Hog Wild for “The Three Javelinas”

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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.”

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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.

Cathy
Mom Blogger

Kristy Reviews “The Boy Who Loved Monsters & the Girl Who Loved Peas”

Excited to be returning with my oldest son to the theatre for our fourth time, I was particularly thrilled this time around to also be bringing my husband and 3 year old twins, who were attending for their first time.  In contrast with all of the other performances I have seen at Childsplay (which were all adaptations from some of my favorite books), I did not know the complete storyline of this play prior to attending.  With a show geared for ages 3 and up, that upon first read of the description looked to be an entertaining one, I was eager to see what was in store for us.  This performance was definitely full of fun and creativity; my boys certainly enjoyed it, and although this was not my favorite storyline ever, it was unarguably well executed, as always.

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This play is an original story, inspired by playwright Jonathan Graham, centered around a “typical” family who seems to have lost a bit of their connection with each other, somewhere between the dull routine of everyday life and their never ending need to be plugged in to the devices they are constantly carrying.  The parent’s preoccupation with their technology leaves them oblivious to what is happening around them, as the last pea on the plate that 8 year old Evan is struggling to stomach literally grows before his eyes into the monster he was wishing for.  Evan and younger sister Sue, who soon discovers his secret, are delighted to have this new monster Pea as their playmate, and find themselves enjoying time together pretending, being silly, and having all kinds of fun.  Pea not only brings the two siblings together, but in the end, manages to unplug and unite the entire family with the power of play.

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My favorite element of this show was definitely its humor.  Not only is Pea a very funny monster who has the kids in the audience cracking up, but there is a ton of satire and comical comments thrown in to keep the adults in the audience chuckling as well.  Also, I think the storyline certainly holds relatable elements for kids everywhere – being forced to eat their vegetables, having to deal with annoying younger siblings, and wishing their parents could devote more time and attention to playing with them.  Evan depicts his parents as pretty unexciting, noting that parents everywhere tend to be a little boring; they enjoy gross stuff like coffee and feta cheese, and spend their free time watching boring movies or sitting around talking about boring stuff.  The adults in the audience are left laughing as we see ourselves portrayed from our kids’ points of view, but also hits on a note of truth for many of us as we watch the loving, yet sometimes disengaged parents struggle to disconnect from the digital world and find time to just play.

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I have mixed feelings on the age recommendations given for this show.  This performance is approximately 60 minutes (with no intermission), which is a fairly good chunk of time for young kiddos to sit calmly and quietly.  My very active 3 year old boys did pretty well for the duration, getting only a little antsy towards the end.  For the most part, they were actually quite engaged, watching all the imaginative play and silly antics coming from Evan, Sue, and Pea.  I was a little surprised with a 3+ age recommendation to hear the word “stupid” in the script, and to have Evan pretend to “suck out the brains” of one of the stuffed animals in one of the numerous creative play scenes with Pea and his sister.  I’m not sure that my youngsters really took much notice, but it certainly caught my attention!

This show is presented in the Studio, which is especially nice for a younger audience to be in a smaller and more up-close setting.  The set and costumes were very colorful and wacky, immediately catching your eye, promising fun and drawing the audience in.  And of course, the cast was amazing – have they ever not been?!  Katie McFadzen really brought the monster Pea to life with her wild expressions and crazy actions.  The kids were fixated, and couldn’t help but watch to see what she would do next!

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Childsplay again offers opportunities to extend and enhance your experience at the theatre.  There are several thought provoking activities with opportunities to teach, predict and discuss, including suggestions of things to think about, talk about, and watch for during your time at the theater and even afterwards.  My boys all enjoyed making their own monster hands prior to the show.  I would suggest arriving about 20-30 minutes early to allow enough time to make those and hit upon a few of the suggested discussion points with your kids before show time.

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Overall, The Boy Who Loved Monsters and The Girl Who Loved Peas is an entertaining show that leaves the audience with a warm ending, and a great take home message about the importance of playing and spending time together as a family, as well as a challenge from the cast to try to do just that!

Kristy 
Mom Blogger

Kristy’s “Junie B. Jones” Review

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First off, I feel as though I should start by acknowledging that I am probably coming to the table with a bit of bias with regard to this play.  I am a big fan of the Junie B. collection of books (and own a good majority of them)!  For any who may not know, this series of books is about a spunky and outspoken young girl named Junie B. Jones who is not afraid to say what she thinks and how she feels.  The stories are told through Junie’s voice as she journeys through the typical childhood joys and struggles and experiences that most 5 and 6 year olds do.  The settings of these books bounce back and forth between school and home, detailing her interactions with her family, as well as her friends and of course, her rival, blabbermouth May.  As a former 1st Grade teacher, I used to read these books aloud to my students (and now my son), and they have never failed to entertain and delight their young audience.

