CTC Review Archive – Children’s Theatre Company Past Reviews

Family Fun Twin Cities has had the privilege to write many play reviews over the years.  Children’s Theatre Company is one of our favorite reasons for living in the Twi Cities.  The following is our CTC review archive containing past reviews:

If, when you think of Children’s Theatre Company, you think of sitting still for 45 minutes while you watch actors on stage, you will have a completely wrong idea for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This interactive play brings the audience into a the action. I sold it to my 10-year-old as, “It’s like Spy Kids, but you are in it.” And that was pretty accurate.  We ran, we ducked, we used our mental telepathy to save the world and then we had everything we thought we knew pulled out from under us and this was all packed into 45 minutes of action.

I know my children love CTC, because they fight to be my date on these reviews, but usually when I ask how they liked the show, I get a non-committal, “Good,” and if I want more, I have to pry it out of them. That was not the case with 20,000 Leagues. The 45 minute bus ride home was a non-stop, non breathing rush of words — plots, schemes and plans for the next day’s mission. We saved our special ORKA stickers to make badges, and the next day started with a black turtle neck and black jeans (despite my repeated pleas to dress in something heatwave appropriate) and a sack full of spy equipment. I love anything that encourages that much imagination and free play.

This could make a really fun Birthday party or scout troup activity.

Really the question is not “Who would enjoy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?” The question is really whether it is appropriate for your child. It is not appropriate for children under 5 – they aren’t even invited. This action adventure is for middle graders (Grades 3-8) who are not restricted in their movements. There is a LOT of movement.

I would not take a child who is highly claustrophobic. There are several instances where the whole group crowds into a small room or elevator. It may not be the best activity for children who are sensory sensitive. There are loud noises, flashing lights, temperature changes and incidental touching.

I think my 5-year-old boy would have liked it, but he is on the edge.  Some parts were scary. Some parts were intense. There is a part where the audience is asked to weigh in morally and ethically. The subject matter may have been beyond his understanding.

I am really out of shape and my knees are still a little messed up from my last pregnancy; I could feel it by the end of the performance, but it was not difficult and I was not out of breath.  Most healthy grade school kids and adults will have no difficulties. They give everyone a password to get out if it becomes too intense — no one in our group used it. I would not hesitate to try if you are on the fence.

*Tuesday evening performances will be performed at a slower pace to accommodate patrons who might need extra time to make it through the experience and will last approximately 55 minutes.

Review by Joy Peters

So, the Abominables is a Hockey Musical? Hmmm. That should be interesting. Sometimes it is obvious that I’m a transplant to Minnesota:

  • I don’t make hot-dishes; I make casseroles.
  • I didn’t teach my children Duck, Duck, Grey Duck; I taught  them Duck, Duck, Goose.
  • I drink from a Bubbler.
  • And don’t get me started on spices and cheese.

I’ve found that these differences are forgivable; but I also suffer from a couple Minnesota mortal sins: (1) I can take or leave the State Fair – Whatever.  (2) Hockey – No Thank You!

So, Abominables is a Hockey Musical. And WOW does it ever work. The music and choreography are amazing. The story is engaging. And the characters are relatable. It pokes gentle fun at Minnesota (which I did not find funny at all) and at Canada (which made me laugh out loud).

The Abominables Music and Choreography

There are two types of musicals. The ones where you think, “Ugh, here comes another song,” and the ones where you think, “Oh Yay! Another Song!” The Abominables is the latter. Sadly, Michael Friedman, the composer, died just days before the opening. This run is dedicated to him. I hope someone makes a soundtrack of this musical, because I was wishing I could play it the next day. I would be in line to buy the CD.

A good portion of the show is done on skates with songs and choreography that weaved together beautifully. I was afraid someone would roll right off stage, but no one did.

An Engaging Story And Relatable Characters

I would be tempted to say that this story is more relevant to adults then kids, except this is the first ever play that I have taken my 7-year-old to that he didn’t start asking when it was going to be over. He asked if he could play hockey at the intermission. The story centers around our generations obsession with children’s sports, the line between support and pushiness, and the lessons that come from not always being a winner. This could come off as preachy, except that you really begin to identify with the characters. I saw a little bit of myself in each of them – good and bad.

Age Recommendations, Content Advisories and Notes.

This musical is aimed at the older kids. Children’s Theatre Company recommends Ages 8+, but my 7-year-old enjoyed it. Some things to bear in mind when deciding if this show is right for your kids:

  • The run time is 2 hours, with a short 15-minute intermission. We had time to get in line for drinks and gulp them down before heading back in.
  • The 7 pm shows are going to end after 9 pm. We went on a school night. It was a late night for us, but it was also a little  less crowded.
  • There is mildly derogative language used by the kids to each other, both in a friendly way, and in a not-so-friendly way.
  • Some parts could maybe be scary, but  these moments pass quickly.
  • Some kids may find the Yeti scary even after you find out he’s not at all aggressive.
  • There are a few grown-up jokes about drinking. I’m pretty sure they went over my kid’s head.
  • There is a sensory-friendly performance on the last weekend. I’m not sure if it would detract from the story.
  • There is also an ASL/AD performance in October.

When heading out for your visit, you may want to double check construction. It was kind of a mess for us.

We purchased our own tickets for this musical through CTC’s wonderful ACT Pass Scholarship Program.

Review by Joy Peters

Children’s Theatre Company’s final virtual play of the 2020-2021 season is Audrey Saves the Universe — a mini-series created by CTC Acting Company members, Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund. And, it is a great ending to this unprecedented season.

Ness and Sigmund created, wrote, filmed, and produced the show in their own home during the past year. It was so much fun to watch with my kids.

Reed Sigmund as Kyle and Autumn Ness as Audrey in Audrey Saves the Universe
Image courtesy of Children’s Theatre Company

Audrey Saves the Universe

I adore Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund and it was a treat to watch this short series on my couch. On a side note, replacing our television with a projector turned out to be a wonderful bonus during this last year of streaming everything. If you can watch this show on a bigger screen, it will be much better, but don’t let a small screen stop you from enjoying it. You’ll giggle all the way through this series of videos.

The entire 7-episode series is 90 minutes strung together.  I made my kids sit through it all at once because I had a review to write, but I would recommend breaking it up over a week if your kids are smaller. My 9-year-old wandered off and then asked me how it ended the next day.  In the future, I would let them lead on how much to watch in a single sitting.

About Audrey Saves the Universe

Audrey is a nine-year-old girl…who happens to be the greatest filmmaker in the world! Possessed by her ambitions and high standards, Audrey is egocentric, demanding, and hilariously extreme. Part Ed Wood, part classic Gilda Radner character, Judy Miller, Audrey creates whole planets, grand stories, music, and special effects…with no budget and no crew. As Audrey shoots her masterpiece, she struggles with school bullies and constant creative setbacks (like getting grounded!). As she stages the climactic final battle, she uncovers the superpowers she holds within her.

Parental Guidance & Age Recommendation

CTC recommends this production for All Ages. It does tackle the subject of bullying, which could be difficult for some children. However, they do it in a humorous manner and the entire film is uplifting. My sensitive 9-year-old had to leave the room during a scene where Audrey falls out of at tree and breaks her arm and was on the edge of his seat for a few other scenes. These are very short and funny scenes, however. For more adventurous kids, you may need to remind them when Audrey and her cousin Kyle do things that you wouldn’t want them imitating.

Final Thoughts on Audrey Saves the Universe

I loved this production and highly recommend it. I would love to see more streaming options like this in the future – even after we get to go back to live performances.

I had the privilege of being invited to the Children’s Theatre Company to enjoy Balloonacy with my preschool boys.  I knew I would like it.  However, since not a single word was spoken,  I was convinced that it would be slightly boring.

I don’t know why I’m so skeptical.  I really should know better,  but once again, I was completely taken aback at how much I loved it.

For some developmentally appropriate activities to add to your fun day out, check out these Balloonacy Preschool Activities courtesy of Children’s Theatre’s Off Book Blog.

The Children’s Theatre Company knows that theatre is important at any age, so it has created an Early Childhood Theatre Initiative.  Each season they have at least one production that is designed for audience and child interaction that incorporates all the senses.  They may actually feel the play like in Balloonacy when the actor uses mists of water during his performance spraying them out into the audience.  Children are encouraged to vocalize during the performance.

The theatre experience starts as soon as you enter into the lobby. We were welcomed and shown to the puppet socks to put on and begin to play with.  There were signs all over the lobby with games suggestions and books to read.  We even played Simon Says with our puppets.

And then the show started, right there in the lobby, as we were welcomed by the Stage Manager and met the Old Man as he walked through the crowd.  Then, we all followed him into his home.

The fun had just begun!

Since the Old Man doesn’t speak throughout the entire show, I was given the chance to ask him some questions and get to know him a little bit.  Or at least Robert Dorfman who plays the Old Man (he, by no means, is the old man!)

