‘Goosebumps the Musical’ is frightful fun from Oregon Children’s Theatre

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R.L. Stine’s mega-selling “Goosebumps” children’s book series comes to the stage in a world premiere musical from Oregon Children’s Theatre. (Owen Carey)

“Goosebumps the Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium,” opened this weekend at the Newmark Theatre, and it retains the Stine signatures: campy horror, personal growth for the tween protagonists, and a supernatural twist in the final pages.

Based on the 24th book in the series, the musical is the logical, initial adaptation to launch what may develop into a stage franchise that could run for decades. The play mostly takes place in a middle-school theater, and the ghostly phantom is one of the author’s least gruesome villains, which dials down the fear factor for younger theatergoers. (Oregon Children’s Theatre suggests the show is a fit for ages 8 and up.) And the story is no sillier than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown version of Gaston Leroux’s chiller, but here there’s no pretension, no tacky chandelier trick and no faux operatic caterwauling.

Line of the Night: “The show must go on. No one’s going to scare me off. It’s my time,” aspiring lead actress Brooke (Katie McClanan) proclaims after she’s fed up with the phantom’s antics.

Strengths: While the movie was a nostalgic feast for young parents who devoured two or three books over rainy weekends during their tween years, John Maclay’s play chiefly serves kids. And that feels absolutely correct. There’s no need for clever winks to Stephen King or cameos from Stine’s stable of other creatures. (Although the opening number, “Goosebumps,” delivers a quick shout-out to Slappy the demonic ventriloquist’s dummy, who’s the unofficial mascot for the series.) We can limit our nostalgia intake and let the kids discover all of the frightful fun for themselves.

Danny Abosch’s creepy, slightly pop score sounds much more suited to Stine’s material than Danny Elfman’s erratic, overly cute instrumental arrangement for the recent film. In fact, Sony Pictures should grab the play’s opening song for the upcoming “Goosebumps” movie sequel. This is one of those rare musicals with a tune that sticks in your head, playing over and over, days later.

Weaknesses: This is one of those rare musicals with a tune that sticks in your head, playing over and over, days later.

Most Significant Performances: Drama teacher Ms. Walker (played by Laurie Campbell-Leslie) and her convincingly anxious, spacey, funny and determined middle schoolers are a credit to theater geeks everywhere. The young cast owns their characters’ idiosyncrasies like natural personal traits.

McClanan handily pivots from tenacious, Tony-bound thespian to an adorably awkward crushing tween. As Zeke — a hyperactive, junior Johnny Knoxville whose pranks finally backfire — Skylar Derthick is all-heart, no Ritalin. He chews through his scenes with good-natured ferocity, like a hamster chewing through a shoebox.

Take-away: Small scares, little life lessons and a title track that, for better or worse, you’ll take to your grave.
— Lee Williams, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

“Goosebumps the Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium”

When: 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday (no 11 a.m. shows Nov. 6, 13 or 20) through Nov. 20

Where: Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway

Tickets: $14-$32, octc.org or 503-228-9571

Read the full article by Lee Williams for The Oregonian here.

‘Grace for President’ Deserves Your Vote

Grace (Talia Robinson) decides she’d like to represent her third-grade class in “Grace for President” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
Grace (Talia Robinson) decides she’d like to represent her third-grade class in “Grace for President” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

If a musical that explains the electoral college sounds like theater detention, skip the rest of this review. But you’ll miss out on an hour of fun in “Grace for President,” the world premiere now at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

Your child might tell you the story comes from a 2008 book by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator LeUyen Pham, in which a third-grader looks at a wall full of presidential portraits and asks, “Where are the girls?” Grace decides to run for class president and, because uncontested elections take place only in dictatorships, an opponent is found: Thomas Cobb, a superachiever with an ego the size of his C.V.

What your child doesn’t yet know is the cleverness with which composer-librettist-playwright Joan Cushing has converted this narrative to a musical. We get a harmonized hymn to maleness in “Boys Boys Boys,” a plaintive song about participation in “My Vote Counts,” and a hip-hop showstopper in “The Democracy Rap” that borrows from the “Hamilton” playbook.

Yet Cushing makes a lot of good points: We should vote for the person best qualified for the job, not the blowhard who makes empty promises with no intention of keeping them. Long-term policies, not short-term gratification, matter most. Shy or hesitant people need to be invited to participate, whether in a school cafeteria or life. And a single vote can sway an election, as all historians know.

She tells the story so rousingly that children in the audience were cheering for Grace and Thomas by the end, like nominators at a political convention. Director Michelle Long, aware that politics can be a staid subject, keeps things moving cleverly: At one point, the student portraying Washington gets “rowed” across the classroom on a movable desk by fellow students. Talia Robinson’s energy, a combination of exuberance and justifiable irritation, makes the progressive Grace a charmer.

Read the full article by Lawrence Toppman for The Charlotte Observer here.

