“…if the purpose of theater is to make you feel then The Yellow Boat accomplished that.”

There’s a notion that we choose our parents. As The Yellow Boat begins, the audience witnesses Benjamin (Rudy Ramirez) choose his parents (Katie McFadzen and Kyle Sorrell). It’s easy to see why; he chooses two solid, loving ones who lavish attention on their only child, fully embracing his active imagination and artistic gift.

Family Blogger
I took my husband, Dave, and our children Landen (10) and Caroline (8) to see The Yellow Boat yesterday. Recommended for ages 7+, the audience was decidedly adult, likely, because this was heavier fare than the productions we expect from Childsplay. I did not share the subject matter of The Yellow Boat with my family ahead of time.

Both children enjoyed the early scenes highlighting Benjamin’s high energy and creative spirit. At one point Landen leaned over and said, “I like this.”

Early on, we learn that Benjamin was born with hemophilia. We witness his parents try to maintain normalcy for their child while protecting him. Most parents can relate to the comical scene where Benjamin’s parents seek out the best school for him.

Concern sets in, as Benjamin is increasingly fatigued. No one knows why and poor Benjamin is subjected to a battery of tests and an array of pokes and prodding. The audience and Benjamin’s parents soon learn that Benjamin tests positive for the virus that causes AIDS. Set in the early 1980’s, a time we knew little about AIDS and fear was at an all-time high. Abandoned by their friends, the trio becomes isolated and Benjamin withdraws. His frightened mother forbids Eddy, Benjamin’s best friend, from seeing him. Soon school is a distant memory and Benjamin spends his days and nights confined to a hospital bed while doctors search for a cure.

The one bright spot being the aptly named, Joy (Debra K. Stevens), who is not a medical doctor but the Wellness Specialist tasked with finding “the part that works.” This role struck me as a part Robin Williams would have relished. Stevens indeed brought joy to the stage and to Benjamin with her backpack full of tricks designed to help her patients process their feelings.

As Benjamin’s condition worsens, you can’t help but imagine yourself or your child in a similar position. At this point, Landen leaned over and said, “I hate this.”

The aforementioned Eddy eventually does come to the hospital. He is full of questions. Are you afraid? Are you in pain? Do you cry? What’s it like to know? He asks the questions we all have surrounding death.

As The Yellow Boat sets sail, you can hear the sniffles in the audience. As the play ends, the actors come to the front of the stage and a few have misty eyes. One can’t help but feel the impact of this story of love and life and death.

As we exited, Caroline said, “I almost cried because I think he died.” I told her he had indeed died and we all commented on how sad that was. My children are too young to know what AIDS is, Landen asked and we told him in the car. Dave led the kids in a conversation about the different kinds of theater experiences. We all agreed we liked musicals better but if the purpose of theater is to make you feel then The Yellow Boat accomplished that. As Dave said, “it was life.”

The Cat in the Hat knows A LOT about… Entertainment!

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We arrived at the beautiful Tempe Center for the Arts on a day much like the day in the story…gloomy! But also like in the story, the rain did not keep our fun away.

We started in the First Things First pre-show area. We made up poems and took pictures before entering the theatre. These two 4th graders and the adults they came with were well versed in the story that was about to be brought to life and ready for fun!

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The set and costumes were a perfect depiction of the book! The kids even noticed. One of them said to me, “I love how they made their clothes look just like they drew it in the book! That was so cool!” The other said about the set, “Wow! It is like the book opened up and we are sitting right in it!” That is big praise from little boys!

We have been to many plays at Childsplay. It is always fun when the play starts and my son gets very excited when he recognizes the actors. “Momma! The Fish is Junie B. Jones! The Cat is from Frog and Toad and he played Templeton in Charlotte’s Web too!” However, within moments, their talents magically transform them to the characters they are currently playing, and the current characters are all that we see before us for the rest of the play.

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The play is about imagination.  The sound effects and set are used in creative ways that make you imagine what is occurring.  Yet, even the youngest audience members understood the nuances of all that was happening.  It was extremely well done.

The story line from The Cat in the Hat was followed fairly literally.  That made it even more exciting for the children, as they were waiting with anticipation for what they knew was going to happen…The Cat was going to show up any moment with Thing 1 and Thing 2 and create hilarious havoc in the house.  What we did not know was HOW they were going to accomplish this.  Their “How” was wonderful!

