Friday, October 7, 2011
Theater review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at Dallas Children’s Theater
This play was far more than a cute children's book set to music.
So you think you have it bad? My friends, perception is reality. You may have had a tough day at work, a fight with your spouse, and an investment fail – but until you've walked in the shoes of Alexander, you have no idea what it means to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!
In 1972 Judith Viorst wrote her bestselling children's book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, based on the real-life experiences of her son, Alexander. Nearly 40 years later, this book continues to have widespread appeal with audiences young and old. Why? Because all of us can relate to Alexander. Many of us can relate as parents but all of us can relate from our own childhood experiences.
In 1990 the book was turned into an animated musical for television, and then in 1998 it was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to be adapted for the stage. This stage adaptation is what is currently presented by Dallas Children's Theater at Rosewood Center through October 23.
Director Doug Miller partnered with scenic designer Randel Wright and created a minimalistic set to tell the story. Much was left to the audience's imagination – which was a brilliant choice. This was, after all, the story of young Alexander's day. It was clear that Alexander had a vivid, if not overactive, imagination. With cleverly designed rolling set pieces and furniture, scene changes were quick, smooth, and actually entertaining. It seemed as though they were choreographed as carefully as the actual dance routines.
Particularly delightful was the way Alexander's morning routine was captured. Instead of building a wardrobe for Alexander's clothing, the closet was actually played by Alexandra Valle and Julia Vanderveen. As Alexander went from his bedroom to the bathroom, Alexandra changed from a closet to a door, and Julia Vanderveen masterfully played the bathroom sink – complete with squeaky faucets. I imagine you are having a hard time picturing this, but it was executed whimsically and beautifully in this production.
As the audience waited -- as patiently as a room full of young 'uns can wait -- we saw a 14-foot tall Alexander on the stage. The opening number "If I Were in Charge of the World" featured the ensemble cast in a fun fantasy of what our world would be like if it were run by the 8-year-olds in our lives. Although this was a fast-paced number with choreography that delighted the kids, there were some sound issues. The rest of the ensemble in this opening number often drowned out Alexander's voice. Thankfully that problem didn't continue throughout the rest of the production.
Scott Zenreich as Alexander was the perfect choice. He captured the childlike joy, frustration, and sadness of his character perfectly. He shone the brightest when he was playing against another member of the ensemble. In the classroom scene, the other children were forced to partner with Alexander for a couple of numbers. The result was comedy gold.
Julia Vanderveen as Becky tried to sing a song about her baby sister with Alexander but couldn't get very far. Zenreich sabotaged her with his antics and intentional horrible singing. It was a hilarious moment. When Becky was finally permitted to sing her song free of the encumbrance of Alexander, we were given a scary insight into Becky's slightly twisted take on her baby sister. Julia Vanderveen played the slightly cruel big sister with humor and style.
Alexandra Valle was also a joy to watch and listen to as she gave a somewhat nonsensical rendition of "Lady, Lady" for her class and the audience. She was clearly a talented vocalist but she altered the quality and tone of her voice so that she sounded very child-like in this number which was of course the right thing to do!
Dexter Hostetter and Dustin Simington played Alexander's brothers, Anthony & Nick respectively, as well as his classmates, Paul and Albert. Impressively, this was done with no confusion. Hostetter and Simington nailed the individualized characterizations of their roles with both physical and vocal changes so that their dual casting was never a distraction. Simington demonstrated great physical comedy skills as the bow-legged Albert, particularly as he and Zenreich partnered together for "Mother Doesn't Want a Dog," complete with appropriate and amusing choreography as laid out by director Doug Miller. Hostetter too nailed his characterization of Paul. His socially awkward and mildly creepy ode to Lizzie Pitofsky was well done. I'm pretty sure I knew this kid in grade school.
There were two moments that really stood out in this production. The first was the musical number "Shoes" performed by the entire cast. David Lugo had three roles throughout the evening: Alexander's father, the dentist, and the shoe salesman. Although he did a fine job in the other roles, it was as the flamboyant and smooth shoe salesman where he really shone. His sense of comic timing and stage presence was perfect for this children's theater production. He was playing to the crowd and the crowd loved him. The fact that the shoes on the shelf actually started dancing at one point certainly helped. This number was an audience favorite.
The other shining moment took place when Alexander was picking up his dad from the office. For the sake of your own amusement and joy of discovery, I won't spoil the moment for you here. Suffice it to say, never trust a piece of office technology especially when you have a bored and energetic young boy in the room!
Alexander's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day finally came to a close when his mother tucked him into bed at the end of the evening. Mary Gilbreath Grim sang the sweet and comforting number, "Sweetest of Nights and the Finest of Days" for Alexander. This was a touching moment and a reminder to Alexander that sometimes, we have bad days – but we can always count on a fresh start in the morning.
For me, this play was far more than a cute children's book set to music. This play was a lot of fun for kids, but there was a significant lesson for us adults to learn as well. We may have a lousy day – but what is past is past, and the new day is full of promise. Thanks, Alexander. Sleep well, and I'll see you tomorrow – and it'll be a better day!
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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