Without further adieu, let me introduce you to Robert Dorfman.

We are excited to learn that you are debuting Balloonacy to the world and at our very own Children’s Theatre Company.  My family and the readers of Family Fun Twin Cities are excited to learn about another show aimed at the preschool age.  Tell us what encouraged you to be in this show for preschoolers and what excites you.

Like so many, I am a huge fan of The Children’s Theater and the extraordinary quality and variety of art that they produce. And I am a huge fan of artistic director Peter Brosius.   When I moved to Minneapolis a year ago, I got in touch with Peter.  He asked me to come in and audition for Balloonacy, hired me and the rest is “blessed history”.  And I am excited about performing for the youngest in our audience.  The pre-schoolers bring such a pure and spontaneous imagination to the theater.  They keep an actor honest and in the moment.

You have an extensive theatrical background, and we are thrilled to have you here.  How has your background in “Grown-up” theatre and in the circus benefited you for this role?

All audiences, young and old, like to see their lives reflected in the theater. They like to watch recognizable as well as fantastical characters who reflect on or struggle with familiar or foreign situations.  Children, of course, bring a naivete that is unlike most adult viewers.  Young people are willing and able to engage in a play with an unedited, un-self-conscious and spontaneous abandon that we older folk could learn from.  I started in the circus and have performed in plays specifically targeting young crowds such as the Broadway production of The Lion King.  But nothing is like playing to these pre-schoolers.  It’s pure joy!

What drew you to the Twin Cities to relocate here?  How long have you lived here?  What do you think?  What do you enjoy most so far?

I’d worked here many seasons over the years, both at the Guthrie Theater and on tour and now at the Children’s Theater.  It’s always a good time here in the Twin Cities.  And a very pretty and manageable city.  Friendly folks.  Lots of fun.  Lots of Art and Theater.   I relocated here about a year ago after living primarily in New York and California.  And then I fell in love and I always follow my heart.

What’s it like to work with Peter Brosius?

Peter is a great director and administrator.  He has endless patience and boundless respect for his audience, his actors and everyone he works with. He is also the smartest man in the room.  And if his personal energy could be connected to the grid it would warm us all winter and cool us well into the summer.

Let’s talk about Balloonacy.  The kids are going to wanna know how old The Old Man is.  How old is The Old Man?

The Old Man is as old as the hills.  As old as dirt.  The Old Man is “Grandpa” old.

Do you have a favorite part of the show you could share with us?

One of my favorite moments in the play is when my new balloon friend has a birthday party for me and we dance.

What’s it like to do an entire play all by yourself without speaking a single word?

I’ve done a bunch of clown, mime, puppet work in my day.  So the idea of doing a silent piece wasn’t completely intimidating. But it was intimidating enough.  Working to express myself clearly and freely with only a physical vocabulary is both challenging and very enlightening.  And in the end it so freeing and enriching to connect with these young minds.  The young ones teach me things about the play and about myself every performance.

How is a preschool audience different from an adult audience?

Both adults and children enjoy a truthful story told in a clear and creative way.  They also both respond to humor and magic and beauty.  Children, especially our target audience of pre-schoolers, however, do bring an abashed joy with them and it colors the way they listen and react. They are unguarded in their responses and will, often and vociferously, shout out whatever they have on their minds at any moment during the play. (like a certain little boy–who shall remain nameless and who may or may not be related to me–yelled at the top of his lungs, “You have green stuff on you BUTT!”)  Adults tend to hold their comments until after the play is ended.

What do you want the young audience to experience during the play? What about the older audience?

“Seeing live theatre together introduces your child to emotions, conflict resolution, problem-solving skills and promotes the sharing of thoughts and ideas!“ I lifted that line from the Children’s Theater web page.  But it says it so succinctly.  Children are our greatest natural resource.  It is of utmost importance that children, including the very youngest, are exposed to art in a communal setting.  Children are not only our future audiences but they are our future period.  Educating the youngest among us in an entertaining and public arena helps to prepare them for the world at large.  The fact that performing for them enriches my soul is a very wondrous side effect. And I believe any adult would not only be amused by Balloonacy but would be transported watching the children giving themselves over to it.

Busytown Applecar and Ambulance - Children's Theater Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2014

Busytown, The Musical was a 2014 production at Children’s Theatre Company.

Busytown the Musical is the stage version of Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day?” adapted by Minnesota’s own Kevin Kling and directed by Sean Graney of Chicago. Kling has written a few children’s plays based on popular kids books. (One of those plays, Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, was performed by Stages Theatre last year and reviewed by Gianna.)  This is Graney’s first production at the Children’s Theatre and you can read a full interview with him HERE.

We attended the opening night performance of Busytown on Friday, September 19th.

As with most of Scarry’s books, the story of What Do People Do All Day is in the illustrations more than the words. In my opinion it takes a special kind of parent to slow down and read a Richard Scarry book. I prefer books that move the reader along to the end, but my husband loves them. He and the kids spend time pouring over the pictures, playing I Spy, and searching for Gold Bug.

Like the book, the musical is a little weak on plot but heavy on action. This works well for the little ones who tend to have a hard time following plot. Adults and older children will enjoy it as a sketch comedy. While there is a plot, the real enjoyment is in the one-liners, physical comedy and music. The story follows Huckle Cat (Reed Sigmund) in his exploration of what people do all day and his ultimate discovery that he, too, can be useful. Intermittently, it follows Lowly Worm (Dean Holt), who needs no great epiphany to be useful, he just does what needs to be done.

Reed Sigmund, who you may recognize from Shrek, plays off the one-liners and and physical comedy perfectly. According to Director Graney, Kevin Kling wrote the play with room for discovery by the cast — encouraging them to make it their own. One place Sigmund seems to have done this is the the Chris Farley style fat kid jokes running throughout the show. Dean Holt also keeps the pace moving as he plays multiple characters throughout the show. At one time, he even plays two at the same time. This scene along may make it worth the evening.

There is an underlying theme of usefulness running through both the book and the play. How do people fill their days? Policeman, Construction Workers, Storekeepers, Farmers — even kids.  Who are the people in our community?  Huckle is a young cat who desperately wants to help, but always seems to be in the way. For instance, when he volunteers to help at the construction site, the foreman pretty much ignores him while directing the actions of the adults. Eventually, he finds a way to be helpful. In contrast, his best friend, Lowly Worm just takes on a responsibility and sees it through even  after adversity. There are a lot of opportunities for discussions about community and our place in it by observing the actions of these two characters.

Age Appropriateness of Busytown.

CTC recommends this performance for Grades K-4. This is one of the rare performances that we have attended as a full family, so I can attest to this recommendation being appropriate. All of my children made it through without the need to take anyone out. However, the 2-year-old was twitchy by the intermission and didn’t really want to go back in. He did well on his father’s lap for the second half. He really enjoyed the music and laughed at some of the physical comedy. Mostly he just enjoyed bouncing up and down in his folding seat. My 4-year-old is almost 5, so really just outside Kindergarten age. He thoroughly enjoyed himself right until the very end. His first “I’m bored” happened during the last scene. I also have a 9-year-old in 4th grade. She enjoyed herself because we were out at the theatre and in the same ways we enjoyed it as adults, but I don’t think I would have taken her alone to this production. Whatever age my kids are, I have some tactics for making a night at the theatre more enjoyable that I’ve shared below.

Making the Most of Your Night at Busytown.

I know that the cost of live stage performances can seem out of range for a lot of us, so I have come up with some tactics for making the most of our nights out. To begin with, we put it into perspective. Yes, we could sit home, but my kids have never said to me, “Remember that time we sat around and watched Busytown Mysteries on TV? That was a great night!”  I do hear that about our nights out to the theatre.

The music, written by Michael Koerner, is very catchy, but I recommend learning the songs in advance. When we are prepping for a date, we just turn the music on during dinner and let it run. By the end of the week, we all know the music.

Another good way we prepare ahead is by reading the book to familiarize everyone with the characters. With grade school kids, it would also be fun to read some books by Kevin Kling. It’s kind of fun to watch kids make the connection between their favorite books and the author. CTC, also, offers an Audience Guide, where you can learn more about the author, download activities and watch videos about the play and its participants.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I receive two press passes when I review a play. That still leaves three people to purchase tickets for. Children’s Theatre wants to make their programs accessible to everyone, so they offer options for those who cannot afford the cost of full-price tickets. My solution was to take 15 minutes to honestly fill out a scholarship form. I wrote about my experience with the ACT Pass Scholarship Program here. There are also a limited number of $10.00 tickets available to every performance. Act fast; they go fast. Your last option is season ticket packages. It’s not too late. Last year, I did the math comparing the cost of satellite television with various ticket packages and memberships. You can read that article HERE. By the way, we did get rid of satellite when our contract expired this year, and we haven’t missed it a bit.

