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.

REVIEW: Bunnicula at Columbia Children's Theatre by Melissa Ellington

Bunnicula-Poster-THUMB-231x300 Hop on over to Columbia Children’s Theatre and enjoy Bunnicula, a musical based on the book by Deborah and James Howe. Adapted for the stage by Jon Klein with lyrics by Klein and music by Chris Jeffries, Bunnicula explores the intriguing tale of a mysterious rabbit adopted by an unsuspecting family of four. Their canny feline, however, is suspicious of Bunnicula and uses literary knowledge to convince the family dog that this cute little bunny with the glowing red eyes is actually….a vampire! Why else would the vegetables in the fridge suddenly be drained of their juice? The animals prove to be entertaining sleuths as family life unfolds around their humorous investigation of Bunnicula. My first grade daughter gleefully describes Bunnicula as “very scary…and very funny!”

The performers present an appealing world with gullible yet likeable people and more sophisticated (while still charmingly flawed) animals. In the central roles of Harold (the dog) and Chester (the cat), Jerry Stevenson and Paul Lindley II deliver standout performances as a crowd-pleasing duo with resonant voices. Stevenson’s winning charisma as Harold draws the audience right into the heart of the show. Anyone who has spent time with a disdainful cat will recognize the feline temperament in Lindley’s superb depiction of the persnickety Chester.

Matthew Wright handles the puppeteer responsibilities for Bunnicula with seamless fluidity and impressive agility. Julian Deleon and Toni V. Moore generate strong stage presence as Mr. and Mrs. Monroe, grounding the wilder plot twists with a comforting sense of parental security. Riley Smith (Pete Monroe) and Kate Chalfant (Toby Monroe) convey youth and innocence without becoming overly cloying. Understudies include Kaitlyn Fuller (Harold), Anthony Harvey (Chester), and Taylor Diveley (Mr. Monroe).

For this show to work well, audiences need to root for both the animals and the humans, and the CCT team does an admirable job of making this happen. Crystal Aldamuy’s choreography works effectively to create visual interest and enhance characterization, while Lindley provides adept music direction for the show’s engaging musical numbers. Rest assured that the play’s humor reaches across generations, with slapstick hilarity alongside clever wordplay. You won’t want to miss seeing that “celery stalk,” among numerous other priceless moments.

CCT first produced Bunnicula in 2009, and director Stevenson explains that this production recreates and further develops the previous show’s style, which establishes “everything in a grayscale ‘film noir’ setting except for the cat and dog.” Through their approach to conveying the animals’ perspective, the production team crafts a memorable world where scenic and costume design choices enrich the audience experience of character and plot. The accomplished production staff includes costumers Donna Harvey and Stevenson, scenic designers Jim Litzinger and Stevenson, stage manager Brandi Smith, original puppet builder John Riddle, and the (delightfully named) “puppet medic” Anthony Harvey. Sound and lighting punctuate key moments with clarity as executed by Smith and Litzinger. The beautifully realized design elements communicate dramatic information while connecting with the audience, and viewers of all ages will enjoy reaping the benefits of this noteworthy achievement.

Bunnicula is at once both magical and recognizable. Children are swept up with the fantastic intrigue of the plot while also relating to real life experiences: caring for a pet, navigating family life, being afraid, getting in trouble, looking for answers. High quality children’s theatre in our own community? Seems magical to me…and I sure am glad it’s a reality.

"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/

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/.

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The cast of "Commedia Snow White" tell all to intrepid reporter Kat Bjorn (age 6 and 1/2)

First Grader Kat Bjorn Interviews the Cast of Columbia Children’s Theatre Commedia Snow White

by Kat Bjorn (with some help from Papa)

Kat’s Papa:  Hey folks, technically this isn’t a review of Columbia Children’s Theatre’s latest production, Commedia Snow White (although visit Jasper early next week for just that - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington) but seriously, you have to see this show—even you adults without kids.  After all, there’s a dwarf named Truculent.  And Paul Lindley II (Punchin) performs several numbers from Cats.  And Anthony Harvey (Arlequino) gets stuck in an infinite regress watching himself as The Mirror.  And Elizabeth Stepp (Columbine) as that “Really Pale Brunette Girl” does cartwheels around Beth DeHart’s (Rosetta) smoking tan Evil Queen.  Also, Julian Deleon (Pantalone) has a Spanish pirate hat that belongs in a Captain Morgan commercial.

