Monday, November 3, 2014

Ivy + Bean—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Playing for their Life

This musical is written by Scott Elmegreen and is based on a book by Annie Barrows.  It is directed by Isaac Lamb, musical direction by Mont Chris Hubbard and choreography by Amy Beth Frankel.  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway through November 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

I’m only usually remotely aware of the books these OCT’s plays are based on, because I need to be focused on the translation of them to the stage, not on the book itself.  But I understand this, and other plays they will be doing this season, are from very popular books.  There is often a lesson or moral (like Aesop’s Fables) these books have and this one is no exception.  It involves the importance of…Playtime.

I believe I heard on the news lately that some schools were thinking of cutting down, or out, recess time because they couldn’t see any tangible reason for it.  The reason for such unstructured play is that is where a child’s character is being built.  Their relationship to the world and each other is being explored and the discovery of who they are and what their role is, in this vast, complicated structure called Civilization.  These are their “Salad Days,” don’t let them be eaten up too early by having to grow up.

So, parents/educators, concentrate on allowing playtime, whether with other neighborhood kids, at camp, or through more structured play, such as classes involving the Arts.  Children have more Freedom than adults may ever have.  And, as adults, often we wish to return to such childhood innocence.  It is said, you can’t go home again.  Perhaps not, but you can, at least, allow your children to engage in one-on-one fantasy and games (not the mindless, electronic ones) with other kids, as their character as adults will depend on it.

Now, off my soap box and onto the play.  It is principally about a new kid, Ivy (Madison Wray), a bit of a loner, who moves into the neighborhood of Pancake Court.  And the self-appointed Leader of the Pack of the neighborhood is Bean (Haley Ward), a tomboy, who is none too pleased with this new addition to their turf, as Ivy spends most of her time reading by herself.  Ivy’s world seems to be in the studying of magic and casting spells, while the other kids are off playing games.

Leo (David VanDyke) is into sports and is convinced that is the way to success.  Eric (Jonathan Pen) thinks that setting world records will give them all recognition, such as how many beans one can eat, or how many straws can one fit into the mouth, or how many worms one can be gathered, etc.  Sophie (Sophie Keller) seems adaptable to whichever way the wind blows.  And Nancy (Stephanie Roessler), Bean’s older sister, seems to have only one mission in life—to torment Bean.  (There is some speculation that this character may have some kinship to the Wicked Witch of the West…but you decide.)

And Bean’s Mom and Dad (Alex Leigh Ramirez and Joey Cóté) seem to be typical parents, not understanding the growing pains of Youth, especially when they put Nancy in charge of babysitting Bean.  But all is not lost, for Ivy and Bean have learned magic, traversed volcanoes, and found a secret place where time stands still.  In the end, all works out well, as in most children’s books, and the Youth have had their moments in the sun.

The songs themselves are largely only serviceable but it is the cast itself that sells the numbers, and the tricky choreography by Frankel, which seems to touch on the Tango, modern dance, ballet, and even Irish clog dancing, all well performed by the cast and band (Hubbard).  Also the cartoon like sets (Kristeen Willis Crosser) and costumes (Ashton Hull) add to the magic of the production.

The cast is first-rate, with Roessler as a stand-out at the “evil” sister.  And there are some great bits by Lamb with the cast such as the trampoline timing in a musical number and the passing down of a basket filled with secret stuff to Bean.  Priceless.  Lamb has kept the cast energized throughout the show with never a dull moment.  And some of the reaction shots, especially from Bean, are perfectly in character for the scenes.

Also, on a personal note, Wray (Zombie in Love and Fancy Nancy) and Ward (Magic Treehouse… and Fancy Nancy) have been touted more than once in my reviews for superior performances (and won Sparkle Recognition from me) and this one is no exception.  They are two of the best young actors on Portland stages and are stand-outs in this show, too.  Although there are many good things to say about this production, these two alone would be worth the price of admission.  I expect and predict many good plaudits for both of them in the future, as they are truly, uniquely-talented young ladies!

I recommend this show, especially for appreciating Ward and Wray.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.