, and a number of commedia dell’arte shows. Any artist who has collaborated on the production of new work for the theatre can tell you that such endeavors require a special level of dedication, hard work, and ingenuity.  We are fortunate to have a children’s theatre in Columbia that persists in the development and presentation of new plays and musicals right here in our own community.  Audiences will be delighted by the enchanting and upbeat experience of Jack Frost.

Director Jerry Stevenson delivers an entertaining production of this clever new musical by Aldamuy and Lindley.  Creative characters, inventive humor, and enjoyable music delighted the audience at the matinee I attended with my husband and two young children. The story explores the family life of the title character, focusing on parent-child conflict over tradition and responsibilities. While Isis and Ike Frost expect their son Jack to become part of the family business, Jack would rather cause mischief and go on adventures than toil away producing individual snowflakes or painting leaves. The warm Kringle family poses a worthy counterpoint to the icy Frost folks. When Crystal, the Kringle daughter, switches places with Jack, both families have a lot to learn.

Composer/Music Director Paul Lindley II as Jack Frost, changing the colors of the autumn leaves

Not only have Aldamuy and Lindley created the material for their first original musical, they are also involved in this production. Aldamuy has devised crisp choreography for numbers such as “Reindeer Tango” as well as providing stage management expertise. As Jack Frost, Lindley captivates the audience with his agile antics and impressive singing voice, evident in “Jack’s Ballad” among other strong musical numbers. Julian Deleon provides a comforting paternal presence as Chris Kringle, thus achieving another successful foray on the CCT stage. Rachel Arling (Christine Kringle, and - full disclosure - a contributor to Jasper), Carol Beis (Isis Frost), and Charley Krawczyk (Ike Frost) energize their scenes with appealing performances, while Kaitlyn Fuller portrays Crystal with vivacity and charm. Anthony Harvey plays the dual roles of Old Man Winter and Elf; his impish Elf becomes the show’s comedic engine. My preschool son’s belly laughs testified to Harvey’s hilarious and skillful portrayal, not to mention the kid’s desire to imitate some of the Elf’s inventive shenanigans. (At certain performances, Toni V. Moore plays Isis Frost, Jerryanna Williams plays Crystal Kringle, and Lee O. Smith plays Chris Kringle.)

(L-R) Kaitlyn Fuller, Julian Deleon, Rachel Arling, Anthony

Costume design (Donna Harvey and Stevenson), scenic artistry (Jim Litzinger, Stevenson, D. Harvey and A. Harvey), and sound design (Lindley) maintain the high standards of artistic quality that distinguish CCT performances. Distinctive color palettes work effectively to differentiate the worlds of Frost and Kringle, especially through the superb costuming choices. Matt Wright (Sound Technician) and Brandi Smith (Light Board Operator) also provide valuable technical support.

It is a credit to the community’s enthusiasm for CCT that a brand new and unknown work can draw a packed house similar to audiences that attend more familiar plays. My first grade daughter is always eager to go whenever I suggest a trip to CCT. Show title, genre, characters?  No concerns of hers; she is just elated at the prospect of another show. You see, my daughter – like so many of us in Columbia – trusts that whatever production she sees at CCT, she will have a great experience. Thank goodness for the extraordinary talents at Columbia Children’s Theatre for their vision and artistry. We can’t wait to see what they dream up next.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

The world premiere of Jack Frost continues through this Sunday, Dec. 14, with morning, matinee, and evening performances.  For ticket information, call (803) 691-4548 or visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/jack-frost/.  And don't forget - there's also Late Night (i.e. 8 PM rather than 7 PM) Date Night for Mom and Dad on Friday, December 12, and when the kids are away, the actors will play!  The cast performs the same script, but loosen up and bring out double (and triple) entendres for a riotous evening of PG-13-ish fun.  This is an unpredictable evening of fun and surprises that is pretty much guaranteed to make you say, "I can't believe they got away with that in a Children's Theatre!" Recommended for ages 17 and up.  And while 8:00 may be late for Children's Theatre folk, it's still early enough (since the show only runs one hour) that you can head out into the night for more fun, in a great mood, after having laughed yourself silly!  For more info or tickets, visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/event/late-night-jack-frost/

frost2

"How I Became a Pirate" is a rollicking good time - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

pirate1  

Get on board for a swashbuckling romp at Columbia Children’s Theatre! How I Became A Pirate is a rollicking good time for audiences of all ages. Director Jerry Stevenson and the exceptional cast and crew have created a delightful theatre experience with a crowd-pleasing band of pirates. Based on the book by Melinda Long and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator David Shannon, this musical features book, music, and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. Kids will enjoy the action-packed plot, adults will snicker over clever wordplay, and everyone will leave the theatre grinning and snarling “Argh!” and “Ahoy, matey!”

