Monday, May 13, 2013
Theater review: Flat Stanley is rip-roaring fun for the little ones
It's lively and fun with stellar acting.
DALLAS Before Dora and her cousin, Diego, became globe hopping child celebrities, Flat Stanley was teaching kids how to connect and learn through the mail about places far from their home. The 1964 children's book has been a perennial school project for elementary children for years. Children create their own Flat Stanley and mail him to a person as far away as they can imagine, awaiting his return with pictures and a story. Dallas Children's Theater's production of The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley provides a quick and fun example of some of the adventures Stanley can have in unfamiliar places.
Walking into the Baker Theater, the audience is greeted by an appropriately cartoonish home front, leaving younger members of the audience to wonder how anybody can enter or exit the out of proportion front door. Throughout the show, hidden surprises are revealed within the scenery, including many unexpected moving elements like a dancing sun and flowers. The vibrant colors are wonderful and are well coordinated with the costume designs so that neither seem out of place. Everything fits perfectly in the world of Flat Stanley.
The aforementioned costumes range from the zany, mismatched styles of Arthur Lambchop, to the quirky museum director at the Louvre, to the simple but effective outfit used to give the impression of Flat Stanley's flatness. Arthur Lambchop wears a plaid pattern on his pants, a blue belt, a t-shirt, and a blue cap with a large letter A. Surprisingly, he doesn't clash with the scenery. B. J. Cleveland as the Louvre museum director wears an extravagant black and white ensemble including a wildly-patterned robe. Flat Stanley is made flat with a strap on stiff cloth, possibly felt, suit that limits Clinton Greenspan's movement the way you'd expect a flat child's movement to be restricted. All of these things enhance and aid in the conveyance of the characters who wear them. Lyle Huchton should be commended.
Lighting for Flat Stanley is fantastic. Mostly unnoticeable, a few standout effects catch the viewer's eye. A ghostly face appears in Stanley's cork-board over his bed, perfectly illuminated and highlighted by glowing lights around it. Then, as Stanley is flattened, swirling color changing lights and a strobe light not only enhance the magical feel of the scene but effectively cover the action the crew doesn't want the audience to see.
Most impressive is the combined efforts of Linda Blase's lighting design and Bob Lavallee's video to create a shadow fight, pitting Stanley and Arthur against their own light saber wielding shadows.
Music for Flat Stanley, although not written to award winning levels, is excellently produced under the direction of Adam Wright. The songs are lively and fun and the actors perform them with the confidence that comes from a great director. Unfortunately, some sound issues do creep into the performance. A malfunctioning microphone can't be blamed on the sound designer. However a poor sound mix between music and vocals, early in the show, is his responsibility. Luckily this was fixed quickly and was only a minor pebble in the smooth road of Marco Salinas' sound design.
The actors for Flat Stanley are all exceptional. Clinton Greenspan in the titular role gets off light, only playing one role throughout the show. However, he makes up for it with great representation of childlike innocence, wonder, hope, and desire to help.
An odd and amusing mix of Captain Kangaroo, Garrison Keillor, and Richard Nixon inspired B. J. Cleveland's performance as Mr. Lambchop.
He's also fantastic as the Louvre museum director, perpetually feather dusting, and the smarmy entertainment reporter in Hawaii.
The ladies of Flat Stanley are Dallas Children's Theater veterans Deborah Brown and Natalie Weaver. Both obviously delight in entertaining children and playing the broad characters that grace the DCT stage. As the postal woman, Mrs. Cartero, Deborah Brown is the anchor line of Flat Stanley's story, always with him through his travels. Brown also provides harmony and rounds out scenes with her outlandish characters around the globe. Natalie Weaver has three incredible roles she fills expertly, Mrs. Lambchop, the Sneak Thief, and Bikini Wahini, not to mention a couple others. All three characters have distinct personalities and attitudes. Weaver is truly amazing.
The standout performance of Flat Stanley goes to Andy Baldwin, whose characters are hilarious and the focal point of any scene they appear in. Each one has outrageous character traits, like the bumbling doctor and sleazy Hollywood agent, and Baldwin was quick and smart enough to cover a prop failure with an Obamacare reference that elicited uproarious laughter from the adults in the audience.
The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley is another wonderful production from Dallas Children's Theater and would make a great early summer treat for the younger children in your household. Tickets are selling out fast, so buy them early.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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