Monday, March 11, 2013

The Stinky Cheese Man…—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Winningstad Theatre, Portland


Re-imagined Fairy Tales

OCT’s The Stinky Cheese Man and other fairly stupid tales is adapted for the stage by John Glore from the book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  It is directed by Marcella Crowson, musical direction by Darcy White and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins.  The show plays through March 24th at the Winningstad on Broadway in downtown Portland.  For further information check www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

Most children grew up being told, or reading, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and fables.  All of them traditional folk lore from various countries, chronicled mainly by the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.  They are sacred, endearing and stepping stones from childhood to adulthood.  But like all such “holy” works, isn’t it fun sometimes to mix them all together and see what emerges?  That is what this adaptation does in a very, abbreviated form and with song and dance.

Who would have thought to combine The Gingerbread Man and cheese, or Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin?  What about the story of the Ugly Duckling who, when it grows up, doesn’t become a swan but, just stays…ugly.  Or, the Little Red Hen, who is right about the sky falling, as it squashes people.  Or to update a tale about the Wolf and Little Red…Running Shorts(?).  I think you get the idea of the flavor of the afternoon.  There’s at least a dozen of these tales, combined with music and dancing and completed in an hour.  Whew!

Yes, this kind of transformations has been done before for the stage, as in Sondheim’s terrific musical, Into The Woods, or television’s locally made, Grimm, or the many, mostly CG films, at the movie theaters.  Some are memorable, some are not.  But this is done for the MTV generation with quick takes, slightly naughty dialogue/lyrics and paying homage to a “sacred cow” of children’s literature.  And it’s presented very well by an exceptional cast.

The strength of the show lies in the energy of its cast, especially in the song ‘n dance numbers.  They all play multiple roles and all deserve to be mentioned:  Joe Bolenbaugh, Drew Dannhorn, Heath Hyun Houghton, Elizabeth Klinger, Avish Menon, Dre’ Slaman, and Jill Westerby.  It’s gratifying, too, seeing a mixed cast of nationalities.  Particularly appealing is Mr. Houghton as the title character, et. al.  And the one that carries much of the story on his back is the Narrator, well-rendered by Mr. Menon, a six-grader (although I do wish he’d slow down a tad in his speaking).

And, as mentioned, the songs and dances are a terrific asset to the production.  Thanks for this success to a talented cast and Ms. White and Ms. Martins.  The costumes by Lindsay Kleinman were colorful and fun.  And the Director, Ms. Crowson, has kept the play whizzing by at a breakneck pace and has chosen a very talented group of people to present these re-imagined tales.  And tales all began from one imagining and, if classic, become universal for all time and countries.  A tale well-told is worth re-telling and, in this case, adapting for a new generation.

As a side note, I have never been disappointed in an OCT production.  Their shows, their Youth Company and their classes are a safe and fertile environment for the Young.  Their next shows are Gathering Blue, in April, a Native American story (directed by Stan Foote, OCT’s Artistic Director), and A Year With Frog and Toad, in May, a classic British children’s tale (and directed by OCT’s Education Director, Dani Baldwin).  And check out their website for their Youth Company shows presented at their Sandy Blvd. location. 

I would recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.