Sarah Reviews “The Smartest Girl in the World”

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My daughter and I started our Halloween festivities early…not with a trick, but with a late afternoon treat – the world premiere of The Smartest Girl in the World at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Because this is an original show, and a first for playwright Miriam Gonzales, we were intrigued by the title. Who was this smartest girl in the world? Was she a child prodigy? A superhero with special powers? The creator of the next big thing?

At the risk of giving too much away, she is Lizzy Martinez, a spirited third grader with a big personality and big dreams to match. The show follows the story of Lizzy, her older brother Leo and the unique challenges facing their family – from parents who have to work round-the-clock jobs to chronic illness. “The Smartest Girl in the World”, it turns out, is the one who puts her mind to conquering adversity and making sacrifices for the better.

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Having recently seen Childsplay’s silly adaptation of Sideways Stories from Wayside School, I admit I wasn’t expecting such mature topics – like responsibility, illness and jealousy – in The Smartest Girl in the World. But this wasn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, my daughter and I had a better discussion following this show than we have following other Childsplay productions. A sixth grader, she had questions about Leo’s illness and about why the parents were not home much. It provided an opportunity to discuss family dynamics much different from ours, as we are a single mom and daughter duo.

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One of my favorite aspects of the show was its Hispanic flair – from the brightly decorated set to the Spanish guitar playing in the background to the family’s snippets of Spanish conversation. My daughter loved the creative set changes, watching the simple pieces transform from a bedroom to a kitchen to a game show set in minutes. And, as always with Childsplay, the acting was spot on. The small, four-person cast seamlessly transitioned from one role to another, garnering laughs along the way.

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The Smartest Girl in the World only runs about 50 minutes without an intermission. (It was the perfect length for my antsy trick-or-treater!) Like Lizzy, you could say that it’s short, but mighty, and kids and adults will leave feeling just a little bit smarter – and inspired – themselves.

Family Blogger

“A Play The Whole Family Will Enjoy!”

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What a wonderful afternoon my three granddaughters and I enjoyed at the performance of Sideways Stories from Wayside School! I have to admit that it’s been awhile since I’ve been to Childsplay; in fact, this was my first play since the company moved to the Tempe Center for the Arts. But the girls enjoyed The Velveteen Rabbit at this theater a couple of years ago and were SO excited when we turned into the driveway and they remembered the great time they had here before.  It takes us over an hour to drive into Tempe, and I am always a little leery about the girls’ ability to stay seated for the length of any performance. I had nothing to worry about, as the girls (ages 7-8) were completely drawn into the story and the action whenever anyone was on stage.

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Not having read the book, all the characters and situations were new to us. The pace was quick, but the plot was simple enough and the characters “real” enough that they all understood what was happening and were often (physically) on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what would happen next. They all loved the crazy pig tails, the giant eye, and Rondi spinning and spinning after the storm. As much as the kids enjoyed the play, I’d say the adults in the audience were laughing the loudest – evidence this really is a play the whole family will enjoy.

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Just a couple of notes about the facilities, in case you haven’t yet visited. Everyone we met who was working in the building was just so pleasant and accommodating. One of my girls needed a reminder to slow down, and a greeter gave that reminder effectively, respectfully and with a smile. The experience was very child friendly, with no long lines, quick entry, ample restrooms and seats, coloring activities for those who arrived early, and the kid-friendly art gallery. And, if a child happens to be seated behind a row of tall adults, cushions to boost them up are available at the coat check desk.

Altogether, well worth the long drive in and we are all looking forward to the next show!

Family Blogger

Darcy Reviews “Sideways Stories from Wayside School”


To describe Sideways Stories from Wayside School as “wacky” is an understatement!  There truly is no school like this school!  This play is based off Louis Sachar’s book that tells the zany tales that occur at Wayside School.  From the beginning of its construction, the school was doomed to be odd and absurd.  It was supposed to be thirty classrooms constructed side by side, but it was accidentally built as thirty stories tall.  The entire play is set in the classroom on the thirtieth floor and tells the nutty stories that occur at Wayside.

The week before the play, my girls and I read the hilarious book by Louis Sachar.  We laughed all week as we read through the book.  We went into this play in love with the characters and wondered how a theatrical production could truly pull off the insanity that occurs in the book and bring it to life to really show its absurdity!


We knew from the moment that we set foot in the theater, we knew we were in for a treat!  The set itself was fantastic. It was like eye candy. The bright colors and backdrops beautifully matched the hilarity that would ensue in the classroom on the thirtieth floor!  The play opened with the introduction of Mrs. Gorf, the world’s meanest teacher with ridiculous rules.  Without telling too much, the opening scene was fantastic! The magic that occurred in the book was delightfully and creatively crafted on stage! Within the first five minutes, we fell in love with the characters on stage, just like we did with the book.

In the book, there are thirty students in the classroom on the thirtieth floor.  However, in the play, we meet five of them. Due to their large and crazy personalities, the other 25 from the book were not missed!  The best five students and the teachers from the book were brought to life  in the theater version.  Their costumes perfectly complimented their over the top personalities. We laughed at their oddities and felt a strange sense of compassion for their problems, but giggled at the same time!