The Girl (Shannon Phelps) and Boy (Drew Swaine) with their pet Fish (Katie Haas) are bored when stuck inside on a rainy day. They have nothing to do while their mother is out to the store.  Bored, until the Cat (Jon Gentry) entered the scene and showed them that as long as they have their imaginations, life can always be as exciting as they choose to make it. Havoc and hilarity ensued as the Cat brought his pals Thing 1 (Alan Khoutakoun) and Thing 2 (Jenny Hintze) to further spice things up.

A favorite scene incorporated all parts of the play to make it wonderfully memorable.  The set, props, actors, costumes, music, lighting etc. all were used in such a manner that made this scene stand out.  Cat was doing a balancing act – on a ball – with a cup, a cake, 3 books, milk, a toy ship, a rake, FISH and more.  All the characters were helping (or being held hostage) and when Cat ultimately fell down, the S-L-O-W motion fall scene was hilarious!

At the end of each Childsplay performance, the cast members ask questions to the audience members and allow the audience members to ask questions to them.  My son was called on to ask a question and his question was about this scene. He wanted to know how all of those items stayed up on the Cat.  I won’t spoil the answer for you, but it was fascinating to see how everything worked in concert to make that come together.  As always, getting to meet the cast members / characters at the end of the play is always a highlight for the children.

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Any experience that can captivate the attention of two little boys who love to be on electronics is a winner in my book! The boys were leaning in and completely engaged throughout the entire experience. They literally laughed out loud nearly the whole time.  They absolutely loved it and wanted more!

This is the shortest play that we have ever attended at Childsplay.  It is only 45 minutes long.  It is the perfect play to use as a way to introduce young children to the theatrical arts.  The story is one that they know and love.  The pace is quick and highly entertaining for all ages.  I definitely recommend this play for all ages, including young children.

The Cat in the Hat is playing through February 19th at Childsplay at the Tempe Center of the Arts. Tickets are selling fast! You will want to hurry to get yours before they are gone!

~ Kellie Burkhart, Family Blogger

The Cat in the Hat is Family Fun that is Truly Funny

As luck would have it, opening day of Childsplay’s production of Dr. Suess’s The Cat in the Hat was wet and rainy, just like the setting of the book. In anticipation of the performance, my family, including my twin boys (7) and my youngest son (4), read the book together a couple of times to get the language and action familiar. After all, Dr. Suess’s Cat also said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.” Our preparation just added to the show’s fun, as live theatre always has room for surprises and interpretation makes space for some hilarious antics.

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We arrived early try the 360° Experience. My boys had fun with the cute photo booth and the poetry wall, where we could create our own poetry with the 236 words Dr. Suess used write The Cat in the Hat. We played and took in the view from the venue until the chime called us to our seats.

The play opens with Nick (Drew Swaine), Sally (Shannon Phelps) and the Fish (Kate Haas) gloomily sitting in the house. All three are stuck, wishing to be out and perhaps even unsure of what to do without the mother there to entertain them. It was just the picture of the book’s first page—the house, the boy and girl in window, the bird in the tree, and the drenching rain. Then the gloom was broken when the drenched bird had a fit of sneezes that started my boys laughing.

Soon, a “BUMP!” ushers in the Cat in the Hat, himself, played by the hilarious Jon Gentry. Their inert world—the bicycle, the racquet, the balls, and even their pet fish—are set in motion.  With a push from The Cat, Nick and Sally join in some imaginative and increasingly wild play that the mother most certainly would mind…but she is out of the house for the day. So, without ever leaving the house, they play ball, perform with pretend instruments in a loud musical trio, and then The Cat uses Nick’s bicycle to boldly perform tricks.

At this point, my 4-year-old leaned over and whispered, “What is The Fish going to say?” The Fish is a voice of reason, warning the children that this kind of playtime could end badly. But the children (and ourselves in audience) are captivated by The Cat.

Cat1.jpgOne of our favorite parts is when the Cat’s daring balancing act ends in a crash and everything falls in slow motion. My boys laughed and cringed as they watched the clever, weaving motion of objects and actors. Near the end of the scene, I found myself leaned over sideways; I had been so absorbed in the action, I had moved as if to dodge falling objects. After the show, my boys’ first wondering words were about how that slow motion was done. It was so expert, they thought it was movie magic.

