This week is No Name Calling Week, and to start it off, a friend and I took our kids to see the musical Freckleface Strawberry at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center (MMAC) Theatre. We made a day of it by taking the bus into Manhattan and walking to Columbus Circle after the show. All four of us enjoyed ourselves throughout the show, and I was singing right along with the kids to the songs.
For those who don’t know the books, the story of Freckleface Strawberry is one that a lot of children (and adults!) will recognize. The main character really, really hates her freckles, and she does everything she can to try to rid herself of them. In the end, she learns that her freckles don’t stop her from the important things in life like riding a bike, losing a tooth, and having friends. Replace “freckles” for almost any other physical difference or perceived flaw, and you see why children love the story so much.
Prior to seeing the show, a friend and I were wondering how an entire musical could be built from the book. The positive message and adorable illustrations are perfect in the book, but action-wise, not much happens. We worried that our four-year olds would get bored or wonder what was going on. All wasted nerves on our parts – the show was an expertly developed riff on the storybook, and it developed characters and relationships to create a fun, joyful, and touching show. I loved the music, written by Gary Kupper, and I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of melodies and tempos during the show. The cast is fantastic, although I will admit an affinity for Sarah Haines, whose portrayal of the Teacher was hysterical (and eerily familiar…), and she did a great job as both Strawberry’s mother and the bookish Jane.
We made a Montclair connection in two ways. First because the actor playing Emily, Ashley Tobias, graduated from Montclair State University! Very cool. And second because we brought the cast and crew adorable Freckleface Strawberry cookies from Le Baker’s Dozen. As usual, the cookies came out perfectly. Cute! For one more New Jersey connection, Michael Bradshaw Flynn, who filled in as Harry and a fantastic Don Fontaine for our show, graduated from the University of Trenton. So there you have it – New Jersey all over the show!
My four-year-old son’s favorite character was Ballet Girl (Bridget Riley). And it’s true that her duet with Freckleface Strawberry (Francesca McGrory) called “Lonely Girl” was lovely. I think it was her dancing that caught my son’s interest though. My son’s friend loved Freckleface Strawberry best, “Of course!” But really all the cast members did a tremendous job of playing several parts and treating us to 20 different songs – even a song in praise of Basketball, for which Wesley Tunison – as Danny – took the singing and dribbling lead.
The kids were rapt – at one point I had to remind my son to blink. A couple of the songs are reprised during the show, and it was fun to see the kids singing along to them the second time. The duets “Lonely Girl” and “Perfect” were touching contrasts to the energetic schoolyard songs “I Like Danny” and “We Wanna Be Like Them.” The kids seemed to most enjoy the goofy and dramatic “Kid in the Mask.” They liked the interaction from the actors as well as the silly faces and imaginative scenarios sung about in the scene. Another of my favorite songs was “Be Yourself,” sung by Matthew Fredo, who played Jake. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I got teary-eyed. But then I also misted up during the mom’s song about Strawberry being “Perfect.”
At just over an hour, the show is the perfect length for the older preschool set. I wouldn’t recommend it for children under four – unless they are very good at sitting through live shows. I’ll also put out there that I think older kids would really enjoy the show as well. The use of a silly version of The Godfather and a corny teacher who raps and rhymes her way through a lesson (did I mention she seemed familiar?) will appeal to middle-schoolers and even older. Trust me on this – if my Coney Island high schoolers could appreciate child-like joy, any teenagers could.
Shows for Freckleface Strawberry are at the family-friendly times of 1 pm and 3 pm on the weekends through March 25th, 2012. Tickets are priced at $45, but you can use discount code MAMADRAMA for $5 off each ticket. For more buzz on other great shows, visit MamaDrama on BroadwayWorld.com.