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

Papa:  Okay, time to turn into a transcriber.  Gotta go.  Seriously, see this show!

Jerry Stevenson, CCT Artistic Director:  How old are you now, Kat?  This is like your 30th interview.

Kat:  I’m six and a half.

Arlequino :  You seem old.

Kat:  I’m just tall for my age.  Who is your favorite dwarf and why?

Pantalone:  Effervescent.  No, Truculent.

Punchin:  Or did you mean the Disney ones?

Really Pale Brunette Girl (aka Snow White):  Dopey.  He’s got a purple hat.

Punchin:  Duck.

Kat:  Duck?

Punchin:  Duck!

[Entire Cast ducks.]

Kat:  Did you mean Doc?

Punchin:  Hee-hee.

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Kat:  If there were an 8th Dwarf, what would his or her name be?

[Kat whispers to Really Pale Brunette Girl (aka Snow White).] 

Really Pale Brunette Girl (aka Snow White):  Plumpy?

[Entire Cast exchanges looks with one another.]

Entire Cast:  Plumpy.

Evil Queen:  Hairy.

Kat:  If Snow White wears a yellow dress, why isn’t she Snow Yellow?

[Pause.  Laughter ensues.]

Kat:  What is Commedia dell’arte?

Really Pale Brunette Girl (aka Snow White):  Commedia dell’arte is a form of theatre that originated in Italy in the 1500s—

Punchin:  [in an outrageous Italian accent]  That’s why we have these outrageous Italian accents!

Really Pale Brunette Girl (aka Snow White):  Ahem.  All the characters are stock characters—

Pantalone:  We go great with soup!

Really Pale Brunette Girl (aka Snow White):  Sigh.

Pantalone:  I mean, I run the troupe!

Kat:  Next question.  My Papa said your Commedia dell’arte shows have lots of “ChapStick” comedy.  What does that mean?

Really Pale Brunette Girl (aka Snow White):  Something to do with Ruby Lip Smackers, I imagine.

Arlequino:  Did he mean “slapstick”?

Punchin:  I think she knows what she means.

Arlequino:  [standing]  You minda your own-a business!

Punchin:  [standing, grabs Arlequino’s nose]  No, you minda your own-a business!

[Arlequino roundhouses Punchin.]

Evil Queen:  I think you get the picture.

Kat:  Moving right along.  What’s the next project for the Spaghetti & Meatball players?

Jerry Stevenson:  Commedia Our Town!

Papa:  [to himself]  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Jr.

Kat:  I don’t remember seeing puppets at the Columbia Children’s Theatre before.  What was it like to work with puppets?

Pantalone:  Jerry and Jim have been using more and more puppets lately.

Arlequino:  Apparently they work for practically nothing and don’t complain about union violations.

Kat:  Guess my favorite part of the show.

[Entire Cast spends several hours guessing.]

Punchin:  [exhausted]  I give up…my excerpt from Godspell?

Kat:  When the Evil Queen was on fire.  I also liked it when Pantalone came and sat next to me.  I tickled him with my magic rose.

[Shameless Plug:  Bring $3 so your kid can buy a Magic Rose.]

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Kat:  Okay, last question.  What does the fox say?

Entire Cast:  Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding! / Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding! / Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!

Kat:  That’s a wrap!  Another slice of pizza, please!

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Kat Bjorn is a rising first grader who loves Riverbanks Zoo and Fancy Nancy chapter book mysteries—and math, if you can believe it.