 

Circus Abyssinia Performers on ropes - Image D. Rubene
Photos by David Rubene Photography and courtesy Children’s Theatre Company.

On the bus ride to Children’s Theatre Company to see Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams I began to worry about how I my squirrelly 7-year-old was going make it through a nearly-2-hour production. He was firing questions, philosophies and general observations at me faster than I could keep up and I was constantly reminding him to stay seated on the bus. Even with CTC’s relaxed atmosphere, I don’t want to have to spend the whole show reminding my children to respect other audience members. I was ready to make a call to leave or use the quiet room at intermission if necessary. Luckily, this show is the ideal show for the most fidgety kids. While it’s not exactly an “audience participation” show, cheering is encouraged and most of the time the music was loud enough to drown out his non-stop talking. More importantly, he was rapt from the moment it started to the very end. While he certainly exclaimed over the feats and theorized how they did them, I never once heard “how much longer?”

10 Things Parents Should Know About Circus Abyssinia

The plot of this show centers around two boys — Bibi and Bichu — who dream of running away to join the circus. They are introduced the first scene and the rest of the show is their shared dream of being in the circus. Each night when the boys fall asleep, the man in the moon makes their dream come alive. The plot is loosely based on the real life Bibi and Bichu Tesfamariam who you can learn more about in the cast bios. It isn’t really a story though. It is a circus performance closer to what you would expect to see more at Circus Juventas than Children’s Theatre.

  1. This is a great show for energetic kids, but not in the same way as preschool productions. CTC often offers shows for smaller kids that incorporate their developmental level and allows for some wandering and audience participation. This is not that; it is an all ages show. While kids can’t wander up to the stage, cheering is encouraged to create a circus atmosphere. Most of the time, a little talking will be covered by the music. The small amount of time where quiet is appreciated was doable even for my chatterbox.
  2. If you have a child who loves watching parkour on YouTube, they will love this show! 
  3. Your kid may want to join the circus when this is over. Mine does. If you want to prepare for this enthusiasm ahead of time so you don’t lose the momentum, you may want to gather your hula hoops, balls for juggling and jump rope to pull out as soon as you get home.
  4. Grab a program as you walk in because it has a list of books to extend the experience after you go home, ideas for creating your own circus and discussion questions for the ride home. I love that!
  5. You can also download the Audience Resource Guide, which offers even more fun at home, including crafts, a recipe, and directions for making your own mancala game.
  6. Schedule your visit when the MIA is open and you can visit the African Art Gallery (Gallery 254) to see some Ethiopian art. We learned from a sign in CTC’s lobby that Ethiopia was the first African nation to adopt Christianity more than 1600 years ago. You’ll see this influence in the art on display at the MIA and, if you watch carefully, you’ll notice it during the performance.
  7. This show features Ethiopian music. It is really fun, high-energy music. If you want to bring it home, you can find all of it in the program or in this Off Books article. I also found a Circus Abyssinia playlist on Spotify.
  8. There are some bright flashing lights – mainly at the very beginning. This is something that sometimes causes migraines for me, but I only noticed it during the first five minutes and it wasn’t long enough to have an adverse effect. 
  9. The show is mainly non-verbal which is why it will be as appealing to the little kids as to adults. There is no heavy dialogue to follow just action.
  10. CTC now allows you to bring drinks into the theater and serves adult beverages for those over 21. This actually started last year during the Grinch, but I only noticed it this time. Because this show is equally entertaining for adults and children, it would make a good extended family outing. Maybe you can entice some single adults with the offer to buy them a beer!

 

About Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams

A whole new kind of circus is coming to town! The rhythm of Ethiopia comes alive as this internationally acclaimed, dream-filled adventure makes its daring Minneapolis debut. Jaws will drop as one amazing feat after another defies gravity and awakens possibility; oh, to be part of the spectacle! It’s an incredible range of high-flying hilarity, hula hooping, death-defying tricks, and ridiculously joy-filled juggling with the music and movement of East Africa.

“One of the things I love most about theatre is re-imagining what theatre means, especially on our own stage,” states CTC Artistic Director, Peter C. Brosius. “And while the Twin Cities is a large hub for circus training and performance, Circus Abyssinia will be the very first circus piece to play on our stage. What I loved most when I saw this piece at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was the pure joy, virtuosity, and expression by these acrobats. Their incredible skill and heroic acts are both extraordinary and deeply human, and we know will leave anyone who sees them in awe.”

“We’re over the moon to be bringing Circus Abyssinia to the CTC,” stated performer/director Binyam “Bichu” Tesfamariam. “It’s going to be an absolute privilege to perform at such an extraordinary theatre, one so perfect for kids and their families. And we can’t wait to come to the brilliant city of Minneapolis!”


Parental Guidance

This show is appropriately labeled as “All Ages”. While the room does get very dark occasionally and there are sometimes flashing lights, there is nothing overtly scary or inappropriate for smaller kids. I would definitely take the whole family. Don’t forget that CTC offers a “quiet room” for those who need it.


Final Thoughts 

Photos by David Rubene Photography

This was a really fun outing for my seven-year-old and I. If you hesitate to do theater with a high-energy child, this is a good opportunity to introduce it. I’ve learned that good experiences build on themselves. The more often a kid enjoys a production, the more willing they are to give the next one a real chance and eventually they get better at sitting still and quiet.

Family Fun Twin Cities received two tickets to facilitate our review.

Zoo-Wee-Mama! The World Premiere of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Musical’ is Sensational!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Cast 2016
2016 Cast. Photo credit Dan Norman

“Hold EVERYTHING! It is NOT a diary! I specifically told my mom not to get me a diary.”

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid the musical is the story of Greg Heffley and his buddy Rowley Jefferson as they navigate through middle school.  A middle school experience just like yours and mine.

Only instead of the gut-wrenching, emotional heartache of middle school, you experience gasping-for-breath belly laughs.

Greg is trying to navigate through the murky waters of school while being a middle child.  He has a brother in high school (Rodrick who incidentally has a band, Loded Diper) and a “baby” brother who has his own embarrassing nickname for Greg.

He learns pretty quickly that he wants to be a cool kid in school or at least rise in his ranking in the eyes of his peers.  So he sets out to make a name for himself.

Somehow.

And his faithful friend, Rowley, cheers him on all the way.  Because Rowley’s main objective?  To be Greg’s best friend.

Therein lies the rub.  “I know you will do the right thing,” Greg’s mom tells him.


What Makes Diary of a Wimpy Kid Amazing

Diary of a Wimpy Kid the musical is a STRONG theatrical experience.  (I’m not the only one who thinks so.  Check out Simplicity in the Suburbs author Samara’s Review here)

Rachel Rockwell, the director, casted the characters perfectly.  Here are my four favorite. (I would add Rodrick played by Brandon Brooks, but that somehow seems disloyal to Greg)

  • Greg, played by Ricky Falbo from Chicago, is the perfect straight man. His exagerrated emotional expressions, let alone his oratory, communicate the entire flavor of the show.  Throughout the whole show, the entire audience is cheering for him.
  •  

    Rowley, played by David Rosenthal, could not be a better funny man.  His supreme naivety and dorky innocence makes every mom want to sit down and  explain the world to him.  And the next moment you are laughing so hard at his dancing and singing, your face hurts.

  • Charig is played by Om Angarkar.  OH, MY WORD!  He is hysterical.  He had both my 3rd-grader and me rolling on the floor. Greg’s interactions with Charig and Charig’s reactions were so delightfully written, I felt I was back in middle school.
  •  

    Fregley is played by Soren Thayne Miller and honestly I don’t know where they found this guy.  Fregley is the gross kid no one wants to sit by, walk past or even look at.  He adores Greg, and he let’s everyone know it.

Simplistic sets taken straight from the books focus your attention on the characters, and basic props punctuate the story.  I am sure the sets are not simple to maneuver especially with 54 scene changes. From home to school to Rowley’s house to school to his own bedroom to the street to neighbors’ front doors to school, etc.  It takes perfect precision, timing, and organization to be able to keep the moving parts from distracting from the story.  So three cheers for the Run Crew backstage.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid the musical would be nothing if not for strong writing and music.  Much of the story is in song peppered with narration by Greg and some dialogue throughout. Many genres (written by Alan Schmuckler and Michael Mahler) are represented including Rap, Pop, Heavy Metal, Gospel, and of course Broadway.  With songs like “Stuck in the Middle” and “I’ve Got an Animal Heart,” “Joshie Says” and many more, you will be humming all the way home.


Who Should See Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Musical

This show is perfect for kids of any age who love the book.  It’s also perfect for middle schoolers and high schoolers.  It’s fun for everyone.

I brought my 3rd grader who has read the books.  I even splurged and bought her a new one just because it seemed like the right thing to do.