Ashlyn Combs as Jeremy Jacob

While digging in the sand, young Jeremy Jacob encounters a raucous bunch of friendly pirates. Audiences will savor lively lessons that range from talking like a pirate to burying treasure. In the most rewarding educational settings, learning is a reflexive process; in this story, Jeremy Jacob is both student and teacher, as he leads the pirates through a tutorial on “soccer by the rules.” The script and lyrics capitalize on word jokes that will tickle audiences both youthful (“poop deck”) and seasoned (rhyming “flamingo” with “Ringo”). How I Became A Pirate allows even the more cautious younger viewers to revel in risk-taking by establishing a base of reliable security. We realize early on that this is no ordinary beach (“yo ho ho and a bottle of sunblock”), yet children are reassured of the boy’s well-being (“We’ll get you home safe and sound”). While kids shriek in gleeful anticipation as pirates invade the audience, they also recognize the fictional nature of the scurvy band. At the performance I attended, one small girl announced, “He’s not a real pirate – he doesn’t even smell bad!”

L-R Julian Deleon, Lee O. Smith, Anthony Harvey, Ashlyn Combs, Brandi Smith, Paul Lindley II, Andy Nyland

Although CCT has staged How I Became A Pirate previously, this production has a new script and music. The sole remaining element from the previous show is actor Lee O. Smith in the role of Captain Braid Beard – and what a marvelous captain Smith becomes. He snarls, grimaces, cajoles, and surprises, leading the energetic ensemble through a polished, exuberant jaunt. Ashlyn Combs demonstrates an appealing singing voice and earnest sincerity in the role of the young boy Jeremy Jacob. Complete with eye patch, beard, plumed hats, and sketchy dental care, the memorable pirate crew features capable performers who take full advantage of the characters’ distinct personalities. Brandi Smith as Maxine reveals a glorious voice and comedic flair, Julian Deleon shines as the congenial Pierre, and Andy Nyland relishes the complexity of Sharktooth, who demonstrates that outward appearances can be misleading. As the playful Seymour, Anthony Harvey delivers a dynamic performance, punctuated by an impressive spiel of pirate lingo. Paul Lindley II as the inimitable Swill is downright hilarious. Is there any role this talented actor can’t play?  With my faithful theatre-going companion (my six-year-old daughter), I have admired Lindley’s remarkable performances in numerous roles at CCT and elsewhere.

pirate6

Stevenson stages the musical with skillful wit. Through physical comedy, the actors inhabit a convincing pirate world, as in Jeremy Jacob’s wild steering of the ship. Particular sequences to watch for include the adept “minivan” staging, a fluid soccer game, and a blustery storm at sea. Crystal Aldamuy (Stage Manager and Choreographer), David Quay (Light Board Operator), Matt Wright (Sound Technician), and scenic artists Anthony Harvey, Donna Harvey, Jim Litzinger and Toni Moore collaborate with Stevenson to deliver a top-notch production.

 

pirate5

Crisp choreography and excellent vocal quality contribute to the musical’s success. From the opening scene’s impressive sandcastle to the seamless transition into the closing moments, the set design works beautifully to suggest multiple locations and changing moods. Donna Harvey and Stevenson achieve splendid richness in the pirate costumes, melding a vivid color palette with lush textures. Sharktooth’s eye-catching tattoos deserve special mention, along with noteworthy “mop” choreography. As an enthusiastic fan of the original picture book’s illustrator David Shannon (No, David! and Duck on a Bike, anyone?), I wondered how the book’s strong visuals would be interpreted onstage. I was happily delighted with the design team’s unified aesthetic that is both fanciful and functional.

