Find the time to rock and roll with First Stage Children’s Theater’s Ant Hill Band. Sing and smile to the live music that accompanies an endearing, hip hop insect infestation in the company’s New Play Workshop production, U:BUG:ME! Playwright, lyricist and composer Jeremiah Clay Neal created the piece specifically for artistic director Jeff Frank and First Stage. His show thoroughly entertains young and old alike. Neal even makes the cockroaches charming.
Bugs outnumber humans two hundred million to one, but nothing here will frighten the young audience. Neal’s bugs delight, through dance, eclectic rhythms and song, led by music director/arranger Paul Helm, with guitarist John Nicholson. The engaging evening literally “flies” by, on the wings of Neal’s clever lyrics and humorous word play. The insects strut their winged bodies across the stage, courtesy of Brandon Kirkham’s imaginative costumes and Molly Rhode’s lively choreography. (Rhode, by the way, is a First Stage Academy alumna).
Through the poetic rap introducing Neal’s story (acted by the Bumble cast on opening weekend), the centipede Keno (Todd Denning) relates how Pico, the Fly (Avi Borouchoff) and his best friend Esteban, The Earwig (John Giesige), began concocting a winning formula for The Great Crabgrass Soil Festival Contest. Enter Isabelle (Erin Stapleton), a caterpillar waiting to cocoon into a butterfly, who distracts Pico when they sing a duet in the heartfelt love song Just a Fly and a Little Butterfly.
When Pico turns all these events awry by being clumsy, discombobulated and late. Esteban angrily shoos him away, and Pico runs from these conflicts. With Pico out of the yard grass, Paco, the Bad News horsefly (Chris Feiereisen), may steal the two friend’s soil sample. Nevertheless, Pico then stumbles into a comic cockroach couple Tavo (Chase Stoeger) and Olve (Rana Roma), who also steal several funny scenes. They save the day by befriending Pico with compassion and courage, and all the buggy creatures learn to forgive, befriend and love at a new level of understanding.
First Stage drew from their own theater academy for the 18 youth members. The two casts of kids alternate performances.
Milwaukee benefits from First Stage’s continual commitment to developing new works and playwrights for children’s theater. Projects such as Neal’s underpin the future for the arts. Frank and Neal completely connect in producing U:BUG:ME! Catch the harmonic buzz in this enchanting musical that reinforces how valuable each bug, (even a lowly centipede or repellent cockroach) and ultimately individual can be. In discovering these redeeming virtues, even a bug can be “breathing life with joyfulness.” Children may eventually change the world.
First Stage Children’s Theater presents U:BUG:ME! in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through March 13. Call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206, or visit the First Stage website.