Attention all parents and grandparents of children ten and under. Enjoy with them the magical experience of live theatre at the extraordinary Growing Stage, The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey. We had the pleasure of attending the Sunday at 4 p.m. performance of The Growing Stage's current, and last of the season, musical production of Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly.
We sat in a position to easily observe the junior members of the audience and rarely have we observed an adult audience as attentive, and yes, well behaved. On stage they were observing a group of six young inhabitants of the insect world; a worm, a spider, a fly, an ant, a beautiful butterfly and a bee who has a teaching degree. The lessons of the thin but charming story are of kindness and respect for others and the realization that their problems from the dreaded homework to social acceptance are not terribly different from ours. Naturally, there are a few exceptions; Is Spider getting too big for his own skin? Will Fly find her superhero powers in time to save her Aunt Rita from peril? Will Worm learn to stand on his own two feet, even though he doesn‘t have feet?
The cast features the talents of six professional (Equity) performers. Brandon Lavon Hightower of Jersey City as Worm, J.D. Kellman of Brooklyn as Spider, Emily Cara Portune of Jersey City as Fly, young Becky Nitka of Long Valley as Ant; Katelyn Spinosa of Bayonne as Butterfly and Katie Horn of Manhattan as Mrs. McBee. Each of the performers is excellent in their role, or should I say "skin."
Two, in particular, project "star" quality; Brandon Lavon Hightower as Worm and Emily Cara Portune as the Fly. Both come to the Growing Stage with very impressive credits. Brandon has a long list of regional play credits, plus an acting gig on HBO's hit series about Atlantic City in the 1920's "Boardwalk Empire." Emily too has a long list of credits, this obviously versatile performer with an exceptional voice has toured as Janis Joplin, was Bianca in "Kiss Me Kate," and the hot Lola in "Damn Yankees."
As you can see, this may be a production for young families, but the talent is not juvenile. These performers are the equal of the marvelous talent we enjoy at the major New Jersey theatres such as the Paper Mill, George Street Playhouse, McCarter Center, etc.
The play is based on the very popular children's books by Doreen Cronin with book, music and lyrics by Joan Cushing. The set is inspired by the book illustrations of Harry Bliss. The director is Lori B. Lawrence, the Growing Stage’s Director of Educational Programming, with musical direction by Laura Petrie. The fun, energetic choreography is by Jillian Petrie.
|Pre-show photo of "Diary" set|
The production staff includes Stage manager-Steve Graham, Set & Props-Perry Arthur Kroeger, Costume design-Lori B. Lawrence, Lighting design-S.L. Fredericks, Light board operator-Natalie Kane, Backstage assistant-Matthew Fralley. The Artistic director of the Growing Stage is Stephen Fredericks.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio April 29, 2012
The play runs about 90 minutes with one intermission for popcorn.
Diary of a Worm, A Fly and a Spider runs to May 20, with performances only on Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. The Growing Stage, currently celebrating its 30th season, is a professional (Association of Actor’s Equity) theatre for young people and their families. It is located in the Historic Palace Theater on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey with free parking behind the theatre. Several restaurants are in the immediate area.
Tickets for Diary Of A Worm, A Spider And A Fly are only $18 for adults, $14 for children and seniors, with group rates available. School Matinee performances are also available throughout the week. Tickets can be purchased by calling the TGS Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or logging onto their website at www.growingstage.com.
Photos: TOP L-R J.D. Kellman, Emily Cara Portune and Brandon Lavon Hightower
Set photo by Rick Busciglio