Commedia Snow White runs through June 22 with performances at the following dates and times:  Saturday, June 14 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.  Sunday, June 15 at 3 p.m.; Friday, June 20 at 8 p.m. (late night date night for grown-ups, with possibly a little more mature humor added in); Saturday, June 21 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m. There are additional Thursday matinee performances at 10:30 a.m. on June 19, June 26 (sold out), July 10, July 17 and July 24. 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) - or as they say in Forest Acres, over where the old S&S Cafeteria used to be. 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/ .

 

"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.

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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!”

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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.

"Ho Ho Ho" at Columbia Children's Theatre - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington

hoho3 Ho Ho Ho offers bright and energetic holiday entertainment at Columbia Children’s Theatre.  Designed to engage even the youngest audience members, this production features wacky humor in the custom of British pantomime.   As “panto” embraces audience participation and madcap folly, Ho Ho Ho keeps viewers shouting with gleeful laughter at the silly antics of familiar festive characters.  Father and Mother Christmas (i.e. Santa and Mrs. Claus) face rollicking chaos as they strive to reclaim elusive holiday spirit amid comical mishaps.  Tradition blends with pop culture references as elves cavort to contemporary hit songs. Audience members will enjoy participating in this rowdy ride through pursuit of Christmas magic.  The boisterous comic style of the show embraces broad physical jokes as in vaudeville, including slapstick sequences that may startle some of the youngest viewers, as well as a bit of potty humor that will appeal to a wide cross-section of audience members. (Truth be told, my husband and I laughed even harder than our children did during one particularly memorable sound cue sequence…I bet you’ll know which one if you see the show.)

As directed by Frank Thompson, the production maintains a brisk pace and admirable clarity. Cast members work together in a vibrant, captivating ensemble. In the central role of Father Christmas, Lee O. Smith brings empathy and warmth to his character in the midst of the wild hijinks. Will Moreau as the Musical Elf shares a special talent for mesmerizing the young audience, often without speaking a word. Mother Christmas (Christy Shealy Mills) drives the play’s narrative with vivacity, while the effervescent elves are portrayed with enthusiastic commitment by Elizabeth Stepp and Bill DeWitt. (Andy Nyland serves as understudy for the role of Elf Boy Len).

(L-R) Bill DeWitt, Christy Chealy Mills, Elizabeth Stepp, Will Moreau

As ever with a CCT play, commendable production values are maintained, with sound design by Frank Thompson and costume design by Donna Harvey and Jerry Stevenson. Costumes combine recognizable holiday attire (that iconic red suit) with surprising delights (an ever-changing parade of zany hats). Complex action onstage relies on offstage support; clearly, this production has a superb team in place. Stage manager extraordinaire Jami Steele-Sprankle keeps the mayhem under control and provides effective backstage organization. Sound technician Anthony Harvey delivers praiseworthy precision in the execution of numerous sound cues which are essential to the show’s comedy, while David Quay supplies dependable light board operation.

As a parent, I was particularly gratified by the actors’ knack for nurturing my preschool son’s focus throughout the performance. He was able to engage in the audience-actor transaction of live theatre at a level of understanding that I hadn’t seen from this little boy before. The youngsters in attendance at this matinee performance were charmed by the actors, and became visibly invested in the play’s events.

audience participation

Before the performance, cast and crew members involve children in coloring stocking ornaments and helping to decorate the onstage tree. A gentle approach to audience participation invites eager kids to take part in various opportunities, but does not overwhelm more reserved children. Stick around after the show to meet the cast, get autographs, and take photos. (My daughter observed, “I love when the actors autograph my program at Columbia Children’s Theatre!”)

Early in the performance, my youngest child chortled with laughter after a funny physical sequence and declared, “Ohhhh that is SO silly.” Yes, Ho Ho Ho, scripted by award-winning British children's playwright Mike Kenny, is indeed “so silly,” in the most affirming and affectionate sense of the term. Columbia Children’s Theatre offers our community a comedic gift this holiday season in a fast-paced and cheery romp. Head on over to Ho Ho Ho, jumpstart your holiday spirit, and laugh your cares away with Father Christmas and friends at Columbia Children’s Theatre.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

