One of my most visceral memories of watching a Childsplay production came a couple of years ago as I watched The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. As the last scene played out, I felt an ocean of tears pour down my cheeks, so moving were the story and the performances as they worked in perfect concert with one another. Since then, I have seen a number of other shows from the troupe – each one of them quite good and of impressive quality – but none that quite approached the highs of Edward Tulane.
Goodnight Moon comes really, really close, though.
This charming, whimsical musical takes the beloved children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd and not only treats it with reverence, but actually manages to build upon it to create a world that engages the imagination on an amazing level. The story, such as it is, is simple: a young bunny does his best to avoid going to bed (as our own children are wont to do). His distractions to help him do so are plentiful: a mischievous mouse, a pair of kittens, some unusual bears, a daredevil cow, and much, much more.
My step-children both cite the book as their favorite bedtime story from their early years, so we went into the theatre with great anticipation. It was a particularly seminal story for my step-son, who is autistic. There is a rhythm to the book’s language that was soothing to him and helped him deal with his autism-driven anxiety issues. Amazingly, the Childsplay production had much the same effect. He was entranced by much of what he saw on the stage, the characters, songs, and situations offering comfort to him. It was wonderful to see it.
For her part, my step-daughter had much the same response. She was continually impressed by every aspect of the production. At least twice she asked me how the actors were changing costumes so quickly, and she was also curious about how many of the props and scenery pieces worked. The production not only captured her childhood love of the book, but it engaged her curiosity on an intellectual level, which made her mother and I quite happy.
Everything about Goodnight Moon impressed. The cast (Michael Thompson, Chanel Bragg, Michelle Chin, and Tommy Strawser) is uniformly excellent. Thompson, as the bunny, brings a joyful innocence to the character, and you can’t help but adore him as he tries to avoid sleep. Bragg, Chin, and Strawser take on multiple roles, and each one gets the chance to shine. Their singing voices are all in fine form as well, and some innovative choreography helps propel the songs to glorious heights.
But as good as the cast is, they are matched in the quality of the actual production. The stage is gorgeously rendered as the bunny’s bedroom, and the prop work is some of the finest I’ve seen since… well, since Edward Tulane. The attention to detail is staggering, and shows off exactly why Childsplay is the best theatre of its kind in the country.