As she sat in the lobby reading her new book, an adorable young man (we soon learned he was a second grader) from New Jersey sat down next her and showed her his book asking who her favorite character is.  They exchanged names and we learned that my daughter shares her name with his sister.  They were fast friends.

After chatting with his dad about the theatre and Minneapolis, we were soon ready to find our seats. We were seated in the second row.  Dead center.

“Mom.  We couldn’t have done anything better.  It blew my mind.” She also stated that she hadn’t understood all the jokes, but it didn’t matter at all.

When I suggested that I should have brought her older sister, she shrieked, “NO!  I needed to come to this. I’m the one who read the books.”

We walked to our car and smiled all the way home.


Diary of a Wimpy KidFamily Fun Twin Cities received tickets to review the show, but all opinions are our own.

It is a special day when Joy and I end up at the same place for the same event without planning it.  The Frog Bride at Children’s Theatre was one such case.

With our different personalities, both Joy and I loved this show.  Let us tell you about it so you can determine if it’s a good fit for your family.

At supper, I told my first grader, Dash, that we were doing something special together that evening.  In his mind, he was convinced we were going to a movie.  As we were loading into the car, I said, “Buddy, we are not going to a movie.”

That’s when the pout began. “That means we are going to a play.” (I admit that we go to the theatre a lot. I take my kids to see plays whenever the calendar allows. But the dude does not understand how fortunate he is. This is something to be thankful for. But he wasn’t.)

He rode to the theater in a huff. Then, he was upset because he had to walk to the door in the cold. This evening was not beginning well.

We waited for our tickets and were promised that even though he wanted to see a movie, he would love the show because there was a video screen with projections, music and live acting.  Dash perked up and was eager for it to begin.

With two live musicians, a pianist and a violinist and himself, David Gonzalez weaves a tale that is compelling and exciting. With voices (my favorite was the frog’s) and mimes, energy and mystery, David weaves you into this unique Russian fairytale. Including musical works from Russian composers and visual art from Russian artists, David immerses us in Russian culture. Dash was so involved in the story that he wasn’t ready for the hour-long production to be done.

I was completely taken in as well. So much so that by the end of the tale, I could taste the chocolate cake. I can taste it now, as a matter of fact.

Joy’s Take on The Frog Bride

I think Gianna covered everything I was going to say about The Frog Bride. I brought my 10-year-old daughter. She is a seasoned theater-goer now. We both enjoyed the performance; although, I question whether some jokes went over her head. That is good. I see that as a mark of a really good family story when it can be enjoyed on different levels. If an adult friend asked me, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest they go with or without kids. In fact the couple in front of me was there sans children.

It was fun to watch Gonzalez interact with the screen and to talk about how it was done afterwards. We talked about trying something similar at home – either with a real shadow curtain or a projector. We also enjoyed the incorporation of the musicians into the show.

The story left me with some talking points for later conversation.  For instance,

  1. “Why did the king insist on rigid adherence to The Book except when it didn’t suit him?”
  2. “Did you empathize with Ivan, or did you think he was a complete jerk?”
  3. “The other wives were kind of mean girls, weren’t they?”

Age Recommendations for The Frog Bride:

It’s recommended for ages 9 and older. I brought my 7 year old and many other younger kids attended who did great. It’s playing on the Cargill Stage so there is not a quiet room for the littlest ones. A mom in front of me had to leave her seat to care for her unhappy baby. (Don’t get me wrong. I was not upset, but I’m just telling you)

Joy Again: That unhappy baby actually spent the second half of the show behind the bleachers of the Cargill Stage. I only know this because he got away from his mom once, and I saw her grab him before he got back up front. He was otherwise not disruptive. If you do take a smaller child, you may want to employ this tactic if they get restless. Behind the seats, the child can move a little more (as long as they are quiet) and the parents can still watch the show.

CTC does not offer lap passes for this show.

Family Fun Twin Cities was given two tickets to be able to review this show. Joy used the ACT Pass Program to purchase tickets. All opinions are our own.

 

Review by Gianna Kordatzky

“My mother always said, ‘Don’t be a bother when you can be a help.'”  And that’s how Mouse lived his life. 

He delivered his mantra with a bang!

As Twin Cities event bloggers, we were invited to experience If You Give A Mouse A Cookie  based on the book by Laura Numeroff.   Anne and I were able to make it work with our schedules.  Anne will let you know all about everything we learned about Children’s Theatre Company and the facts behind the show.  I just wanted to let you know that I am in love with CTC.

Anne here. Many thanks go out to Gianna for including me in the blogger’s event. It was such a treat to be able to sit down with director Peter Brosius and hear a behind-the-scenes account of how CTC develops their plays. I also learned quite a few facts about the Company itself – that it’s the leading theater in North America for young people, for instance, and that it’s one of only a few youth companies in the U.S. to employ their own staff of actors. The 2015-16 season will ring in 50 years of bringing both classic stories and original works to life.

But back to the creative process. This part of the talk was probably even interesting to some of the older children present. Mr. Brosius took us through the production timeline, starting with storyboards, moving on to playing around with the actors, and finishing with the addition of lighting, sound and costumes.

A question was fielded from an intrigued blogger: How much freedom do the actors have to improvise during scenes?

This was a particularly good question to ask after a couple goofy run-throughs of scenes from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The answer is, quite a lot of freedom! Some of the funny stunts and antics of the characters can’t be completely controlled. The director stressed that “making a scene” is really a collaboration of imaginations. “Everyone in the room has a voice,” he explained. “You never know who might come up with a great idea.”

(Gianna again) Now moving onto the play itself. Mouse is played by Dean Holt and Boy is played by Reed Sigmund.  These men happen to be dads who are best friends. So they trust each other explicitly and know how to play to an audience full of kids!  Basically, they are big kids themselves.

This show is great for preschool children and up!

Jack, who is three, was very afraid of the pictures of Mouse.  I think he was convinced it was a monster.  On the day we met the actors and director, he and I drove to the theatre together, and I had Mr. Cling with me for the morning.  But by the time he had seen Mouse be all cute, adorable, and naughty (much like himself), he wanted to sit only on Mouse’s lap.

The next day, I took my girls, Tori and Kyla, to see the show.  Being 8 and 6, they were not concerned at all about the mouse being scary.  They just wanted the show to start.

And me?  I honestly was not super excited about this show.  Physical comedy doesn’t usually make me laugh.  Usually I cringe and get all anxious because I can’t handle the mess.  (do you remember Steve Urkel on Family Matters.  I didn’t think he was funny. All I could think of when he created disasters was where do you start trying to clean that up? Even just telling you about it now is putting knots in my stomach)  I thought this would pretty much the same.

However, Mouse is so cute, and Boy is so like I was that I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story.  I caught myself laughing hysterically more than once.

Here’s the gist of the story.  Mouse is hungry.  He wants a cookie.  Boy doesn’t want to give him the cookie, but finally he does because he feels so bad for him.  There was no way for him to anticipate what was going to happen.  Mouse was just trying to be a help.

 

With a stunt refrigerator, creepy dust bunnies, skate mops, goofy mirror, tape mishaps, silly marshmallows, our favorite part of the show was Mouse’s mixed up words.  For the rest of the day, we giggled whenever we used Mousewords.  It was  special connecting with my daughters like that.

When you go to the show, watch for Reed’s favorite scene–the dust bunnies–and Dean’s favorite scenes–the Cottonball scene and the tape scene.

You don’t want to miss it!

Jungle Book Set at Children's Theatre CompanyChildren’s Theatre Company recommends The Jungle Book for kindergarten and up. I took my kindergartner as my date, based on this recommendation even knowing it had an hour and 45 minute run time. He has a spotty record for making it through anything over 45 minutes, but we made it through and he loved it.

He really, really wanted to be able to play on the set and was disappointed when he found out that wasn’t going to be allowed. The set resembles a really awesome natural playground with climbing rocks, tunnels, vines, ladders and swinging ropes. He was not alone in his wish to play on the set, several kids tried to make a dash for it. This would be a good play to follow up with a visit to Wargo Nature Center’s Maple Hollow Nature Play Area (they have the swinging ropes) or one of the other natural playgrounds.

Had the play been less exciting, I think he could have spent both 45 minute sessions imagining what he would do on that set. Of course it was exciting. There were five actors playing all the various jungle animals. Most character changes were done on set.

H. Adam Harris, who played Baloo the Bear and a series of other animal, was my son’s favorite. He kept the performance light even during potentially scary parts. His physical comedy had the kids laughing out loud.

Mowgli was played by Eric Sharp – the only actor to stay in one character throughout the entire show. He convincingly went from toddler to teenager through the story line. My son did need a bit of explanation when there were big jumps in age.

If you are used to Autumn Ness as the sweet narrator of Biggest Little House in the Forest, you’re in for a surprise with her portrayal the hard-nosed Bagheera the Panther. I almost didn’t recognize her.

