Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Theater review: Goodnight Moon, hello incredible at Dallas Children’s Theatre
Youngsters and oldsters alike will love it.
DALLAS In our childhood, we all had that one special book we wished would come alive so we could live inside those pages. For many, that book was Goodnight Moon, celebrating its 66th year in print. Dallas Children's Theater has brought the book to life in spectacular fashion with exceptional set design, puppetry, music, and performances.
Before you skim past this review with thoughts of, “It's just a children's show. It's not that important or entertaining," let's take a moment to acknowledge the great artistic achievements the Dallas Children's Theater is bringing to our community. Their performances are consistently fantastic. Their set designs are often challenging and beautiful. Plus, they spark the interests of the next generation of theatre professionals, which is a Sisyphean and often thankless task.
Greeting the audience as they enter the auditorium is a slide show of fun facts about the moon, asking children, “Is the moon really made of green cheese?” and “Is there really a man in the moon?” They are then given multiple choice answers, making it a fun and engaging learning experience while awaiting the start of the show. Also, there is a projection of the moon center stage and, if you watch closely enough, the man in the moon might just wink at you.
B. Wolf makes her entrance from stage right, as any pajama-clad orchestra leader would, and takes her place at the piano, launching the show into its first musical number, “The Great Green Room”, where we meet The Bunny and The Old Lady Whispering Hush. This quick start is perfect for capturing the often scattered attention of the show’s under-seven-years-old intended audience. Wolf is fantastic in her role as piano player, keeping the show moving and swinging with marvelous skill. She is even granted an instance of humor as she gets involved in a scene then is caught off-guard as the scene can't continue without her musical accompaniment.
Brian Hathaway is great as the hyper-active bunny who refuses to sit still long enough to go to sleep even though the clock continually reminds him it is past his bedtime. Full of wonder and imagination, he is quite child-like in his performance and easily portrays a character in which the children in the audience can identify.
Deborah Brown and Karl Schaeffer are allowed to show off their dynamic acting ranges, taking on three widely assorted roles each. Each pulls off their multiple performances so flawlessly it's nearly impossible for the audience to be aware that they're the same actors in each role. Deborah Brown, as the Old Lady Whispering Hush, the Dish, and Bear with the Chair, goes from a kindly nanny type to circus performer to singing and dancing but gruff animal with ease and charm. Along for the ride with her is Karl Schaeffer who not only plays the regular roles of The Dog (as in the Little Dog that Laughed when the Cow jumped over the Moon) and another Bear with the Chair but also takes on a puppeteer role with The Mouse, which he handles effectively.
Yes, the book Goodnight Moon is very short, but Chad Henry's adaptation incorporates the nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle Diddle” into the story. The Cat, with her fiddle, runs on with her companions, The Dog, The Dish, and The Spoon, to present Clarabell the Cow's attempts to jump over the moon. Molly Welch as The Cat is given a wonderful song to lead the rest of the cast and she does so beautifully.
Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts is well utilized in this show. Hand puppets and marionettes bring a majority of the set of Goodnight Moon to life. Everything from a swaying, talking clock, shaking telephone, swinging lamp, and floating red balloon to pictures of a jumping cow and marionette bears keep the audience's attention in constant flux. Again, it’s perfect for the show's intended audience.
At the forefront of puppeteers for Goodnight Moon is Douglas Burks who plays Clarabell, the cow that jumped over the moon, and the marionette Larry the Tooth Fairy. Typically, I would think the puppeteers would stay out of sight but with Larry the Tooth Fairy, Burks dances along with him around the stage. Dressed in black with his own Tooth Fairy baseball cap, Burks demonstrates the most important of puppetry skills, putting the focus on the puppet and not on him. The kids don't seem to mind Burks dancing with the Tooth Fairy on a string and it's easy to forget he's even there. His performance is truly exceptional.
Aside from the splendid performances, Goodnight Moon is superb technically. The set not only comes to life with puppetry but accurately displays the big green room of the book in great detail. Bright colors and forced perspective combine to make a brilliant piece of childhood real. The lights dance and change colors along with the performers, making the combination of sets and lights a visually stunning whole.
The sound design is wonderful with the growling bears on the phone and twinkling lights of the small house fitting in excellently. I had to contain myself from laughing too loudly through the pre-show/intermission music, a collection of 80s music played dreamily on a glockenspiel. You haven't lived until you've heard White Lion's
“Wait” or The Buggles' “Video Killed the Radio Star” played as a child's lullaby instrumental piece.
The Dallas Children's Theater has provided another brilliant production for all theatre lovers, from the youngest to the oldest. Their marvelous performances, incredible songs, and fantastic visuals should not be missed.
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