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The Children's Theatre - ARCHIVE
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February 22 - March 2, 2008
Emma & The Lost Unicorn
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:30 - one intermission
A show by children for children

The latest production of the Children's Theatre, the performing arm for the young students in the company's assortment of classes in all aspects of the performing arts, is a showcase that will be enjoyed by the family and friends of the participants. Those coming to it without a familial or personal connection to one or more of the children cavorting on stage will find it mildly diverting and may well find the performance of one or more specific cast member worth following in detail. With brightly colored sets and costumes and an open enthusiasm on the part of the cast members, it can be a diverting, if slightly sluggish hour and a half. With an intermission that lasts long enough to sell a great deal of candy and sodas to the youngsters, the piece lasts a bit longer than either those on stage or those in the audience really needs it to.

Storyline: The Fairy Queen has assembled the denizens of the forest in a search for one who can defeat the threatening Warlord of Hazard. Only Emma, friend of a unicorn named Rainey has a chance to win the riddle contest with the black-caped warlord. The contest comes down to the wire with Rainey giving Emma the clue that lets her triumph.

Riddles play a major role in Trischa Sugarek's script. The audience is encouraged to think about the clues provided in the riddle contest, and more than one shouted guess comes from the hall. The company adds to the fun with its own riddle contest with the winning entries reprinted in the program. (This reviewer was particularly taken by Brian Lenert's entry.) With the unicorn's help, the audience really gets involved in final riddle in the play.

Caroline Butler is open and clear as Emma, the girl smart enough to work out the riddles, and Anna Kristina Keyser is appealing as her friend, the unicorn. Spencer Daniels enunciates clearly as the Fairy Queen which helps get a good deal of the plot across to much of the audience. The two performers who capture many of the children's fancy are Caroline Culberson, as a "who" repeating owl, and, most especially, Nora Leibold who appears to have the most fun of any member of the cast as an elf who is proud to say that elfs have bigger feet, ears and brains than fairies. She quickly becomes the favorite of the audience as she throws herself into the humor of the role.

Debra Leonard provides colorful and creature-specific costumes which help the youngest children in the audience understand that this is all make-believe. The choice of headgear for Keyser to wear as the unicorn only hints at the kind of creature she is which results in a prolonged murmur throughout the auditorium as so many adults explain to so many children that the girl in the white suit with a spike between her large ears is a unicorn. Even then, the youngest may not quite get it.

Written by Trisha Sugarek. Directed by Marji Jepperson. Design: Jimmy Keady (set) Debra Leonard (costumes and makeup) Marji Jepperson (properties) Katy McHugh (lights) Matthew Heap (music and sound) Larry McClemons (photography) Shannon Hoff (stage manager). Cast: Caroline Butler, Anna Chelak, Nikita Coelho, Claire Comey, Abby Coyle, Caroline Culberson, Spencer Daniels, Stuart deButts, Allison Hahn, Kathleen Herrlein, Casey Howard, Kyle Jackson, Alex Jones, Mikaela Kane, James Katz, Kristina Keyser, Sarah Koucheravy, Nora Leibold, Walter Lohmann, III, Caroline Porterfield, Holly Principe, Marit Riley, Matthew Rosenberg, Kaitlin Rounds, Kanika Sahai, Madeline Sault, Christine Schindler, Sarah Strunk, Olivia Tate, Nora Walls, John Ponder White, Kelly Willner.

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January 3 - 11, 2004
The Velveteen Rabbit

Reviewed January 4
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes

The Children’s Theatre is the performance arm of Encore Stage and Studio. It gives the kids participating in their programs a chance to strut their stuff on stage in front of an audience full of friends and family. It also gives the public a chance to see competently staged productions aimed at younger audiences at a low price. They have been doing this for decades and they have it down to a science, providing solidly staged (if slightly stogy) productions that give the children on stage the experience of performing and the children in the audience a show with a story that is easy to follow, colorful and  appropriate for kids from about age five.

Storyline: Based on Margery Williams’ highly successful children’s book, the play deals with the desire of a child’s toy to earn the child’s affection. Along the way there are lessons to be learned about diversity, love and loyalty. While danger from scarlet fever plays in the plot, it is presented without too much detail which might have bothered the smallest children in the audience.  

In a nursery filled with toys, each of which is brought to life by one of the performers in grades four through nine, real-life little girl Alex (known to her toys as simply “child”) is played with a wide variety of inflections by Katie Rosenberg. Her favorite sleep-with toy has been broken and the new sleep-with toy is the Velveteen Rabbit. Catherine Tribone handles the essential role when “child” falls asleep holding the Velveteen Rabbit doll which then comes to life in the eyes of the other toys and the children of the audience. Tribone anchors the show from then on with assurance.