"The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley" - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

stanley-logo1With a charming production of The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, Columbia Children’s Theatre brings to life a beloved character and his exciting escapades. I first learned about Flat Stanley when my visiting aunt arrived in South Carolina with a cutout of the character, which she photographed in various places for a grandchild’s school project. Decades later, I enjoyed sharing the “original adventures” book by Jeff Brown with my young daughter, indulging in a sense of wonder at the wide world and its possibilities. The whimsical nature of the Flat Stanley book series inspires lasting affection in readers; Columbia Children’s Theatre crafts a surprising and delightful world that entices theatregoers. As realized in the musical (with book by Timothy Allen McDonald and music and lyrics by McDonald, David Weinstein, Jonathan K. Waller, and Stephen Gabriel), the Lambchop parents enjoy a cozy family life with Stanley and his younger brother Arthur. After bedtime, the two boys take the audience on an exuberant “I wish I were” romp through cherished adventures (think Harry Potter and Star Wars) complete with light sabers and air guitar.  Stanley’s “star wish” leads to his dimensional transformation after a fateful encounter with a mysterious bulletin board.  He learns that the life of a “flat kid” has drawbacks (getting stuck in a tree when flown as a kite) as well as perks (mailing himself to Paris.)  Clever wordplay transpires in the script, such as the “porkchop” versus “lambchop” confusion that delighted my daughter.   Characters advise young audiences to “find a little adventure,” “write a letter and drop it in the mail,” and “make a star wish.”

Anthony Harvey as Stanley achieves genuine commitment to a child role without condescension, a true gift of a performance. He shares talents in physical comedy (the hilarious doctor’s exam) as well as an appealing voice, with a particularly poignant song while stuck in a tree.  Harvey handles the flat costume with admirable confidence – who knew Flat Stanley could shake maracas and rock a time step, not to mention a kickline? As Arthur, Riley Smith dives into exuberant antics that delight the young audience; he avoids caricature by offering lovable honesty and real sweetness. Actors demonstrate versatility in diverse roles: Evelyn Clary plays a wacky postal worker and a serene Mona Lisa, while Julian DeLeon moves convincingly from sincere father to bumbling physician to flashy entertainer.  Diane Gilbert, Rachel Glowacki, David Quay, Imani Ross-Jackson, and Elizabeth Stepp give vibrant portrayals of various characters that develop depth through nuanced ensemble work. Two different casts share the roles; additional performers are sure to be equally strong in a production of this caliber.    (That second cast includes David Quay as Stanley, Ruth Glowacki as Mrs. Lambchop, Toni Moore as Mr. Lambchop, Elizabeth Stepp as Stanley’s brother Arthur, and Taylor- Noelle Hammond as Mrs. Cartero.)

Meet the Lambchops - clockwise from top: Anthony Harvey, Diane Gilbert, Riley Smith, and Julian DeLeon.

“Why say it when I can show you in an extravagant musical number?” asks a Hollywood character; engaging songs and dances illuminate Stanley’s world with infectious vitality. Cindy Flach directs and choreographs her talented cast with creativity and ingenuity, and Paul Lindley II guides enjoyable singing voices with skillful music direction. The design team (Donna Harvey and Jim Litzinger) proves that Columbia Children’s Theatre really can take us anywhere: characters travel through the Lambchop home, a park, a doctor’s office, California, Paris, and Hawaii.  Lambchop family members’ costumes and even their tabletop décor reflect a patriotic red, white, and blue motif.   Forgotten lollipops stuck on top of the bulletin board illustrate the designers’ meticulous approach; details like these bring a child’s world alive onstage.  Go see the show to find out how acting, directing, and design can collaborate on laugh-out-loud visual comedy with particular effectiveness in Stanley’s museum experience.  CCT shows last season included marvelous puppetry (Knuffle Bunny, Goodnight Moon); Anthony Harvey’s puppet design maintains this high standard.  Stage managers Ruth Mock and Susan Hitt keep the backstage domain moving with fast-paced fluidity and seamless transitions. Visual effects are very well done, especially the picture frame imagery and the lasting impact of Stanley’s unique and astonishing flatness.