Then the Cat introduces a big, red box, which produces the
wildly playful Thing 1 (Alan Khoutakoun) and Thing 2 (Jenny Hintze). The heart-pounding energy of the actors was such funny fun, we enjoyed most of the process of creating such an enormous mess. The Fish finally convinces our boy and girl that it is time to bring in the big net and call back the wildness before the mother—and consequence—return.

My twins’ favorite characters were Thing 1 and Thing 2, and my youngest loved The Cat in the Hat. It is fitting that they chose characters that represent their preferred free and creative style of play. They wouldn’t use these words, but I could tell they understood that as the imagination gets audacious and funny, things also can become increasingly disorderly. The resolution from the contrite Cat made even clean up look like cooperative fun. Next time my kids’ play results in toy-room chaos, maybe I can be like The Cat, but offer a non-mechanical hand with clean-up.

Director David Barker led a highly-successful production based on the popular stage and travelling show from two years ago. He praised the cast for taking the acclaimed show and being ready for audiences in just 2 weeks of rehearsal. We saw some of these actors in other shows and we were excited to see their work again. Actors we recognized were fully transformed into their new roles, and each member of the ensemble was strong and engaging.

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Artistic Director Dwayne Hartford has overseen a delightful season so far with a vision and productions that represent the great reputation of Childsplay Theatre. Costumes by D. Daniel Hollingshead and props by Jim Luther were full of imagination and artfully
referenced the book.

Childsplay’s talented company—behind the scenes and on stage—accomplished a faithful adaptation that our whole family enjoyed. I think this production would make a great introduction to live theatre for many ages, including very young children. We laughed out loud for much of the show’s 45 minute run and could only wish for more. My boys saw the ending approach, but they were not yet ready for the entertainment to stop.

The Cat in the Hat was so engrossing that we feel we played along. The high energy of the cast was remarkable, and finding them sweating and catching their breath at the cast meet & greet was evidence that they left nothing behind. Before we were buckled into our car for the ride home, my youngest asked when we can see the play, again. This is high praise, and I think it is deserved.

By Family2Family Blogger Jodee

My family was provided tickets in return for an honest review. I genuinely thank them for their kindness and opportunity to state my true opinion and enthusiasm for the entire production.

 

A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday Review by Joy

This week we had the pleasure of viewing A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday with book and lyrics by Jenny Millinger, music by Todd Hulet, directed by Dwayne Hartford, and based on the books by Susan Lowell (childsplayaz.org).

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Be sure to arrive a few minutes early to participate in the craft table with themes from the play, and to obtain your complementary child booster seat.

This culturally rich holiday story was given the gift of life through lively choreography, a bright musical score, and memorable performances. Rhetta Mykeal (Angelina) was a stand out for her voice and drama. Vinny Chavez (Jose) returned to the stage after starring in Junie B. Jones is not a Crook, and once again was a Junior Review Team family favorite of my children!  Chelsea Soto (Josefina) danced her way into our hearts and Rudy Ramirez (Juan) kept us all entertained!  Daniel Kurek (Conductor) added the gift of live music for this show and it was priceless. My kids loved seeing the orchestra pit and hearing all the instruments.

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The set was rich with cultural elements and clever lighting illuminated the stage for a standout design.

This play encompasses many authentic themes felt during the holidays, yet wraps them in a way that is entertaining for the whole family. Have you ever wondered where you fit in at family celebrations? How do you feel when new traditions begin replacing old ones? How do you handle disappointment or the pressure of expected roles?

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The stars in this performance tackle these realistic holiday themes in an uplifting and heartfelt way that will entertain the entire family. It provides a great example of how we can all continue to shine, even when faced with “hairy” holiday situations. This show is a reminder that love is more important than perfection, family is more valuable than material things, and when we combine humor seasoned with acceptance – we can all give and receive the greatest gift there is – Love. Unwrap the priceless gift of laughter with the ones you love, by joining us for the next performance of A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday!

We will see you there!!

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Joy Brownlee RN. BSN. MED. publishes family friendly reviews on culture, family, and food at www.ibelieveinjoy.com and is featured in “Snacking with Joy!” at www.sandiegofamily.com.

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