Monday, May 5, 2014

Little Red “Riding Hood”—NW Children’s Theater—NW Portland

A Blast from the Past

This musical, updated adaptation of the fairy tale is written by Melody Bridges and Bob Hardy (father of the Director).  The show is directed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director) and choreographed by Elizabeth Gibbs.  It runs through May 26th at their space at the NW Cultural Center on 1819 NW Everett St.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-222-4480.

This bears only passing references to the classic tale.  It has more in common with the musical, Grease, Cars and even, Carrie.  The angst of the teen years is even more pronounced now.  But the time of our story is 1958, the antiseptic, Eisenhower years.  And everything is in its proper place (or so the Voice, Erik James, for that era, tells us).  The children scrubbed clean and marching to school; the man working hard to earn a living for a growing family; and the little woman, back in her proper place, in the home, cleaning, cooking, and raising the kids.

All’s right in the world, except for Ruby Miller’s (Lea Zawada) world.  No frilly dresses for her, or Home EC class, or guys complicating her life.  Newly transplanted from urban Detroit to suburban Forrest High in Oakwood Acres, she wears jeans, wants to take shop class and work on cars, and doesn’t want to join any groups or clubs, as she’s a loner.  She lives with her eccentric Granny (Jenny Bruce) on the outskirts of town and wants to fix up Granny’s old jalopy to drag the top Greaser in school called (aptly), the Wolf (Dane Shroy).

The students try to dissuade her from her course, as well the teachers, Mary Kay (again, Jenny Bruce), Home EC and Mr. Meineke (Kevin-Michael Moore), Shop.  But she will not be discouraged.  Even at the school dance, where she challenges Wolf to a one-on-one race, she is alone in her determination.  But Wolf and his minions lure her Granny away and try to sabotage her car.  But, when the day of the big showdown comes…well, I think you can determine the rest.

The story is rather predictable and the dialogue a bit talky, but the songs and music (Bridges/Hardy) of the period and dance numbers (Gibbs) are wonderful.  They range from the 40’s Swing era (Granny’s solo, Be Smart, Girl) through the 50’s, and topped off by a number in the 60’s at the end, Any Which Way.  The theme is a direct slam at the confining ways of past eras and the newly found freedom of women of the modern age.  In short, anyone should be anything they want to be, without any restrictions of gender, nationality, or beliefs.  I also appreciated the fact that Ruby doesn’t end up with any guy at the end.  You, go, Girl!

But the cherries on top of this delightful “Sundae” for me were Bruce (Granny & Mary Kaye) and Zawada (Rudy/Red).  She is an amazing young lady as an actress, with a voice to match.  Her songs, Be Smart, Girl and Home EC are knockouts.  And Zawanda is a talent to be reckoned with.  She rocks!  She absolutely lights up the stage every time she’s on, with her exuberant enthusiasm and extraordinary, explosive energy.  Her solos, Please Go! & Who’s Foolin’ Who? were show-stoppers.  I applauded her special talents as Rose Red and Wendy and I wasn’t wrong, as she is a star in the making.  Bravo to them both!

Hardy, the director, never disappoints, nor does she here.  Her use of the space and her connection to the actors is special.  I would highly recommend any student/actor working with her.  The music has zing and is a terrific reflection of an age gone by.

I would recommend this show, especially for the music and the performers.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  As a side note, next year’s season seems especially strong, with Sherlock Holmes in September/October, Mary Poppins in December/January, The Jungle Book in February and The Little Mermaid in April/May.

For another perspective on this production, please go to Greg’s blog:

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