But what do the kids think? The children at the matinee I attended were rapt with attention throughout the show.  Light saber hijinks, surf music and “wipe-out” moves, sharp and sassy tap dancing, surprising mailbox revelations, and exciting pursuit of the “sneak thief” proved riveting for even the smallest viewer.  My own five-year-old daughter, while skeptical before the big transformation (“Is Stanley REALLY going to be flat onstage?”), became firmly convinced of the production’s integrity: “My favorite part was when Flat Stanley got flat. I really love and appreciate this show. I think kids will like the show because it is cheerful.”

The mind-opening power of travel, discovery of adventure through sending and receiving mail, and lasting love of family will resonate with audiences of all ages. Through the ongoing development of Columbia Children’s Theatre, Artistic Director Jerry Stevenson, Managing Director Jim Litzinger, and their collaborators make our city a better place – to learn as part of a welcoming community, to raise a family, to love the arts. Thriving theatre for young audiences produced with gratifying commitment to quality in all areas: who could ask for anything more?

The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley runs through this Sunday, September 29. Call the box office at (803) 691-4548, or visit www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com for ticket information.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

 

An Ode to Toad, and a Dialogue with Frog: "A Year with Frog and Toad" - a Ribbiting Production at Columbia Children’s Theatre! Plus: the return of celebrity guest blogger Kat Bjorn (age 5)

If you only have time to read the first paragraph, let me make this simple:  unless you are the bride and groom in a wedding, or have the misfortune of attending your own funeral these next two weekends, move whatever scheduling mountains you must — no matter your age — to attend A Year with Frog and Toad at Columbia Children’s Theatre. Frog and Toad are sacred characters who define our contemporary storytelling selves, not just for children, but for parents and anyone else who later in life relearns the critical import of children’s tales.  Arnold Lobel’s kinetic Frog and sourpuss Toad, and their whimsical, parable adventures, have become for millions of readers a canonical definition of storybook friendship — perhaps no less important than Gilgamesh and Enkidu, only with a wee biteen more emphasis on tea and cookies.

Thus, one has to imagine that any children’s theatre approaches the staging of the groundbreaking 2003 musical adaptation of nine priceless vignettes from Lobel’s four Frog and Toad books with the gravitas of a classical company staging King Lear.  (For those unaware, the musical, commissioned by Lobel’s daughter, cracked the mainstream Broadway barrier after initial successful runs in Minneapolis and Off-Broadway.)  Indeed, this production was enough to draw Artistic Director Jerry Stevenson out from under the lily pads and onto the stage for his first main role since co-founding Columbia Children’s Theatre.  This alone is cause for celebration, as Stevenson nails every warty jot and tittle of Toad’s reluctant, crepe-hanger personality.  Given the adult audience members’ uniform delight in Stevenson’s performance, one sincerely hopes that he will consider lending his comedic and singing talents to other roles about town in the years to come.

One simply cannot heap enough praise onto the entire cast and crew for possibly pulling off the best children’s show in the history of our famously hot town, and the show I have most enjoyed attending since the legendary production of Ragtime at Workshop nearly a decade ago.  I still feel the warmth of theatrical mirth hours after the curtains closed, and I am sincerely jealous that my daughter, Kat (see interview with cast below), will have the opportunity to attend a second performance with her school next week.

Of particular thespian note, one must congratulate veteran children’s theatre actor Lee O. Smith for a frolicking, amphibian performance as Frog that seems to have been plucked from a Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road to” film.  Also, Elizabeth Stepp again demonstrates requisite talent in anthropomorphic animal roles, in particular as the crocheted-Mohawk Lizard; she brings such animation to her characters that at times one finds her nearly a full time zone ahead of anyone else on stage.  Finally, Paul Lindley II and his crisp voice nearly bring the show to a halt — literally — as the postal-laden Snail, who, inch by inch throughout, ties together all of the separate narrative threads.