Children’s Theatre Brings a Little ‘Grace’ to a Rough Political Season

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Grace (Talia Robinson) decides she’d like to represent her third-grade class in “Grace for President” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte

Despite the fuss made over Hillary Clinton, Grace Campbell was the first female to declare an interest in being president in 2016. We’ll find out how she does well before November.

She’s the third-grade heroine of “Grace for President,” the musical Children’s Theatre of Charlotte commissioned and will open next week. (School performances precede the Oct. 21 opening to the public.) It’s a world premiere, though CTC allowed Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Ga. to do two public performances last weekend.

Back when Clinton’s candidacy was still a rumor – a likely rumor, but not confirmed – CTC artistic director Adam Burke hired Joan Cushing to write book, music and lyrics for this show. She’d done “Ella’s Big Chance” for CTC and happily dug into the story of Grace, which started life as a picture book by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator LeUyen Pham.

It depicts the race between practical, down-to-Earth Grace and Thomas Cobb, who attains popularity by making inflated promises he can’t keep. Any similarity to the current “adult” race remains accidental, as Burke and Cushing were discussing this idea in 2014.

“We thought it would be a perfect fit for the election season of 2016,” says Burke. “Joan had a career for years as a political satirist in Washington – she played the piano (in revues) as Mrs. Foggybottom – so who better to write a musical that explains the electoral system?” Michelle Long, CTC’s director of education, will helm the show.

The kids in Ms. Barrington’s class all represent a state in the election. Not to give the ending away, but it comes down to the three electoral votes of Wyoming – which elected the first female governor in U.S. history, Nellie Tayloe Ross, in 1924.

Grace’s African-American heritage also seems timely to Burke, not just because we have a black president now but because “what’s happened in Charlotte recently has made this story relevant. It’s important for us to provide offerings that represent the whole community.”

Yet the message, he says, is less that girls can serve capably or even that African-Americans should have a hand in running the country. It’s more that “you should vote for the person most qualified to serve, whoever it may be. Vote not for what they are – Republican, Democrat, man, woman – but what they stand for.”

Read the full story by Lawrence Toppman for the Charlotte Observer here.

Interview with Tammy Ryan: Her Life as a PLONY (Playwright Living Outside of New York)

Tammy Ryan born and raised in Astoria, Queens, left to go to college, and, despite having New York roots, officially became a #PLONY when she wrote her first play as a theater major at the University at Buffalo (UB) and had it produced in the back room of Nietzsche’s bar…

If you were in school for theater, what made you write a play?

I wasn’t being cast in the plays they were doing, which were restoration comedies and I had a thick New York accent and a lisp and something of an attitude. Plus, I’d never even seen a play before I went to college. I came from this big dysfunctional Irish American family and my uncle was an actor, and it seemed like an exotic life so I kind of latched onto that. I lived in New York City; you’d think we would have gone to plays. My mother was a Girl Scout leader, and we went to the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, but not plays.

Read the full interview from Donna Hoke’s blog here.

Sure, ‘Hamilton’ Is a Game-Changer, But Whose Game?

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Lamentably, however, much of the acclaim that has and will accrue to Hamilton brands it as one of the first pieces of theatre to successfully incorporate hip-hop elements and sensibilities. That’s like someone thinking they’ve discovered rap music after hearing Eminem’s song “Stan” (coincidentally, and arguably, another white narrative). This is unfortunate; it not only ignores the 20-plus year legacy of hip-hop theatre in the U.S.—Idris Goodwin, Eisa Davis, Psalmayne 24, Hip-Hop Theatre Junction, Teo Castellanos, Will Power, Universes, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, etc. It also, more disturbingly, ignores LMM’s own In The Heights, a hip-hop-infused musical with a contemporary story about Latinos in a changing neighborhood that ran on Broadway for 3 years, won 4 Tonys and recouped its money after just 10 months. Yet we’re still in a cultural landscape where In The Heights and other hip-hop generation stories will never be celebrated to the extent that Hamilton will be, simply by virtue of who the show is about.

-April 23, 2015 – Excerpt from a piece by Danny Hoch for American Theatre.  Read it all here.

The Lineup for Prospect Theater’s EVERGREEN Holiday Concert is Set!

22597531574_39143b40c3Prospect Theater Company, under the leadership of Cara Reichel, Producing Artistic Director and Melissa Huber, Managing Director, will present a concert staging of Evergreen, a family friendly musical for the holidays at The TimesCenter (242 W 41st Street), with performances Friday, December 18 at 7pm and Saturday, December 19 at 2pm and 6pm.

The concert will feature the Obie Award-winning Gretchen Cryer (I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road), Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winnerMelissa Errico (Amour), and Orville Mendoza (Peter and the Starcatcher), alongside Pace University students Hillary Fisherand Joe Ottavi-Perez in the leading roles of Maya and Joshi.

Recommended for ages six and up, Evergreen is an original (one act, 75-minute) holiday musical by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, that follows Maya, a headstrong girl on a fantastic adventure to find the Earth’s last living evergreens.

Read more from BroadwayWorld.com here.