Sunday, January 18, 2015

Skippyjon Jones—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

An Expansive Universe

This musical is based on the book by Judy Schachner and adapted for the stage by Linda Daugherty and Nick Martin.  It is directed by Stan Foote (OCT’s Artistic Director), choreographed by Sara Mishler Martins and musical direction by Jeffrey Childs.  The show is playing at the Newmark Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway through February 15th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

If you are a fan of Spiderman, Superman or Batman, then you should be a fan of Skippyjon Jones, an ordinary Siamese cat who, after donning a mask and cape, becomes the super-hero, El Skippito, an extraordinary Chihuahua, seeking a more purrfect life for all animal-kind.  Besides that, all it takes for the transformation to be complete is to escape to Closet-land where all sorts of adventures await a young, imaginative mind.

In my day, our super-heroes were much more down to earth in the guises of Tarzan or the Lone Ranger.  And my closet hid a monster (who sometimes lurked under my bed, too).  Also, the adventures we had were in the form of games, such as Cowboys and Indians (politically incorrect now, I’m sure) or War.  Games were much simpler then, as it was easy to identify the good guys, as they wore the white hats and rode off into the sunset with the gal.  Not so simple now, is it?

In this adventure, Skippyjon (Martin Tebo) is content to be anything other than a cat.  For awhile he fancies himself to be a bird, until he’s frightened out of the nest by the mama and besides, worms don’t taste so good anyway.  So he’s sent to his room by his mother (Danielle Valentine) to consider his plight.  Mom only wants poor Skippyjon to be more like his little sisters, Jezebel (Stephanie Roessler), Ju-Ju Bee (Hailey Tollner) and Jilly Boo (Haley Ward).  They are content to watch games shows all day, such as The Quiz Kitties Show, hosted by the Emcee (Gilberto Martin Del Campo).

But Skippyjon, confined to his room, is confronted by his Mirror alter-ego (Gilbert Feliciano), confiding to him that through his imagination, he can be anyone he chooses.  And so he enters his Closet-land where a pack of Chihuahuas rule (sort of).  But it seems, whenever they’re confronted with an obstacle, such as the supper-villain, El Buzzito (James Sharinghousen), a bee, who is set on stealing their beans, they run.  How it all turns out, you’ll have to see for yourselves.  But, suffice to say, first you must be comfortable with yourself, then you can let your imagination roam free.

There are some wonderful moments in this production, chief among them is Sharinghousen as all three guests on the Quiz Show, such as the street-smart, Scar, and the prissy Princess and Sir Mew-Mew, the audacious feline star of stage and screen.  He is also the chief villain in Closet-land and his outfit you have to see to believe.  All in all, he pretty much lights up the stage even more when he’s on.  Another highlight is Valentine’s remarkable singing voice, quite a treat.  And Tebo, as the main attraction, is very pleasant to watch and does nicely in the musical numbers.  He was exceptional a couple seasons back as Peter Pan at NW Children’s Theatre.

Feliciano has one of the better numbers with his roaring rendition of “You’re a Chihuahua” and Del Campo is appropriately snarly as the leader of the misfit dogs.  And, much to the show’s (and my) delight, three of the best young actors on the local stage, Ward, Roessler and Tollner, graced the boards together with their amazing talent and it becomes a magical place when they’re onstage.  I’ve touted them all before in my reviews (Tollner as the Neverbird in Peter Pan, Roessler as the cranky sister in Fancy Nancy and Ward in numerous productions).  Loved Tollner’s sleeping noises and the voice of the mouse, Ward’s very animated dog and cat, and Rossler’s lithe movements.  Only objection is that these young ladies need additional stage time to shine even more.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing all of them in future productions!

The set (Mark Haack) was fine in the depiction of two separate worlds and the lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser) complimented it greatly with the beautiful, almost surreal colors, setting the mood for both worlds.  The costumes (Emily Horton) were very colorful and quite inventive, especially the Bee’s walking apparatus.  The music (Childs) and choreography (Martins) gave life to the musical numbers.  And Foote managed to pull out all the little nuances from the script to compliment a very talented cast.

Although the production was worth seeing, for all the above reasons mentioned, the script became a little tedious and repetitious at times, especially during the Quiz Show, which was overlong as written, and the opening, which didn’t grab you as it should.  But once the story arrived in Closet-land, it moved along nicely.  Again, not the fault of the talented cast and crew but of the script.

I would recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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