While the Columbia Children’s Theatre stage itself may be humble (yet deserving of ‘amphi’-theatrical size), the company’s creative team really has outdone itself.  Jim Litzinger’s daisy-and-cattail, woodsy stage truly brings the storybook backdrop to life.  But the success of any show with animal characters hangs in the creative balance of its costumes, and the team of Stevenson and Donna Harvey seems to have raided with abandon Plato’s World of Forms for an abundance of imaginative ideas, from Frog and Toad’s outrageous argyle socks, to Turtle’s straw hat shell, to the umbrella puppets in the ghost story vignette, “Shivers.”  Then there’s Toad’s bathing suit, which out of respect for his metamorphic modesty, I shan’t discuss.

One final shout out is deserving of local face-painting artist, Sarah Dippity, who donated her time on opening night to turning dozens of kiddy faces into a colorful collage of butterflies, Darth Mauls, princesses, and Iron Man masks.

A reviewer knows that he cannot cash the following chip lightly:  I really cannot think of a time I have enjoyed myself more in a Columbia theatre.  More importantly, I know that my five-year-old daughter and dozens of other children on Friday night felt precisely the same way.

One final word:  Go.  Or as Snail might put it:  Escargot.

~ Arik Bjorn

Kat Bjorn’s Interview with Frog & Toad

 

KB:  Why is it “frog and toad” and not “toad and frog”?

Toad:  Alphabetical order.  I’m pretty sure “F” comes before “T.”

[cast sings “the alphabet song” in somewhat accurate fashion—amazingly so, in fact, for a group of minimally-educated woodland creatures.]

KB:  I picked up a toad once, and it felt lumpy-bumpy.  Toad, are you lumpy-bumpy?

Toad:  Definitely.  Definitely lumpy-bumpy.

KB:  How did you come up with your Frog voice and your Toad voice?

Toad:  That is my default Cowardly Lion voice.

Frog:  I obsessively watched the TV show “Frasier.”

KB:  [coughs]  What’s it like to be amphibians?

Toad:  It’s very convenient when traveling.

Frog:  Absolutely.  Over land and water.  Very handy.

KB:  In the story “Cookies,” we don’t know what kind of cookies they are.  Are they bug and fly cookies?

Bird:  The song is very clear.  They are Marvelous Cookies.

Snail:  With a touch of honeysuckle nectar, I think.

Lizard:  And mealworms.  Ooh, yeah.  Yum, yum.  Mealworms.

KB:  That is disgusting.  Next question.  In the story “Spring,” why did Frog trick Toad with the calendar pages?

Frog:  What?!  I didn’t trick him!

KB:  [coughs; clears throat]  Yes you did!  And you threw it in the fireplace!

Toad:  You tricked me, Frog?!  You owe me a calendar.  I’m not speaking to you again.

KB:  In the story “A Swim,” how does a turtle sound when it laughs?  Turtles don’t make sounds!

[cast is stumped.  sound of non-equity crickets.]

KB:  In the story “The Letter,” why didn’t Frog just deliver the letter himself instead of giving it to Snail?

Toad:  We were in desperate need of an 11 o’clock number.

Snail:  And I delivered!

KB:  [coughs]  Last question.  Have Frog and Toad known each other since they were tadpoles?

Toad:  [points to a portrait on the wall]  We’re related, actually.  Those are our ancestors in the painting “American Frog-thic.”

Frog:  Say, that’s quite the cough you have there, kid.

KB:  I know.  I have a frog in my throat.

Frog and Toad runs February 8-17 with performances at the following dates and time:  Friday, February 8 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, February 9 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sunday, February 10 at 3 p.m.; Friday, February 15 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, February 16 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; and Sunday, February 17 at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $8 for adult and children 3 and up.  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 of 10 or more.  To learn more about Columbia Children’s Theatre , visit http://columbiachildrenstheatre.com/ .