Somehow Casey Hoekstra is able to create a balance with Shere Khan the Tiger. The audience knows he is dangerous, but he’s never too scary. We loved newcomer, Nastacia Nicole’s portrayal of Kaa the snake. She was beautiful and charming and scary all at once.

My favorite performer was onstage musician who was able to create a jungle atmosphere and keep the young audience connected to the mood of each scene through various instruments.

Although I usually circumvent the gift shop when I take my kids on outings, I made an exception for The Jungle Book and bought an abridged version of the Jungle Book to read at home ($4.00). I’m always looking for new ways to make reading exciting for him. After we finish the book, we may check out the Disney version to compare the different styles. Where Disney is heavy on music, the Children’s Theatre version is not a musical and is very text oriented. It will be fun to see which version my kids like best.

Not for the first time, I left Children’s Theatre after Mr. Popper’s Penguins wishing that they sold soundtracks in their gift shop. I left the show singing, but by the time I got home, the song had morphed into some other song. Because the music was fun and catchy, I found this play to be a fun way to re-introduce my 4-year-old to live performances after a couple less-than-successful experiences.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Mr. Popper’s Penguins loosely follows the book story line. However, much of the conflict is removed and the characters of the Popper children are left out of this version, all together. Instead Mr. and Mrs. Popper adopt the penguins as their surrogate children. I don’t believe you need to read the book before going to the show. In fact, I wouldn’t read the book at all with a preschooler, but would use the play to encourage reading the story after the fact for older kids.

Because there is not a huge focus on conflict and drama in this play, the focus is on the music and puppetry, which were both wonderful. I wished that I could add several of the songs to my regular playlists. The hour went by really fast for us because the musical numbers were so enjoyable.

The entire play and all of its characters are acted out by 4 actors, sharing the roles of puppeteers. It is really fun to watch them change characters with a minimum of wardrobe alterations. They were convincing enough, that I’m unsure my daughter realized there were only four actors. If you are a regular to CTC, you may have noticed that none of the actor’s in this production are familiar. Trust me, they live up to CTC standards.

Parental Guidance for Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Children’s Theatre recommends this play for ages 3 and up. I think this is accurate. This is the first production that my 4-year-old has been able to sit through since she was a baby. By “sit through” I mean stay in the theater without being overly disruptive. She did not actually sit through more than 10 minutes. She did make it the full hour without forcing me to take her out. Yay!!

There is nothing scary or disturbing in this play. There is a lot of singing and dancing, scenes are short and conflict is mild and resolved quickly. The show ended on a fun note that really stuck with my daughter. The next morning she was still talking and excited about it.

Stretching Your Fun! 

After the show, consider a trip to the zoo to watch the penguins yourself.  Both the Minnesota Zoo and Como Zoo have penguin exhibits.

About Mr. Popper’s Penguins

It’s hard enough for Mr. Popper, a modest painter, to support himself and his wife, and the unexpected addition of ten penguins makes it even tougher. But then! The imaginative Popper turns his talented penguins into a traveling vaudeville act. They sing! They dance! They become a theatrical sensation and give a must-see Penguiny performance! Applause! Applause! This play shows you a wild and witty way to follow your dreams.

Final Thoughts on Mr. Popper’s Penguins

I would recommend taking a moment to download the Audience Resource Guide (PDF) before going. The usual pre-show activities in the program didn’t include any writing or coloring activities this time. I tend to count on those to help the kids settle in before the show starts. You’ll find these activities and more in the resource guide. This will also lead you to the Hennepin County Library list of suggested reading. Again, I didn’t think these books were quite appropriate for preschoolers, but we stopped and picked up some Penguin picture books on our way home.

When you meet Peter Pan in Children’s Theatre Company’s Peter Pan the Musical, it’s after all have gone to bed and Nana is chained up. Peter’s charm captures Wendy’s heart immediately as does it yours.

As a special Mommy/Son date, my 6 year old, Dash, and I filed into our seats at Children’s Theatre Company ready to watch a good show.

I didn’t expect to be transplanted into another world.

I have come to expect nothing but awesomeness from Children’s Theatre Company, and I knew that their telling of the traditional story of Peter Pan would be incredible.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Children's Theatre Company's Peter Pan the Musical
Photo Credit: Dan Norman

Classic Story

As per the classic story, the Darling parents go out for the evening, leaving Nana–their Nursery Nanny Dog–tied up and Wendy, John and Michael by themselves in their room.  While Mother and Father are away, a  strange boy flies into the nursery searching for his shadow, can’t find it and starts crying awakening Wendy.

Wendy gets caught up in his magic and carries John and Michael along with her.  Before they know it, they find themselves flying through the clouds with Peter Pan and Tinker Bell into Never Never Land.

There they meet the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and her tribe of girls called Pounce (the only deviation from the original story), and Captain Hook and his pirates.

The adventures begin.  They have a marvelous time playing make believe and hiding from pirates.  However, it doesn’t take that long and the Darling children realize they want to be with their real mother.  The Lost Boys decide they want a real mother, too.  They are about to leave when Captain Hook’s pirates capture them.

Will they make it home?

Children’s Theatre Company’s Magical Peter Pan

I find it so incredible what CTC can do to take us to another world.  The fairy dust itself was breathtaking, but so were all the effects.  To make the children and Peter fly, Children’s Theatre Company used ZFX, Inc. and their flying techniques. I was expecting everyone to be swinging out of control in the air, but other than one instance when Michael and Wendy kept missing each other’s hands, everyone was completely under control.

I was impressed.


What I loved

  1. The set–The nursery was beautiful.  I loved that you could tell it was upstairs because Mr. and Mrs. Darling exited into the orchestra pit to suggest different levels.
  2. The characters–Especially Smee.  The Darlings are a very convincing family.  Peter Pan was incredible.  Tiger Lily was a tough cookie and the Pounce were fun to watch battle.  The Lost Boys were enduring.  The pirates were entertaining. Captain Hook was delightful.  But Smee?  Smee was hysterical.  He had me rolling in my seat, tickled pink.
  3. The music–I loved that it was a live pit orchestra.  It always makes me happy to know the music is not canned.  My favorite song was “I Won’t Grow Up.”  Dash’s favorite song was the hand-clapping, crowing competition between the Pounce and the Lost Boys.

What I didn’t understand

  1. (spoiler alert) Why did Captain Hook surrender himself to the Crocodile?  He was so scared of him and then he just gave up and jumped into the sea?  This part of the play was not written well.  Captain Hook, played by Reed Sigmund, was extremely convincing, and he played up the character perfectly.  I just didn’t get the the part of the suicidal Captain Hook.  And I’m sure that was just me and I missed a pinnacle point in the dialogue.
  2. Why wasn’t Smee in more of the play?  He seriously was my favorite character.  Smee was played by CTC acting company member, Dean Holt who also has played the Cat in the Hat and the mouse in the When You Give a Mouse a Cookie. His physical comedy is hilarious even in Smee who doesn’t seem to be a physically funny character.

Peter Pan the Musical is  2 hours which can get kind of long.  Before I went, Joy mentioned to me that she had purchased tickets for her whole family but to let her know if I thought it was too long.

It’s not.

The action keeps your attention for the entire two hours–at least once you get out of the Darlings’ nursery.  The moment Peter, Wendy, John and Michael start to fly around stage, they’ve got you–hook, line and sinker.


Peter Pan the Musical is a magical journey on which you will want to take your entire family.

My middle grader and I attended opening night of Pinocchio on Friday.

This play was developed here at Children’s Theatre in 2013, has traveled around a bit and now come home to CTC. This was my first time seeing this version of Pinocchio.

Would I recommend this play. Well, yeah, I always recommend CTC shows, but as always, it depends on your child.

Pinocchio at Children's Theatre Company
Image by Dan Norman – courtesy Children’s Theatre Company

While I enjoy full-scale productions, I love shows that rely heavily on the actors and use very little in the way of special effects. If you feel the same way, this show won’t disappoint you. The actors are all CTC favorites. While the play starts out as a story being told by a group of painters, you soon forget the set and are drawn fully into the tale.

Age Recommendations for Pinocchio

Pinocchio is recommended for Kindergarten and up. This is due mainly to the fact that it is 1 hour and 45 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission. That’s a pretty long time to sit still – even for adults. The story itself, however, has enough physical humor and silly gags to entertain younger children. I would not hesitate to recommend bringing a younger child as long as you don’t mind the possibility of watching a portion on the lobby monitors.

Pinocchio Activities

If you want to come with smaller children, you will find no end to Pinocchio themed coloring pages and activities online. You could even print them out to do in the lobby if they need a break from sitting still.

For grade school children though, Pinocchio could lead to or be the culmination of a really fun self study. For one, this version, while truer to the original than the Disney version, is not faithful to it, and it does borrow a little from Disney as well. It would be fun to compare all three versions. What’s the same? What’s different? Which is your favorite?