The play has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission As per the description, it is recommended for ages 6 and up.  I fully agree with the recommendation since it can be a long time for little ones to sit still.  There is also a part of the play can be spooky to the younger crowds.  The giant eye that comes from above to represent Mrs. Zarves could be a bit too much for the under-five group. Though there is some dark parts of the play, it will not distract from its hilarity!

Prepare to laugh and expect to be wildly entertained by the students and teachers at Wayside School. You will understand that there is no such thing as an ordinary day at this school!

Family Blogger

Hog Wild for “The Three Javelinas”


Everyone knows the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” but have you met their peccary (“wild pig”) cousins, Juan, Jose, and Josefina Javelina? The stars of Childsplay’s “The Three Javelinas,” this sibling trio find themselves in a similar predicament as their swine counterparts but with a southwestern spin that many Arizonans will appreciate. Instead of straw, sticks, and bricks, the javelinas take shelter amongst tumbleweeds, saguaro ribs, and adobe. Their adversary is a coyote cub named Culver who is sinister in his plans but simpleminded in his follow-through, much like the wolf who squares off against the three little pigs.

There’s huffing and puffing and threats to “blow your house down,” but this musical adaptation of Susan Lowell’s “The Three Little Javelinas” and “Josefina Javelina: A Hairy Tale” also gives us a greater glimpse into who these javelinas are and who they long to be. Artistic introvert Juan longs for silence and solitude, Josefina has dreams of being a famous ballerina, and poor Jose just wants everything to stay the same. Even Culver the Coyote has aspirations to catch a javelina and join the Coyote Council.

After Josefina sets off to Hoggywood to pursue her dream, her hapless brothers find themselves each inexplicably alone in the desert. Juan, happy to finally have some peace and quiet, builds an artist’s retreat out of tumbleweeds, while Jose, the consummate corny jokester, fashions together a hut using dried saguaro ribs and the hair from his own chinny chin chin. Of course, you can guess what comes next as each has an ill-fated run in with Culver, himself out to pass muster with the Coyote Council, and they ultimately meet back up with Josefina. However, while I’m sure it’s not giving anything away to tell you the javelinas emerge the victors, I won’t spoil the details for you here.

“The Three Javelinas” has been in development for nearly three years, and I’m fairly certain the bulk of that time was spent crafting pig puns. From “Frank Swineatra” to “Bristle-Be-Gone hairspray,” the quips just keep coming. While a lot of these jokes went right over my girls’ heads, the play is filled with so many silly antics the first thing both girls said was how funny it was. Jula, my 7-year-old, remarked, “Kids will love this show because the actors are funny and it has lots of funny songs, and if you saw it, at some point you would probably laugh.” Lucy, my 4-year-old, said, “It was great! I liked the silly parts and the songs.”


The music is upbeat and catchy with more than a hint of southwestern flavor. Jula began shimmying in her seat as soon as the first song began, and Lucy insisted we all sing “The Hoggywood Parade” while in the bathroom during intermission (yes, that was us). A week later, whenever I sing out, “Culver,” Lucy still replies, “Oh, Culver!” and we both warble, “I’m the boy who brings you the news!” Neejavelinas2dless to say, these songs will stick with you. Thankfully, they’re good ones!

Childsplay recommends “The Three Javelinas” for children ages 5 and older, which I think is an accurate assessment. Younger kids will enjoy the music and the hijinks, and they’ll likely recognize the basic elements of “The Three Little Pigs,” but I think the fast pace and sophisticated vocabulary might make this tale more difficult for them to follow. Lucy shouted, “Another house!” upon seeing Jose’s hut and was pleased to announce, “Next is the brick house!” at the site of the adobe bricks. But aside from singing some of her favorite melodies, after we left the theater, she couldn’t tell me much more about the story than what she knew going in (here’s where I admit that we only read “The Three Little Javelinas” prior to the show because this blogger didn’t realize the play was based on TWO of Lowell’s books!).

javelinas4Jula said she thought the show was “fantastic!” While it was evident that she enjoyed the music and the dancing, my little artist was most excited by the costumes and set design. She thought the costumes as a whole were very creative, and she especially liked Josefina’s beautiful dresses (who doesn’t love a peccary in a petticoat?). There were a number of quick costume changes, especially by the brilliantly talented Jon Gentry (still my favorite!), which I think the entire audience found impressive and which Jula recognized to be “a lot of work.”

While Childsplay sets are typically somewhat simplistic, allowing the audience to fill in the gaps using their imaginations, the scenic design here was a little more intricate. In addition to housing the band on stage, the design included Juan’s rollaway tumbleweed retreat with its ingenious drop down door and window, Jose’s saguaro rib hut, which is actually erected on stage (I’m still baffled!), and Josefina’s adobe brick house, which Jula compared to a giant 3-D puzzle. As the set transformed from bustling cantina to arid desert to big city Hoggywood, I heard Jula whisper, “Wow!’ and “Whoa!” She even noticed the star-shaped spotlights on the stage!

javelinas6Simply stated, “The Three Javelinas” is a knee-slapping, toe-tapping good time. The acting is superb, the laughs are non-stop, and the lively tunes will have you dancing in your seat. The themes of family and finding yourself will resonate with parents, while audience members both young and old will identify with having a hunger and chasing a dream.

Read the books, see the show, and share in the experience with your child. You’ll be glad you did.

“The Three Javelinas” runs Saturdays and Sundays through May 24.  Get your tickets here.

Mom Blogger

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