There are a number of performances of note in a cast that does a competent job overall. Some of the major ones - Shannon Hoff as Mama, Jimmy Keady as the doctor and Patrick Jaffke as a toy horse - are skillfully handled and there are even some standouts among the lesser roles such as Caitlin Levine as a wooden lion.

Director Marji Jepperson does right by her performers by giving each clear instructions on just what to be doing on stage at each moment and giving each speaking role its moments in the spotlight. She also does well by the children in the audience by keeping the storytelling aspects of the production crystal clear. The pace is a bit slow and the older children seem to lose interest as each scene goes on but they perk up again at the start of the next scene. Substantial sets, colorful, evocative costumes and thoroughly appropriate face painting style makeup complete the effect.

Written by Phil Grecian based on the book by Margery Williams. Directed by Marji Jepperson. Design: Scott Hartsock (set)  Debra Leonard (costumes and make-up) Marji Jepperson (props) Shannon Thomas Kennedy (lights) Larry McClemons (photography) Barrett Hunter (stage manager). Cast: Erin Black, Gail Bodner, Bianca Cesaratto, Siobhan Dannaher, Lina Ewell, Shannon Hoff, Patrick Jaffke, Jimmy Keady, Julia Kott, Olivia Krout, Caitlin Levine, Natalie Martin, Katie Rosenberg, Julie Ryan, Christine Schindler, Morgan Sendek, Eileen Sugameli, Kevin Sugameli, Catherine Tribone, Jim Updike, Bennett Walls.

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August 2 – 10, 2002
The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940

Performed at Gunston Arts Center
Reviewed August 3
Running time 2 hours 20 minutes
Price range $7 - $10

Act III, Arlingtons Children’s Theatre’s summer program for young adults of High School and College age, stage this comic whodunit in the form made famous by Agatha Christie stories. The cast of twelve and crew of six are all of student age although the production is directed by the Children’s Theatre’s Susan A. Keady. The summer ACT III program gives these young adults experience and what ends up on the stage makes a diverting and entertaining evening for the audience.

Storyline: In December of 1940 the cast and creative team for a potential musical comedy gather at the mansion of a possible investor to prepare for a backer’s audition in the hope of getting their show produced. They have one thing in common, they all were involved in a prior production, one which was jinxed and failed after three of the members of the chorus were murdered. As they are reunited, a blizzard strands them in the mansion and the phone is cut off. Then the murders start up again – who could be the murderer?

While the set is sufficiently substantial, the lighting effective and the costumes do a good job of communicating character, time and place, Director Keady has placed a great premium on enunciation and on each line being delivered clearly. She has had each performer create a well defined character in posture, mannerisms and dialect. To an extent, this has been accomplished at the expense of ensemble acting. Many of the jokes fall a bit flat because there isn’t the give and take of conversation. Each line, whether a set up or punch line, is delivered precisely and no one talks over another nor does anyone make a distracting move over another’s line.

That being the case, the evening belongs to the actors and most of them do a competent job. Matthew Heap gets the most out of the comic potential of the shows’ songwriter while Michael Jason Woods does the same with the role of the show’s comic. Wilson Rumble handles a lot of the plot points and also builds the running gag of long lists of stars in the movies he claims to have directed, while Jennifer Lynch pulls off the potentially confusing multiple-persona features of her character quite well. Erin Moughon carries off the sturdy matronish role of the hostess with a sense of aplomb. Allen Carrington Brooks adopts a falsetto to accompany an Irish accent and Diana Ruskin an upper-class British mannerism. These accents are so affected and mannered that it is difficult to follow some of the lines. Two other roles, that of the show’s writer and of a chorus girl with a secret, are handled on different weekends by different performers.

Heap is also credited with composing music for the show but it isn’t clear if he composed the song from the show-within-a-show or only the piano accompaniment he plays during the play. There are also recorded music pieces although there is no credit for sound design. The selection of "So What," a song from Kander and Ebb’s 1966 musical Cabaret as a prelude to this show which is set in 1940, was a bit confusing but was probably meant as a comment on the times as Cabaret itself takes place before World War II.

Written by John Bishop. Directed by Susan Alison Keady. Design: Tom Kennedy (set) Katy McHugh (lights) Matthew Heap (composer). Cast: Matthew Heap, Michael Jason Woods, Wilson Rumble, Jennifer Lynch, Erin Moughon, Allen Carrington Brooks, Diana Ruskin, Kate Deglans or Cherelle Gaines, Laura Drachsler or Catalina Lavalle, Meredith Spisak.