Monday, December 3, 2018

Review: Perfect Family Holiday Treat at Growing Stage

Calling all parents….. the Growing Stage, billed quite appropriately as The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey, is presenting until December 16 the charming original musical production of Babes In Toyland. This truly jolly, fun-filled event has been beautifully designed to entertain the entire family, particularly the younger members. Everything about this production that features four excellent equity performers, plus a cast of adult and junior community players is a delight. This is marvelous way of introducing youngsters to the magic of live theatre….specially since the show features a large number of junior performers.
Steve Fredu (1)If the title is familiar it’s because this stage production is based on the 1934 Laurel and Hardy film* that was originally inspired by the Victor Herbert operetta of the same name. It was conceived by company founder and Executive Director, Stephen L. Fredericks (photo right) and the multi-talented Perry Arthur KroegerKroeger wrote the adaptation and lyrics ( with Glen MacDonough) that have been set to the music of Victor Herbert. Kroeger, as the TGS Artist in Residence, is responsible for the wonderful murals of classic children's tales on the side walls of the theatre and above the stage on the proscenium. These murals provide a charming fantasy-land like atmosphere that contribute to the excitement, particularly for the the junior members of the audience…..worth the price of admission just to see the interior of this theatre built in 1919, and Kroeger's artwork.
growing-stage-muralsThe plot: Tweedle Dee and  Tweedle Dum try to borrow money from their employer, the toymaker, to pay off the mortgage on Mother Goose's shoe and keep it and Little Bo Peep from the clutches of the evil Barnaby. When that fails, they trick Barnaby into marrying Dum instead of Bo Peep. Enraged, Barnaby unleashes the boogeymen from their caverns to destroy Toyland. Who will save the day?
Danny Campos and Donald Danforth  are excellent as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (top photo). Danny Campos repeats his great Oliver Hardy impression. Donald Danforth as Dum beautifully projects the sweetness and innocence of Laurel.  Gloria Lamoureux, one of our most talented local performers  perfectly portrays Mother Goose. David Spellman has the meatiest role as the evil Silas Barnaby. He plays Barnaby in the classic over-acting tradition of the famous melodrama  "East Lynne."  Below right)
52-C91A1102-e1543438645518Sarah Daniels {above left} is a very attractive Bo Peep who keeps losing her sheep. Her true love Tom-Tom is played nicely by Niall Ng.  Brandon Wiener has great fun with his two roles; the Toymaker and Sasquatch the boogeyland leader. The  spreader of fairy dust is the also beautifully voiced Brianna Vitale as the Blue Fairie. Playing a spot-on Santa Claus is Bob Scarpone. Lizzie Raine is Hangnail, Haley Lang is Claw Mark, Zacharry Finizio is Tickleutioner, and the fine voiced Hyron Gonzalez is Jack Horner.
A special treat are the youngsters who display an amazing amount of talent :
Nursery Children:
Kiera Sullivan (Miss Muffet), Brendan Blazier (Little Boy Blue), Tobias Dickens (Jack), Eliza Foose (Jill), Emily Iadarola (Mary Contrary), Julia Ireland (Tom Tucker), and  Ava Tabaranza (Little Red Riding Hood)
Bo-Peep’s Sheep/Little Pigs:
Cora Almendinger, Nicolas Drew, Emma Ramos
Ensemble – Toy Soldiers, Blue Farie Chorus & Citizens of Toyland:
Caitlin Menber, Madison Gennaro, Daniela Palmucci, Ally Takayama, Rochelle John, Casey Gilbert, Marisa Pamucci,and Haley Lang
Director Lori B. Lawrence’s production team includes; Music director Stephen Fox, Choreographer Jillian Petrie, Accompanist Kenneth Hess, Stage Manager Cara Ganski,  Production Design Perry Arthur Kroeger, Costume Design Lori B. Lawrence,  Lighting Design S. L. Fredericks, Light Board Operator Elizabeth Pietz, Backstage Crew William Dienes.

The Growing Stage provides a unique and affordable opportunity for our young people, in particular, to experience the magic of live theatre. Tickets for Babes In Toyland are $28 for adults, $18 for children and $22 for seniors, with group rates available.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the TGS Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or logging onto their website at  The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey programs are made possible, in part, by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   December 2, 2018
* The 1934 film Babes In Toyland also known as The March of the Wooden Soldiers.
Danny Campos and Donald Danforth (all pictures by Jerry Dalia except Steve Fredericks)

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