A bonding experience
For the Family Paradise (as we’ve lovingly nicknamed our mishmash family unit), family date night is the highlight of the week: Everyone gets to stay up late for a kid-friendly activity. Friday-night movie marathons with son Samadhi’s are positive, but often leave us adults hankering for more engagement.
First Stage Children’s Theater understands the unique needs of children and their caregivers. The company, celebrating its 25th year, consistently engages family members of all ages. Friday night, I took Samadhi to First Stage’s season opener, Seussical.
Several ushers complimented Samadhi’s tiny fedora. So we got off to a great start; but would the show hold my adult attention? As much as I love my son, I’m a little reluctant to participate in kid’s entertainment. But within 30 seconds, I’m relaxed and enjoying myself.
First Stage’s Seussical is a stunning interpretation of several of Dr. Seuss’ best-loved books. The cast comprises enthusiastic, playful characters of all ages. The adults, professional actors all, play their roles night after night. The kids alternate between two casts — the Red Fish and the Blue Fish — from the First Stage Theater Academy.
The play opens in Whoville (the tiny land created by Seuss in Horton Hears a Who). The Mayor’s son, JoJo, encounters the ever-imaginative Cat in The Hat. This is not the well-intentioned, topsy-turvy feline I recall from childhood; Jackson Evans’ brilliantly colorful Cat is more a mischevious steampunk sort. He urges on imagination at any cost. Evans arrives from beneath the set, decked out in the hat that made the Cat famous. On his feet: Knee-high combat boots with coordinating red laces.
With a little urging from the Cat, JoJo’s ideas (called “thinks” ) create enchanting escapes from ordinary life in Whoville. JoJo’s dream world comes to life with the help of the sizable cast. Every time one of his thinks come along, the Mayor (Paul Helm) and his wife (Karen Estrada) politely tell him to get his head out of the clouds.
In the case of First Stage cast, a part is a part, no matter how small. Actors young and old play each character to the fullest, from the flock of Bird Girls (Estrada, Beth Mulkerron, Kamilah Lay, and Mari Duckler) to the Wickersham brothers and their unforgettable leader, Sour Kangaroo.
Samadhi and I faced a tough decision, but we finally decided that Sour Kangaroo was our favorite. Actress Amy Hillner blew the audience away with a powerful, soulful that rose through a mop of curly brown tresses. She lent an amazing presence to her antagonist role and crafted a marsupial part Wicked Witch of the West and part Aretha Franklin.
Our second favorite character was Rana Roman’s Mayzie, the fabulous fowl with all the answers. My son adores beautiful women. As Roman strutted across stage, a vision in dazzling black and red satin, sequins, and tulle of her corset, tutu and turban, she enraptured my son. When she left the stage, even for a moment, he was devastated.
Through two acts and an intermission, First Stage’s Seussical gave me the chance to laugh and gasp with my son in an environment completely tailored to his needs. I teared up a few times, out of joy.
After the show, Samadhi took my hand and whispered, “I love you mama.”
Not a bad night in the theater.
Seussical runs at the Todd Wehr Theater Sept. 16 through Oct. 16, with shows at 7 p.m. Fridays; 1, 3:30 and 7 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 and 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $11 to $29, based on date, time and seat location; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (414) 273-7206 or visit First Stage’s website.