Peggy Sue Dunigan
First Stage’s “Miss Nelson Is Missing”

Fun with a point

By - May 2nd, 2011 04:00 am
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Susan Spencer Varela is Miss Nelson and her alter ego, in the current First Stage production.

Miss Nelson is missing, and her fifth-grade class is lonely and blue. When good teachers leave the classroom, students will be blue.

Friday night, First Stage Children’s Theater opened Miss Nelson in Missing!, a musical mystery that will make you remember a favorite teacher from grade school, high school or even college. The production offers an evening to reminisce about teachers who make a difference by illuminating pathways to learning that ultimately open doors in life to greater achievements.

Miss Nelson (Susan Spencer Varela) arrives at Horace B. Smedly Elementary to take on the formidable class of Room 207. As janitor-narrator Pop Hanson (Norman Moses) puts it, the incorrigibles “giggle, squiggle and eventually wiggle into the worst kids of all.” The frustrated Miss Nelson (Susan Spencer Varela) only asks that they be obedient, unselfish and respectful of others. When she gets no results, Miss Nelson goes missing, and substitute teacher Viola Swamp (also Varela) arrives. She commands the class’s attention and sets about ending the student shenanigans. After an enlightening field trip to the Museum of Crime and Punishment, the naughty children beg for the return of Miss Nelson.

The field trip is one of several witty musical numbers in a charming production that plays to both adults and children. It brings to mind Groucho Marx, Sherlock Holmes and The Wizard of Oz. Playwright Joan Cushing combined Harry Allard’s two children’s stories, Miss Nelson is Missing! and Miss Nelson is Back!, into a 90-minute musical romp. Cushing’s background is in political satire, and it shows. Witty phrases will make adults smile as their children laugh at the stage antics. Choreographer and director Molly Rhode framed the verbal gems neatly and brought finesse to the physical comedy.

Moses steals scenes with his unabashed antics and deft showmanship as Pop Hanson, and he is equally engaging as Principal Blandsworth and Detective McSmogg. Varela, too, projects star quality, and the nine youth actors (I saw the “Horace” cast) completed a tour-de-force.

As students in Milwaukee close the door to another academic year, the First Stage production applauds teachers for making their journey brighter. Judging by the reaction Friday, the audience gave Miss Nelson an A-plus.

First Stage Children’s Theater presents Miss Nelson in Missing! in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through June 5. For information and tickets, visit the company’s website or call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206.


Categories: A/C Feature 1, Theater

0 thoughts on “First Stage’s “Miss Nelson Is Missing”: Fun with a point”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Bravo Nick et al. 🙂

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