Peggy Sue Dunigan

The Magic Bicycle runs on imagination

By - Jan 17th, 2011 11:09 am
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The Magic Bicycle: All aboard for time travel at First Stage.

Imagine time traveling to May 3, 1888, and then tripping on June of 1035 and July of 1910. Imagination plays a key role in First Stage Children’s Theater world premiere of The Magic Bicycle, seen Saturday at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center. Two teenagers, (21st-century) Willy and (late 19th-century) Lilah meet when Willy pedals back to 1888. The two 14-year-olds share an adventure as they ride the enchanted bike through centuries in search of their families.
The bicycle and stage technicians become the stars in John Olive’s play, which First Stage commissioned through the company’s New Play Workshop program. This large tricycle beeps and glows with blue and gold lights and comes equipped with a handlebar computer, a horn, a platform for carrying several passengers, and the indispensable can of Coke. The vehicle’s computer action also appears on video screens at either side of scenic designer David Minkoff’s sparse stage, so the audience follows Willy and Lilah’s fantastic time trajectory.

The charming Hannah Obst, as Lilah, and Henry Ballesteros, as Willy (members of the “Ah-Ooh-Ga” children’s cast, as opposed to the “Ka-Boom” cast), carry the production with their innocent chemistry. Adults Florence Coker, Todd Denning, Molly Rhode and Richard Ganoung add skillful cameo roles. Nathan Kluge (Jedidiah) admirably acts as Willy’s distant forefather, who invented the formula for the time travel, which Willy’s father, Archie, puts to use in 2010.

The clever work of director Robert Quinlan, sound designer Josh Schmidt, lighting designer Noele Stollmack helps us believe in the bicycle’s ability to travel through time. The stage doesn’t change much from 1035 to 1824 to 2010, except for Kim Instenes’ costumes and a few props. Lights and sounds encourage us to make mental leaps and accept time travel as plausible. The dialog helps place us in time, too. When Lilah experiences an IPod Nano, she exclaims,  “How does music come out of a little wafer?”

Technology looms large in this show, even if the explanation for the bicycle’s invention becomes a little complicated and lost in the script. One astute audience member asked, at the post-performance talk back, “How could reversing the theory of relativity cause time travel?”

“Whether this is actually true or not, you must remember this is a magic bicycle, and imagine that the bicycle can take Willy and Lilah through time,” the equally astute young cast, Nathan Kluge answered.

The Magic Bicycle, recommended for children over 8, also invites us to reflect on how the world would be different if even a small event is changed. Willy and Lilah’s theatrical journey points out the how seemingly distant events connect to each other, and how it takes imagination to find that place called home, where people connect with one another.

First Stage Children’s Theater presents The Magic Bicycle through Feb. 5. For tickets, performance schedule and further information, visit the company’s website or call the Marcus Center box office, 414-273-7206.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

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