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.
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.
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 watch Busytown Mysteries? That was a great night!” I do hear that about our nights out.
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.