I was pleasantly surprised when I reviewed the original Pinocchio that it is very amusing and feels like it was written for stage.

Slideshare.Net also has Ideas to Work With the Story of Pinocchio. These ideas are aimed at students in middle school, but the bullet point ideas are easy to read over and can give any parent ideas for conversation starters as you read together.


Family Fun Twin Cities received two tickets to opening night of Pinocchio to facilitate this review.

 

Collage of Sonja Parks in Seed Folks at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photos by Dan Norman.Seedfolk is an original collaboration between the author Paul Fleischman, the Children’s Theatre Company and director by Peter C. Brosius. Together with actress Sonja Parks, they bring to life Fleischman’s Newbery Medal-winning book of the same name. This is not the first stage adaptation of the book, but it is unique in that one actress plays all the roles. 

I know I will not be able to do this show justice. It is the absolute best performance I have ever seen. I’ve come to expect quality performances from Children’s Theatre Company, but Seedfolk blew me away. One actress, three screens and music was all that was necessary to portray the various lives of an entire neighborhood of individuals. I really recommend getting to this show and seeing it for yourself.

The theme of the story made for a great discussion with my daughter afterwards. Little actions can make big ripples, so we need to strive to make sure the ripples we are creating are positive ones.

CTC recommends Seedfolk for children in Grades 3 through 8. I took my 4th grader. She enjoyed the performance, but not as much as I did. I do believe it is something that will stick with her and come to mean more as she grows. I would not take one of my preschoolers to this performance.  It is slightly over an hour without an intermission, and they would not have appreciated it. I would, however, recommend it for teens and adults beyond the 8th grade.

Shrek began as a picture book creation of William Steig, who originally wrote and illustrated the book. A decade later Dreamworks created the hit movie and it then moved on to Broadway. When Children’s Theatre Company produced their own version in 2014, we took a walk through all its versions.

SHREK! THE BOOK

In 1990, the Shrek phenomenon began with the publication of the book by William Steig. It was written for 4 to 8 year olds and was only 32 pages. To say the movie was based on it is kind of an exaggeration. There is an Ogre named Shrek who is much nastier than the movie version. There is a talking donkey who the Ogre abuses; he is not a main character. And Shrek falls in love with another ogre at the end, however, she was never a princess. The ogres of the book are nasty to the end. I guess the moral is that there is someone for everyone. As far as kids books go, I wasn’t particularly impressed. I wouldn’t want to own it, but it is kind of a fun conversation starter about how different it is from the movie. I would recommend getting this through the library, but if you want to own it, it is available online and at local bookstores.


SHREK THE MOVIE

I feel that Shrek, the Movie revitalized family film when it was released in 2001. I didn’t have children at the time and, as a rule, I only went to the movies for films that had space ships in them. However, I made a point to get to Shrek and loved it. Suddenly the family film bar was raised back up to expect a product that would appeal to both parents and children. It was only later — with the sequels — that it really became more about selling toys and creating a “brand”. It was the movie that added the elements of all our favorite fairy tales (a little funnier) and the transformation of Fiona. The producers developed the plot into something that could stretch into a movie and softened Shrek into a likeable character. If you haven’t seen it (and some people haven’t), I recommend it. It’s funny and irreverent in ways that adults will appreciate, but it is still a children’s movie at heart. The video is available through the library (although children’s DVDs from the library are a gamble) and anywhere videos are sold.


SHREK ON BROADWAY

The best part of Shrek the Broadway Musical was the soundtrack. Otherwise it was not my favorite musical. I kept comparing it to Into the Woods – my favorite twisted fairy-tale musical. Broadway’s version was aimed at adults. I found it a little too mature in parts. Although I didn’t see any reason to turn it off, I didn’t feel it was completely child-friendly. My (then) eight-year-old disagreed. She loved it and re-watched it several times on her own. Also, although the musical talent was amazing (the soundtrack is part of my regular Spotify lists), I felt the characters were under-developed. There were just places where we got bored. We watched it on Netflix. Maybe it would have been different live. The soundtrack is worth owning (or adding to your Spotify lists), but you wouldn’t miss much if you skip the video. I would definitely go see local, live productions.


SHREK, LIVE & LOCAL

We went to see the Children’s Theatre Company production in 2014. What a difference live, local and kid-friendly made to this musical! The rest of this article is my original review of the CTC play. Hopefully, they’ll revive it again some year. In the meantime, Shrek is now a favorite musical of local theatres. See our performing arts calendar for upcoming shows.


Shrek at Children's Theatre Company
The CTC Cast of Shrek the Musical

Even though it was the same musical and essentially the same script as the Broadway version, CTC managed to make it a better show. To begin with, they really concentrated on the budding relationship with Fiona — when at the end she has to choose between Shrek and Lord Farquaad, it’s not about good versus evil, it’s about compatibility. This is a good thing, because the Lord Farquaad in the CTC version of this musical is so funny you can’t hate him. CTC did a remarkable job of character development. What they lacked in a broadway-sized budget, they made up for in acting. Despite the fact that the characters were reading essentially the same lines, directer Peter Rothstein and the actors did an amazing job of bringing out the personalities of the characters. Shrek is the loveable curmudgeon, Fiona is amusingly bipolar, and Dragon is amazing. CTC was able to soften many of the “mature” lines in the play so that they did not come off as mature. The theme of the CTC version is about acceptance of everyone and love of yourself — that’s there in the Broadway version, but blown to extremes. I would say if you liked the Broadway version, you will love the CTC version. If, like me, you didn’t care as much for the Broadway version, I still believe you’ll love the CTC version.

  • Family Fun Twin Cities originally received two tickets to review the Children’s Theatre Production of Shrek. Opinions are our own.

The Sneetches  – CTC Review – February 2017

The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss is now a musical at Children’s Theatre Company. It was a bit more mature than I was expecting. Based on the “All Ages” recommendation and the target age of the book, I took my five-year-old son.

Five may have been young for The Sneetches musical, but we had a fun day and made good memories.

Before going, we read the book together several times and looked through the study materials from CTC. That helped a lot. However, the first half bored him and, even knowing the story, he had a hard time following it on stage. He kept saying, “What part is this?” Despite his inability to stay focused during the show, afterwards, he had nothing but good things to say about the experience and I think this will be a special book for him in the future.

The Sneetches Musical follows a pretty standard formula for turning kids books into Broadway Musicals. Even the music was standard Broadway music. In fact, I would expect to see this show on Broadway in the next couple years.

The book is aimed at 5 to 8 year old kids. Its story will make you think of schoolyard bullying and childhood exclusion. Children’s Theatre took this concept a few steps further into adulthood. What happens when a whole segment of the population is excluded and demeaned? As an adult, you’ll see connections to current events that will go right over your kids’ heads. Usually when Children’s Theatre tackles mature subjects in an all-ages production, they add a lot of physical humor and silly antics to balance the seriousness. That’s noticeably missing in this production. However, the fact that it is a children’s story makes it a good show for families who like musicals. The parents will get the most out of it, but it is always appropriate for even the youngest kids.

Preparing for The Sneetches Musical

Until CTC announced this season’s line up, I hadn’t even heard of The Sneetches, so we started preparing for our visit to the theatre by getting a copy of the book and the cartoon video from the library.

The story of The Sneetches, written in 1953, is a Seuss classic. With his trademark ability to take a complicated subject and turn it into a simple rhyming story, Seuss tackles exclusion, bullying, self-esteem and the advertising industry. With older kids, this would be a great time to talk about marketing tactics. It shows how marketers can exacerbate a person’s feelings of inadequacy and then offer them the product to fix that fault. For younger kids this story is a good opportunity to talk about inclusion and celebrating diversity.

The video was made in 1973. You don’t need to get if from the library; it’s available through YouTube. I don’t think the cartoon adds anything to the experience of the book. However, as an adult who grew up in the 70s and 80s, the video felt like visiting old friends. The voice actors are all familiar from childhood cartoons.

Family Fun and Discussion After Watching The Sneetches Musical

CTC offered some useful tools on their Guidance page that can be modified to family fun or discussion. This page is aimed more toward a classroom, but the activities can be adapted for a family. For instance, On the last two printed pages of the Guidance section, there are lists of questions. They are a little stiff for a family chat, but were nice to read over beforehand so I could work these concepts into our discussion on the ride home.

Besides discussion questions, CTC lists additional reading suggestions, games, and lists of vocabulary words. Some of the words were ideal for expanding grade school vocabulary.

  • Identity • Discrimination • Difference • Assimilation • Segregation • Separation • Solidarity • Community • Belonging • Friendship

I liked this list that came from the Sculpture Garden game for preschool vocabulary words.

  • Sneaky • Greedy • Friendship • Beach • Change • Superior • Machine • Money • Broke • Rules • Separation

Both sets would be fun words to use for a quick game of charades or Pictionary.

