Darcy Reviews “Sideways Stories from Wayside School”

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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!

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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!

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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!

Darcy
Family Blogger

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

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