The play Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (an adaptation of the book) follows Junie and her class as they prepare for their holiday performance and classroom celebration, which is to include a secret Santa gift exchange.  This show is a nice treat for the holiday season – with a heartwarming ending that delivers a great moral lesson as Junie struggles with the meaning of “good will” and trying to “be a giver and not a shellfish”.

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To say that “I loved it” feels like an understatement!  This performance was excellent!!  I attended this play with my 7 year old son and my mom…and I’m honestly not sure who enjoyed the play most!  Children and adults alike will appreciate the laugh out loud comedy in this show, both in the narrative and the actions of the characters.  It was hilarious – and we were not the only ones who thought so, judging from the amount of laughter also coming from the other members of the audience!  The characters were really brought to life, and could not have been more like I imagined them from having read the books.  They were perfectly casted!  Although my son is familiar with the Junie B. books and characters from reading some of them, he and my mom (who previously knew nothing about Junie B.) went into this show without knowing this particular storyline.  My son (a current 1st grader like Junie) had a huge smile that remained constant on his face through the entire show, and was only broken by his frequent laughter.  He was extremely involved by the end, trying to predict what Junie would do about her secret Santa gift, and how the show would conclude.  The story is easy to follow, even for those who are unfamiliar with the book or the characters.  The set and costumes were simple, but perfect to enhance each characters persona and complement each scene nicely.

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I do think Childsplay was accurate with their age recommendation of 5 and up.  The actors are very active and engaging, and the set changes keep things moving, but there is a lot of dialogue (told from the viewpoint of a 1st grader).  So attention span and ability to comprehend the storyline need to be factored in when considering what age children to bring to the show. But I think any elementary school aged child would have a great experience!

I love the extended activities that Childsplay has created – they really enhance the experience, and of course, appealed to my educator side!  There are several thought provoking activities with opportunities to teach, predict and discuss, including suggestions of things to think about, talk about, and watch for during your time at the theater and even afterwards.  Be sure to check out the tables in the lobby for making your very own Junie B. glasses, and using the Junie B. Jinglizer to create your own version of Jingle Bells!  We arrived about 15 minutes early, but could easily have used more time for the activities.  (My son used the intermission to run back out to the lobby to create another pair of Junie B glasses to give to me!)

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All in all, I’d say this was another homerun for Childsplay – they knocked it out of the park!!

Kristy
Mom Blogger

Nicole Reviews “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”

I laughed, I cried and was blown away by the creativity and talent that Childsplay was able to showcase in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

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We had spent the last two weeks reading the book with my three younger children while my oldest had read it years before.  We had been discussing how they would portray each scene, how many actors there would be and especially how they would portray Edward himself.  We were split half and half on if he would be a real person or a doll with a voice from beyond.

We arrived and spent time enjoying the 360 learning about Hobos, costuming, how the play was written, and other interesting facts that related to the story.   Then saw the craft table with the shadow puppets.  Immediately I said “What does that have to do with the story?”  To which my 8 year old replied “remember the witch and the princess and the warthog story.”  They started to make them just to do something as we had time.  Nobody was super enthusiastic, but hey, we had time.

Then we entered the theater and started to look at the Playbill.   Needless to to say we were surprised to see that there would be only 4 actors and that the scenery was very simple.  The last thing that was said was, “I wonder who will sit in the 5th chair if there are only four actors” as the music started and the actors took the stage.

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From that point forward there were smiles, sad faces, laughs and worried looks all the way up to intermission.  One of the many highlights was how they used the shadow puppets to retell the story that Pelligrina tells Abilene.  All I can say is that it made my kids head straight to the lobby at intermission and begin cutting away.  It made my 11 year old say, “Now I get the story.”  I would have to say that would be true not only for that part of the play, but for the whole story.

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When my oldest was 6, we read the book and went to a “book club”.  He was able to tell what happened in the story, but was not able to understand the depth of most parts.  My youngest is now the same age and I think had the same thing fro just reading the book.  But after seeing the emotion in the actors faces and hearing the words brought to life, I venture to say he understands it.

After the intermission the action continues and the intermission did not effect the emotion that you felt as Edward meets up with his beloved Abilene in the doll shop.  First you could hear a woman cry a bit, and as I looked saw many kids and adults with tears in their eyes, then as I looked on stage and Katie McFadden delivered the last line you could see that same emotion in her face.  It is that that makes this whole play one of the best I have seen by Childsplay.  The entire time I felt that the actors were in the moment and so was I.   The set and costumes are simple yet so perfectly done.

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As we discussed all the play and what we liked, I decided that for me, that the way it was done allows us to keep in tact the vivid pictures that Kate DiCamillo created in our minds while reading the book, yet strongly left the emotion of the book imprinted on you in a way will never forget.

Childsplay recommends this for 7 and up.  I would agree for the most part that in order to understand and appreciate all the parts that would be right on.  Having said that, my almost six year old enjoyed it and I fully expect to see him and his two sisters reenacting parts of the play tomorrow in our toy room as they generally do when they have seen a play that they enjoy!

Nicole
Mom Blogger

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