The Tossing and Translating Lines game can also be modified into a family parlor game. Just let the kids take turns acting out each line as you read them.

 

Review by Joy Peters

My family has been looking forward to Snowflake since CTC announced this season’s line up. We love shows like Mr. Bean and Charlie Chaplin. This seemed like the perfect play to attend as a family. Unfortunately, watching Charlie Chaplin curled up together in the family room is a little different than a quiet theatre. At times it was hard for them to sit through and they couldn’t just get up and starting playing with a car like they would at home.

This is the first time that I felt CTC got their age recommendations wrong. This show’s target audience was kindergarten through fourth grade.  My fourth grader was at the top of that age range and missed so much of the subtleties of the performance. That isn’t to say she didn’t enjoy it or get something out of it. She understood that he was homeless and was making use of things others carelessly threw away.  She just didn’t get it all.  I would not be afraid to recommend this performance for the K-4 set, but I believe the true audience is preteen to adult.

Our five-year-old enjoyed the silly slapstick portions.  Unfortunately, there were long stretches of beautiful story that was just too mature for him. At about the half-hour mark, he climbed over his sister, brother and dad to come ask me if it was almost over.  But he did sit back down and quietly watch the rest.  I plan to add the Vimeo previews to our Wii Playlist, so he will remember how much he enjoyed his favorite parts.

Our three-year-old enjoyed the parts where we clapped.  Otherwise he mainly wanted to kick the guy in front of us in the head.  (If you happen to be the guy who sat in front of us, I am truly sorry that he was being a jerk). If you have a preschool aged child, I’d highly recommend a one-on-one date and getting a front row balcony seat for a not-too-busy performance.  You can read about why I prefer the balcony with my squirmy boys HERE.

The baby slept through the entire performance and that was our best case scenario.  I really didn’t want to end up watching from the lobby.  The wonderful thing about Children’s Theatre is that I have the option of taking children of any age to any performance.

I am so glad I got to see this play.  It was beautiful and it was funny. While the kids laughed at the slapstick or recognized Snowflake’s resourcefulness, my husband and I were moved by his ability to overcome deep sadness and loneliness.  Despite the age differences, it made a good family outing.

We are able to attend Children’s Theatre performances as a family of six because of the generosity of the ACT Pass Program.  We also receive discounts on classes and workshops through this program.  Read more about how to apply for financial based scholarships HERE.

Spamtown, USA is the 57th world premiere developed and commissioned by Children’s Theatre Company since Peter C. Brosius began as Artistic Director in 1997.  In most cases, the works are then licensed through the organization’s licensing house, Plays for Young Audiences.  You never knew Canned Ham could be so fun (and educational).

Spamtown USA Cast- Children's Theatre Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2020
all photo credit belongs to Glen Stubbe Photography

Spamtown USA

It’s morning in Austin, Minnesota and we are introduced to our characters, the kids: Jude and Travis Olsen, Amy and Carol Bolton, and Scott Olsen.  Two high schoolers, two middle schoolers, and a kindergartener.  White collar and blue collar workers doing life together, working for Hormel, living in a small town.  

My favorite character is Jude Olsen played by Isabella Spies.  Jude is the younger sister of Travis.  Their parents are divorced, but they are getting by.  Jude goes through the loudest change of all the characters.  She is funny, is extremely opinionated, and has a strong personality.  I loved her energy and the deep thoughts she expressed.  I loved how every thought I had during the show, she spoke aloud.  And even as she tried to protect herself, she had moments of vulnerability.

This complicated story was presented in all its complexity.  It was not overtly simplified or dumbed down.  The writer, Philip Dawkins, took time on all the different sides, and I feel like he did a fairly decent job of it. I love how the story was told from the kids’ perspective including the way they portrayed the lectures the kids were forced to listen to. 

The writing was what made this show powerful.  The two hour play spans years, and the introduction to a new year was brilliant. 

“It’s morning in America.”

“It’s always 1986 in Austin.” 

The pop culture references were spectacular.  At one point, I leaned over to my daughter and said, “Do you know what that means?”  I had the joy of explaining  a popular phrase from my childhood.

 

I loved how the kids interacted with the audience.  They were telling their story.  The decisions their parents were making were affecting their lives and while the parents are important, this is their story. 

At the end of the show, the kids do a quick side note of the actual timeline while still in character and telling their story.

About Spamtown USA

Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) is proud to announce the world premiere production of Spamtown, USA, running February 16, 2020 through April 5, 2020, written by Philip Dawkins and directed by Will Davis. The playwright met with and interviewed 25 people who were children in the city of Austin, Minnesota during the P-9 Strike against Hormel in the 1980s to gather their stories and perspectives. The play explores how pivotal events that occurred during the strike affected relationships inside and between three families. While five kids dream of space camp, tennis teams, and out-of-state college, they find their families and community suddenly divided by picket lines and opposing agendas. This is the story of having the strength to stand up for what you believe in, the challenge that comes in disagreeing with those you love, and the humor that helps keep friendships alive.

-taken from CTC’s press release

Parental Guidance for Spamtown USA

CTC recommends this show for everyone ages 9 and up.

While I appreciated this play, I will say it’s not the typical happy-go-lucky show you expect from a children’s show.   And that’s just it.  This show is a powerful piece of art.   It’s a hard and complicated topic.  My 13 year old and I enjoyed it.  We learned a lot and were entertained, but our car ride home was pretty quiet as we processed what we just saw.  

CTC recommends this show for kids who are 9 years and older.  I recommend it for teens and older.  In fact, this show is for adults as a lesson about the importance of kids.  It reminds adults that kids are vital members of society and that they matter and their experience matters. Do adults sometimes need to make decisions that their kids may not like?  Yes.  But that’s when it’s important to come alongside them and process with them the consequences of adult choices.

 

Final Thoughts on Spamtown USA

You won’t leave Spamtown, USA giggling, but you will be glad you went. I brought my fairly mature 13 year-old and through some of the abstract ideas, she got lost.  The show is 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission and it goes by fast, but it could drag for younger kids.  It’s a heavy topic and hard to understand, but it’s a great way for kids to learn about the validity of different sides of issues.  

Through its new play development work, CTC envisions a future of theatre for young audiences by inviting leading theatre artists to create new plays drawn from a wide range of source materials that expand and explode the repertoire and reflect our current global community.  Spamtown USA is no different.

Like going to the theatre with your kids?  We have a Performing Arts Calendar you may want to check out.

Disclosure: FFTC was given tickets to review this show.  All opinions are our own.

Eric Carle and Henri Matisse used similar techniques to create their art.

I have to admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to going to the Very Hungry Caterpillar at Children’s Theatre last Friday. I knew it would be an excellent show. We’ve taken our kids to enough CTC performances now to expect nothing less. But, it was cold out, I’d worked a full week and  I wasn’t sure my four-year-old date was really ready for his first real theatre experience. It turned out to be a magical night for both of us.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites was everything promised by the hype and everything I would have expected from CTC.  The mix of storytelling and puppetry from the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia was an ideal first theatre experience.  It was both quiet and entertaining at the same time. The production is only 45 minutes.  I’m sure they did their homework, because it was just the right length.  My little guy was ready to go when it was over, but the next day he really wanted to go again.

What really made the experience special for us was where we sat.  We were right in the front row of the top balcony tucked into a corner by ourselves.  After the lights went down, we moved to the floor and peaked over the balcony to watch the show.  It felt like we were in our own special world — almost like we had slipped in.  If you ever have a chance to sit on the floor and peak over the balcony, I highly recommend it.

Since this show is aimed at small children, it was a “no shushing show”. When he had questions he asked and I answered and since we were tucked away in our own special world, there was no one around to bother.  The last thing I would want to do is ruin something as wonderful as theatre for a a small child who is expected to sit quiet and still for longer than they are capable.  Both CTC and the Mermaid obviously recognize this and have produced a perfect starter show for the youngest audience members.

Review by Gianna Kordatzky

The Wiz is a ’70’s interpretation of the classic The Wizard of Oz.  And it is playing right now at Children’s Theatre Company in collaboration with Penumbra Theatre. You can definitely feel a “Brand New Day” after watching this colorfully vibrant extravaganza!

Paris Bennett in The Wiz at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis Minnesota photo by Dan Norman
Paris Bennett in The Wiz photo by Dan Norman

The Wiz

Dorothy was peacefully growing up in Nicodemus, Kansas when suddenly a twister picked her up and landed her in the middle of the Land of Oz. When she came to, she found herself in a brightly colored world unlike her home in every way.

Suddenly, Dorothy found herself meeting the Munchkins, learning she accidentally killed the Wicked Witch of the East, and realizing that no matter how wonderful this world is she wants to go home in Nicodemus Kansas.