 

pirate2As Stevenson recognizes in the program notes, “Wouldn’t we all like to be swept away on the high seas where there are no jobs, no school, no rules and no bedtimes!” Although the story highlights the delicious prospect of endless amusements and boisterous shenanigans, the comforting allure of dependable family life also emerges. The ensemble finds a powerful balance between comic hijinks and poignant tenderness. Purposeful performances and clarity of direction enhance moments like a wistful ballad on the goodness of home. As my six-year-old explained, “My favorite part was when Jeremy Jacob sang about home because it made me feel happy to think about my home.” In the midst of upbeat humor and captivating storytelling, a shining vein of relatable honesty runs through a genuinely human experience.

While my daughter and I have become accustomed to looking forward to first-rate productions at CCT, this show feels especially terrific. Take it from me, matey: learning how to be a pirate is a fun-filled voyage in this high quality performance at the Columbia Children’s Theatre.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

Show Times:   Friday, September 26: 8:00 p.m. – Late Night Date Night for adults Saturday, September 27: 10:30 a..m. , 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. (with tickets half-price for the 7 PM show!) Sunday, September 28: 3:00 p.m.

For ticket information, visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/how-i-became-a-pirate/.

A Pirate's Life for ME!

 

 

Columbia Children’s Theatre’s Spaghetti and Meatball Players Stir Up Delicious Fun - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews "The Commedia Snow White"

SnowWhite-PosterWe’re smack in the middle of that sweltering heat for which Columbia is famous, so thank goodness for the cool, original commedia play at Columbia Children’s Theatre. A rollicking band of players bring to life the meaning of commedia dell’arte, or “the very creative comedy of actors,” as described by the gifted (and hilarious) director and writer Jerry Stevenson. The collaborative nature of this Italian theatre tradition soars through the vibrant efforts of an exceptionally talented cast. Melding popular culture, current news items, Broadway musicals, and classic fairy tales with high energy slapstick, the ensemble sparkles in this gem of a production. Skillfully staged by Stevenson with special commedia choreography by Cathy Brookshire, The Commedia Snow White and the Seven Dwarves features five excellent actors who play traditional commedia characters: Punchin (Paul Lindley II), Rosetta (Beth DeHart, with Kendal Turner in the role for certain performances), Pantalone (Julian Deleon), Columbine (Elizabeth Stepp),and Arlequino (Anthony Harvey). These “Spaghetti and Meatball Players” take on various roles within the story, leading to some nifty meta-theatrical moments (such as Stepp’s matter-of-fact observation on what can’t happen if she’s playing Snow White instead of another role.)

vvv

The actors capitalize on the fun interplay of the commedia characters’ tension and discord through the fairy tale framework. Lindley realizes his character’s desire to star in a musical with brilliant commitment and impressive vocals; musical theatre fans will be particularly enthralled by his Broadway mash-up. DeHart’s gift for physical comedy fuels zany sequences like an uproarious running gag with sound cues. Her wicked queen is a hoot, especially in scenes with the magical mirror (the delightful Harvey) who belts out hit singles with attitude. Harvey’s considerable talents are put to good use throughout the engaging production. In a charming performance, Deleon creates effective rapport with the audience as Pantalone the narrator. Stepp achieves both the ridiculous (in a good way) and the sublime in her hilariously enchanting portrayal of the title role. One of the veterans from past commedia productions, Stepp is a marvel onstage; you don’t want to miss her magnificent “All By Myself” breakdown among other triumphs.

snow2

Some of the wit (Voltaire, anyone?) will be over the heads of younger children, but there are plenty of jokes that land for the kids while the grownups giggle over references to Instagram, Photoshop, Divergent, and Twitter. My six-year-old loved the wordplay of homonym humor such as “hair/hare” and “pi/pie.” This is definitely a show that works on multiple levels. When Snow White can’t eat gluten or high fructose corn syrup, hilarity ensues. The ingenious staging of the seven dwarves is simply too good to describe – go see the show and be ready to laugh yourself silly.

(L-R)

Production design choices hit all the right notes. Ragtag patched curtains frame anappealing proscenium with simple backdrops for efficient scene changes. Costumes by Donna Harvey and Stevenson evoke the stock commedia characters vividly while also giving a nod to contemporary figures such as a certain well-known animated female mouse. Extraordinary attention to detail went into the sound design (Stevenson) and operation (Jim Litzinger), and David Quay provides effective light board operation. Stage manager Crystal Aldamuy must possess superb organizational skills to keep track of all the mayhem this production instigates.

snow3

These actors are quick-witted, clever, and multi-talented (singing, dancing, the ability to turn awesome cartwheels in a big puffy princess gown...) They are also experts at connecting with the child audience members who seek autographs after the show. I continue to be impressed by how the CCT performers relate to individual kids. It is no small feat to deliver a raucous performance and immediately thereafter exude kindness and intuitive understanding of young people.