Marauding Zombies, Playful Amphibians, and That Mofo With the Hat - What to See on Stage This Weekend

George Romero's low-budget, cult hit from 1968, Night of the Living Dead, was the granddaddy of all modern zombie stories. Zombies had been around before, but were usually depicted as corpses animated by some controlling voodoo master. Romero took the basic idea of hordes of the undead from Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, made them less vampires and more corpse-like, yet still eager to chomp your flesh and turn you into one of them, and his world-view of a zombie apocalypse took off, influencing everything from the Resident Evil and Silent Hill video games, to director John Landis's classic video for the Michael Jackson song "Thriller," to the current hit comic book and cable tv series The Walking Dead. We're still fond of this exchange from the Joss Whedon-produced series Angel, written by Steven S. DeKnight (now the show-runner for Spartacus) : CONNOR (Angel's mortal son, who hates him): He looks dead.

ANGEL (the "good" vampire with a soul) : He is dead. Technically, it's undead. It's a zombie.

CONNOR: What's a zombie?

ANGEL: It's an undead thing.

CONNOR: Like you?

ANGEL: No, zombies are slow-moving, dimwitted things that crave human flesh.

CONNOR: Like you.

ANGEL: No! It's different. Trust me.

Zombies are all the rage in Columbia too, with an annual Zombie Walk (Crawl? Lurch?) each Hallowe'en. High Voltage Theatre is currently producing a stage adaptation of the original Romero film, running this weekend and the next, Friday and Saturday nights, through Sat. Feb. 15th, at the Tapp's Art Center on Main Street. For information or reservations, call: 803-754-5244. And you can read a review at the Free Times.

Over at Richland Mall in Forest Acres, Columbia Children's Theatre is opening their new production of A Year With Frog and Toad, the Tony-nominated (seriously!) musical by Robert and Willie Reale, based on Arnold Lobel's series of children's books. The cast includes local favorites such as Jerry Stevenson, Lee O. Smith, Bobby Bloom, Sara Jackson, Paul Lindley II (doubling as musical director) Toni Moore, and Elizabeth Stepp (who also choreographs.)

From press material:

Arnold Lobel's well-loved characters hop from the page to the stage in A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD, the Theatre of Young Audiences version of Tony-nominated musical. This whimsical show follows two great friends -- the cheerful, popular Frog and the rather grumpy Toad -- through four, fun-filled seasons. Waking from hibernation in the Spring, Frog and Toad plant gardens, swim, rake leaves, go sledding, and learn life lessons along the way. The two best friends celebrate and rejoice in their differences that make them unique and special. Part vaudeville, part make believe, all charm, A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD tells the story of a friendship that endures, weathering all seasons.

The show runs through Sun. Feb. 17th; contact the box office at (803) 691-4548 for information.

Meanwhile, down in the Vista, Trustus Theatre opens Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Motherf@*#&er With the Hat, directed by Chad Henderson, with a score by Preach Jacobs, scenic design by Kimi Maeda, and featuring Alexis Casanovas, Shane Silman, Raia Jane Hirsch, Michelle Jacobs, and Joe Morales.

From press material:

ADULTS ONLY PLEASE: language, nudity, sexual situations, & violence

"This sexy and modern show was nominated for Tony Awards, Drama League Awards, Outer Critics Circle Awards, and Drama Desk Awards – TRUST US, it’s more than the title that’s provocative about this show."

Struggles with addiction, friendship, love and the challenges of adulthood are at the center of the story. Jackie, a petty drug dealer, is just out of prison and trying to stay clean. He's also still in love with his coke-addicted childhood sweetheart, Veronica. Ralph D. is Jackie's too-smooth, slightly slippery sponsor. He's married to the bitter and disaffected Victoria, who, by the way, has the hots for Jackie. And then there's Julio, Jackie's cousin … a stand-up, "stand by me" kind of guy. However, when Jackie comes home with flowers to find a strange man’s hat by his and Veronica’s bed, these characters careen forward as Jackie goes in search of the hat’s owner. What follows is an examination of trust, lust, loyalty, and true love.

You can read an interview with director Chad Henderson here.  Contact the box office at (803) 254-9732 for ticket information.

Goodnight Moon at Columbia Children’s Theatre: An Udderly Mush-See Lunar Odyssey - A review by Arik Bjorn (plus a special interview with the cast by guest blogger Kat Bjorn, age 4)

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.

[general commotion]

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/ .