Along the way, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.  The Wiz still lives in Emerald City, Dorothy still battles the Wicked Witch of the West. But the songs and the dancing and the fashions are Disco. There is no singing about somewhere over the rainbow.

It’s the same story that we know and love, just a jazzed up version.   (Thanks, Michael Jackson)

About The Wiz

Ease on down the road with Dorothy and her friends with a dazzling mixture of rock, gospel and soul music. Embark on this Oz-some adventure through a magic land where you will meet funky monkeys, winkies, Addaperle and Evillene. You don’t need a wizard—just believe in yourself to find home and feel that brand-new day.

Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in partnership with Penumbra Theatre will present The Wiz, adapted from L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; directed by Lou Bellamy, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of Penumbra Theatre Company.

“It is a great thrill and honor to partner with Penumbra Theatre,” stated CTC Artistic Director Peter C. Brosius. “They are a major force in the national theatre world as well as a local treasure. The insights and experience they bring to this partnership have been extraordinary and we look forward to continuing to find ways to work together.”

“This relationship isn’t transactional,” stated Penumbra Theatre Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy.  “We are getting to a space of depth and real honesty with each other in terms of our conversations about equity, what our aesthetics are, how we can create a proactive, equitable, shared learning environment and that feels very unique.”

The Wiz runs from January 23-March 18, 2018.

Parental Guidance for The Wiz

Fun Side of the Show

The munchkins are ADORABLE!

The Yellow Brick Road is clever.

Emerald City is hilarious.

The lion becomes super lovable.

The music is super fun.

Scarier Side of the Show

Khalidas were SUPER creepy.

The Twister is intense.

The lion is a little scary at first .

The monkeys are super evil-looking.

Age Recommendation

I would suggest for ages 10+, but I sat with a bunch of first graders who got into it.  I was jumpier than they were.

Final Thoughts on The Wiz

The Wiz is an entertaining show.  It’s playing until March 18.  I loved it, and the 13 year old boy in sitting in front of me, turned around and exclaimed, “That was awesome!”

My daughter and I had the opportunity to see the Wizard of Oz on opening night at the Children’s Theatre. I’d recommend this musical for kids who like and can sit through the movie or have experience with sitting still for longer periods.

Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2015; Photo by Dan Norman
Image credit: Dan Norman

Children’s Theatre did not stray too far from the Judy Garland version with this production. It was fun to see how a relatively small theatre could pull off the tornado and the black-and-white-to-color moment. I think they did beautifully.

I tried unsuccessfully to keep my daughter from singing along. I think maybe its just too much to ask people not to sing ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’. A lot of adults were singing it as they walked out of the theater. That is one of the plus sides of Children’s Theatre. There is no expectation of perfect quiet from the audience. 

This musical is a full two-hours including a 15 minute intermission after the first hour. I may have been able to keep the 5-year-old engaged, but definitely not the 3-year-old or baby. However, I learned this weekend that CTC has a “quiet” room which is actually a nice description for “there is no way this kid is going to stay quiet, but I still want to see the show” room. In the past, if we were unsure if all four kids would make it, we’ve bought tickets for times the MIA was open. This is a nice option, too, but it requires one parent to miss out on the show to sit in a room full of blocks and books. With the option of the quiet room, I would unhesitatingly bring the whole family and see what happens.


“Kids pick up on the details and the nuances. They are experiencing true feelings, not just the nostalgia like the adults. They are so captivated into the performance.  They can tell when the character is in your heart.”

-Mary Fox


There are several ways a family could prep ahead for this show. The first, of course, would be watching the movie version or listening to the soundtrack to learn all the songs. Maybe you could even do a double feature with Oz The Great and Powerful.

For a child who would like to go deeper into the Oz story, the books are all available through the Gutenberg Project. Now could be a good time to encourage some classic reading. CTC offers some suggestions of their own for preparing in their Audience Guide, including discussion ideas for before and after the play.

After the play, my daughter was excited to try to make a crystal ball out of an old fish bowl and I thought the Wizard of Oz houses they made at the Home Depot last year could be made into a short tornado sequence in their puppet theater.  I’ve set the houses next to the theater, but so far they haven’t taken the bait.

“How could a good little girl like you destroy my beautiful wickedness.”

-Wicked Witch of the West


Children’s Theatre Company provided us with two tickets to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.

The Wong Kids in The Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go! is “AWESOME!” 
The Wong Kids in The Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go! at The Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis Minnesota- October 2013
Image courtesy of Children’s Theatre Company: Photo: Dan Norman.

That was the description that came from my husband and 8-year-old daughter after seeing the Wong Kids at Children’s Theatre.  Both of them went into this performance a little on the tired and crabby side and feeling rushed and overwhelmed after a busy Saturday. They both came home energized and excited with a bunch of inside jokes between them.

The Children’s Theatre suggests this play is a little “Phineas and Ferb meets A Wrinkle in Time,” with some Monty Python thrown in for good measure. This play is recommended for ages 8 and up. This recommendation was pretty much right on. Much of the humor went over the heads of the younger audience. Even our 8-year-old missed quite a bit. There were also some mature themes and loud noises that could be scary.  However, there were younger children at the performance and they enjoyed it for the slapstick and grandness of the production.  Nothing was overly scary.

The play explores themes that are particularly pertinent to older grade schoolers and young middle schoolers, such as individuality and respect for oneself and others.  In particular, it is about being yourself as a unique individual even when you fear others might think you are weird; to not be afraid to do things just because of what others might think.

The actors owned their characters.  Every one was very convincing.  In particular Sasha Diamond as Violet really carried the show as she explored her teenaged demons.  She fought the fear and allure of being “Nobody”.  The Nobody scene was the favorite of my household.  The use of sound and lights to set a scenes helped to make the play flow together creatively and flawlessly.

If would be fun to find the graphic novel to go with the play if you can find it.

Recommended for Ages 8+.

The Grinch with Cindylou Who in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Children's Theatre Company, Minneapolis, MinnesotaThe Grinch is back in 2018. Reed Sigmund returns as the Grinch and you can expect much of the same great show as last year with some new features that we don’t want to give away.

It was a cold date night
And without a hint of a grimace
I held my husband’s hand
at  How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

That mean, old Grinch
starts out alone and sore
But your love for him
will grow three times bigger than before.

-Gianna Kordatzky

Of course, the Grinch (when we first encounter him, that is) would rather we leave the theater scorning everything about Christmas. That’s precisely what he’s been doing from his icy mountaintop cave for more than half a century. His only companion is his poor pooch Max, a closet Christmas fan and forced accomplice when the Grinch decides he’s going to rob the holiday from his neighbors in Whoville.

FFTC received two free tickets to review the show but all opinions are 100% my own.

You’ve likely read of the Whos, a people with a passion for Christmas, in the pages of Dr. Seuss’ story. My favorite part of the show was watching these characters pop out of the story and onto the stage — in bright candy colors, singing, dancing, shopping frenetically for last-minute gifts. There are gentler moments among the Whos as well, proving that despite what the Grinch mistakenly believes, these families know the true meaning of Christmas.

Many kids are familiar with the story of the Grinch, and this works to the stage show’s advantage. (I recommend reading the book with younger children ahead of time to introduce them to the characters). Instead of being concerned with keeping children’s attention on the plot, the characters get to shine! The Grinch (Reed Sigmund) is awesomely over the top with his sickly green shag coat and passionate hostility toward Christmas (he might even frighten a toddler or two). We loved the tale’s twist of having an elderly Max (the dog) narrate the story as though it happened to his master many years ago. And Cindy-Lou Who — the tiny Who daughter — is a stand-out with her angelic voice and message of what Christmas is truly about.

 

Recommended for: all ages. The performance lasts just under two hours including a short intermission. Joy Here: Usually CTC’s age recommendations are spot on, but you may need to take “all ages” with caution on this one. My almost-3-year-old started crying as soon as the Grinch appeared, and I had to take her out. CTC has a “quiet room” where things are less intense, but that did not reduce the scare factor enough to stay. If you have a sensitive child, the appearance of the Grinch may be too scary.

Highlights: Reed Sigmund as the Grinch is 100% incredible.  He isn’t bound by the confines of the stage in more than one way!  He was definitely my favorite character. Natalie Tran as Young Max and Dean Holt as Old Max carry the story along.  I love how Max is fiercely loyal as well as stricken with grief over Grinch’s attitude. The audience participates in the story –willingly or unwillingly.  Other than old Grinchy-poo, my favorite characters were Grandma Who and Grandpa Who.

The Peters family would agree that Reed Sigmund stole this show. My husband said it was the best CTC show he’s ever seen. My boys, who struggle with sitting still for full shows, thought it was probably the shortest show they’ve ever seen at CTC. (It wasn’t. It’s almost 2 full hours).

Also, the casting was incredibly diverse!  Whos can be any color.  And they are EVERY color.

We really liked that this version sticks closer to the book than the movie version.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top