The only thing I’d like more than attending a performance of The Commedia Snow White and the Seven Dwarves? Watching what must have surely been a laugh riot of a rehearsal and development process. CCT has produced commedia offerings for five consecutive summers; let’s hope for more delicious fun in future from the Spaghetti and Meatball Players.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

Show Times:

Friday, June 20: 8:00 p.m. Late Night Date Night for Mom and Dad Saturday, June 21: 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. Sunday, June 22: 3:00 p.m

Weekday matinees (perfect for day cares & camps):

Thursday, June 19, 10:30 a.m.

Thursday, June 26: SOLD OUT Thursday, July 10: 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 17: 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 24, 10:30 a.m.

Call 691-4548 to reserve seats for your campers at a discounted group rate.

For more information, visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/.

commedia

"The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fair(l)y (Stoopid) Tales " at Columbia Children's Theatre - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington

Cheeseman

During my years as a drama teacher, I observed that students loved creating “fractured fairy tales” to perform. Taking a well-known story and turning it into something new, usually to humorous effect, was a guaranteed classroom success. Thus, it was a special treat to enjoy the current offering at Columbia Children’s Theatre and to savor audience reactions of surprise and delight. Directed by Jerry Stevenson, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fair(l)y (Stoopid) Tales provides the kind of high quality family production that audiences have come to anticipate from CCT. Adapted by Kent Stephens from the children’s book by Jon Scieszka, with music by Gary Rue, Stinky Cheese Man offers a bright romp through classic stories told in unexpected and uproarious ways. In Scieszka’s Caldecott Honor book (with illustrations by Lane Smith), the title story spoofs the Gingerbread Man, “Cinderumplestiltskin” parodies those two enduring characters, and the “Really Ugly Duckling” becomes…well, check out this show to see (and laugh) for yourself.

cheese

The capable cast and crew members bring the comical tales to life with energy and wit. At the performance I attended, children were riveted by the engaging ensemble. B. Scott Vaughan as Jack (of beanstalk fame) guides the viewers through the theatrical experience. Vaughan’s inviting stage presence makes audience members feel like they are part of the journey.  Lee O. Smith creates a sly Foxy Loxy, whose mischievous interactions with Toni V. Moore’s vivacious Little Red Hen ignite lively shenanigans. Julian Deleon delivers a dynamic turn as the obnoxious stepmother to Evelyn Clary’s charming albeit detail-obsessed Cinderella. Elizabeth Stepp revs up the comedy as Rumplestiltskin and the frog princess, while Paul Lindley II becomes the marvelously boisterous and unforgettable Stinky Cheese Man himself. Not only does stage manager Crystal Aldamuy keep the action flowing offstage, she also joins in the hijinks onstage as a helpful Pinocchio.

(L-R) Toni V. Moore, Paul Lindley II, Scott Vaughn, Lee O. Smith, Elizabeth Stepp, Julian Deleon, Evelyn Clary

Costume design choices by Stevenson and Donna Harvey evoke familiar characters with an inventive twist. In particular, the Stinky Cheese Man’s garb proves to be downright hilarious, producing roars of laughter from audience members. Stevenson and Jim Litzinger provide clean, reliable sound and lighting choices. Clever choreography by Aldamuy punctuates key moments, while Lindley’s valuable music direction drives effective vocal performances. Physical humor abounds in this production, with a fast forward/pause/play sequence sending my young daughter and her friend into fits of giggles. My kindergartener recommends, “Kids should come see this show because it is funny and silly!”

cheeseman 5

Rather than retread timeworn ground by retelling the same old yarns, these theatre artists aim to “change it, derange it, do anything but bore us.” And do they ever succeed: traditional characters embrace the Giant’s declaration of “fee fi fum fory” to make up “my own story.” Stinky Cheese Man imparts the delightful message that established narratives can be reinvented and infused with vibrant originality. By sharing this well-crafted production, CCT may inspire young audience members to create their own imaginative versions of well-known stories. Why stop at “once upon a time” when you can try “time upon a once”?

