Peggy Sue Dunigan

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

By - Jun 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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“I am Lilly. I am Queen. I like everything,” says Lilly as she roller skates on stage to the surprise of her two mouse friends, Chester and Wilson. In Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, which opened May 4 at First Stage Children’s Theater, Lilly is indeed queen of this enchanting, eye-catching production. Kevin Kling, who adapted the play from award-winning author Kevin Henke’s popular book of the same name, has blended timeless pre-school tales into one 90-minute play of Lilly’s mishaps and adventures.

In this retelling, a carousel of cotton candy colors and a spectrum of patterns, shapes and textures surround Lilly and the large children’s cast of mice. Stars, checks, polka dots and ribbons fall from the ceiling and saturate the stage. Sarah Hunt Frank and Kristina L. Van Slyke, scene designer and costume designer, respectively, breathe life into Henke’s mice. The children in the audience were mesmerized by the visual array, attentively keeping eyes and ears on the show.

Kurt Schnabel, lighting designer of Suessical fame, again delights with technical details and special effects. When Henke’s illustrations are added to some of the sequences, the results affectionately remind the audience of Lilly’s artistic beginnings.

But the queen of the performance is Lilly herself, Clarise White, an 11-year-old from the Colby Cast that performed opening night. White bursts on to the stage, making believable this Lilly who likes everything, with charm and chutzpah. Thaddeus Bruno as Chester and Henry Ballesteros as Wilson are credit worthy as Lilly’s friends, forming the central three-some.
The entire ensemble creates an animated world that plays like a merry-go-round as Lilly lives through all the missteps and fears of a child, yet continually inspires the viewer with her bravery.

Such tribulations include surviving a new baby brother, bullies and a mishap at school with her infamous purple plastic purse. Mr. Slinger, her favorite teacher, helps Lilly overcome her misguided feelings and saves the day, even though Lilly saves Mr. Slinger in her imagination. The script is sprinkled with lovely lines and situations from a child’s point of view, dealing with their often unspoken feelings, that Lilly gives voice to and helps them identify. Children repeated these special phrases very softly, showing that the characters truly connected with them.

First Stage Theater’s Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse continues through June 17 and is recommended for those over 3, although anyone who is a fan of Henke’s books will appreciate this entertaining real life version of their favorite stories. Adults will also enjoy some of the layered references used throughout the performance. But the true star is Henke’s little mouse Lilly, undoubtedly Queen of the production, bringing a bit of childlike magic to the stage. And to quote Lilly’s favorite teacher, Mr. Slinger, “All I can say is WOW.” VS

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse continues at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through June 17. For tickets and information call 414-273-7206 or visit

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