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

StinkyCheese-Poster-webThere are three more days to catch The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fair(l)y (Stoopid) Tales:

- Friday, April 4: 8:00 p.m. (which is a Late Night (ok, CCT shows generally start at 7 PM, so this is late for them!) Date Night for Mom and Dad, and young-at-heart adults.  There will be a cash bar available, so if you don't have kids, or just want a night out on your own, do not miss this performance. - Saturday, April 5: 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 7:00 pm. - Sunday, April 6: 3:00 p.m.

For ticket information, call (803) 691-4548, or visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com.

"Puss in Boots" is the cat's meeow! A review of the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

boots1 Columbia Children’s Theatre brings back a hit play from their very first season, and audiences will enjoy a wild and clever journey with the current production of Puss in Boots. The lively tale chronicles the adventures of a suave cat and his master Tom as adapted from the original Perrault story by director Jerry Stevenson. In Stevenson’s version, Puss and friends cavort through the Old South, complete with lavish costumes and splendid scenic elements. Cast and crew deliver high quality performances at CCT, and this solid production is no exception. Children will enjoy sassy Puss in Boots and his companions, relishing the rollicking slapstick humor and broad characterizations, while adults will snicker (and snort, truth be told) over the more sophisticated wordplay.

Columbia’s beloved storyteller Darion McCloud played the title role at the performance I attended. His infectious charisma infuses the character with irresistible charm and saucy swagger. With McCloud at the helm, the entire cast achieves energetic commitment and memorable magnetism. In the central role of Tom, Paul Lindley II creates an appealing character that pursues “riches beyond compare” through a riotous escapade guided by the wily Puss in Boots. Along the way, the pair encounters a vivid assortment of villains and heroes portrayed by top-notch actors, including Denzel Devereaux (Lee O. Smith), Miss Sassafrass St. Simmons (Toni V. Moore), Prissy Pat (Elizabeth Stepp), Voodoo Vickie (Kendal Turner), and Governer O’Grovener (Julian Deleon). Matt Wright and Stepp deliver memorable performances as Tom’s dim-witted brothers Buford and Shuford. Bonita Peeples plays the role of Puss in Boots at certain shows, and her captivating portrayal of several other parts in the performance I attended suggests her certain success in the title role.

(L-R) Julian DeLeon, Darion McCloud, Paul Lindley II

Stevenson (Director) and Evelyn Clary (Assistant Director) have crafted a strong production that looks great and will “wow” audiences. Clever staging, inventive scenic design, and impressive costumes invite viewers into an entertaining version of the Old South. Donna Harvey and Stevenson achieve considerable success with costume design and construction, particularly with many actors playing more than one role. Crew members pull off a complicated production with nary a hitch, thanks to stage manager Crystal Aldamuy and light board operator David Quay.

Julian DeLeon and Darion McCloud

While physical humor abounds in this production, the cunning use of words provides much hilarity as well. McCloud’s rapid delivery of a speedy recap of the entire plot is astonishing. Word-based jokes (“catastrophe,” “catapult,” “catwalk”) appeal to viewers of all ages. During the “chipmunk” sequence, my preschooler laughed himself silly; the kid actually exhausted himself with full-on belly laughs. (Go see the show and you just might do the same.) As the actors keep young audiences engaged with visual surprises, they also challenge children’s minds with thought-provoking words. My six-year-old guffawed at wordplay with “Grovener” and “red rover,” while her parents chuckled at Gone with the Wind references. The convoluted plot can be a bit perplexing to follow, especially during the fast-paced conclusion, but this will not diminish audience affection for Puss in Boots.

Opportunities for audience involvement include children providing Puss and Tom with “gifts for the Governor” as well as more informal moments, such as an onstage drum roll that inspired my four-year-old son to join in with his own impromptu drumming. After a vibrant performance, actors demonstrate admirable energy when interacting with the young audience members during the post-show autograph session. (This “meet and greet” opportunity has become such a highlight for my kindergartener that she now proclaims “Time to get autographs!” during every curtain call.)

Check out Puss in Boots and add a delightful spark of warmth and laughter to your winter weekend. At CCT, theatre artists love kids, and they inspire kids to love the art of theatre. Visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com for ticket information; the show runs through Sun. Feb. 16.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington