Monday, October 24, 2016

Goosebumps, the musical, Phantom of the Auditorium—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Scared Silly

This world premiere, fun, Halloween musical for school-age kids and their families is written by John Maclay and Danny Abosch and directed by Stan Foote (OCT’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through November 20th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

This is based on the Goosebumps books by R. L. Stein, which also fostered for awhile a Saturday morning TV series and a recent, so-so movie with Jack Black.  They all feature teens and pre-teens overcoming eerie/mysterious circumstances in their communities, not unlike the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries of yesteryear.  What is important about these tales is they empower young people to overcome adversity, regardless of circumstances, and usually without an adult coming to the rescue.

In this day and age, with all the bullying, drugs, alcohol, suicide, et al. that Youth must face, it is refreshing to see a message about the power of teamwork, self-confidence and a solid, moral compass that these stories engender (as well as being involved in some sort of Artistic classes, as OCT teaches).  And, not to forget, the Young Professionals Company of OCT, with their show opening this week for teens and adults, In the Forest She Grew Fangs, about the angst of youth, mirroring a familiar “fairy tale.”  I’ve reviewed this play at Defunkt and it is powerful.  Best reserve seats now at the above info, as there are limited seats and performances.

In this story, there is this high school that has a haunted past.  It seems that many years ago, the legend says, there was an attempt to produce a musical call The Phantom.  But, because of some mysterious and eerie circumstances, concerning disappearances and accidents, it never went on.  But now, the drama teacher, Mrs. Walker (Laurie Campbell-Leslie), has decided to mount this show.  She casts two of her most talented students in the leads (also best friends), the boisterous, Zeke (Skylar Derthick) and the ever-confident, Brooke (Katie McClanan), as the Phantom and his lady-love.

But this does not sit well with the snobbish, Tina (Sophia Takla), who feels she deserves the role, instead of being relegated to being the understudy and Tech. Director.  The other classmates, Cami (Josephine McGehee), Steve (Gabe Porath), Anna (Emma Steward), and Corey (Xavier Warner) feel equally left out playing ensemble members and working behind the scenes.  But then mysterious messages begin to appear, as well as some unexplainable incidents.

Is it Zeke just “getting into character?”  Or maybe the grumpy night janitor, Emile (Andy Haftkowycz), has something to hide in the creepy sub-basement?  Of course, there is also the new kid in school to suspect, the handsome, Brian (Brendan Long), who seems smitten with Brooke (and she with him)?  Or is it their teacher who has relatives that were here during the original time period?  Or jealous Tina, or one of the other ensemble members?  Or the least suspicious one, Brooke, as traditional mysteries usually point to that character as being the culprit?  As you can see, I can only give you a thumbnail sketch because, being a mystery, it is up for you to solve for yourself.  And, being a mystery buff myself, I have to admit there are a couple of twists and turns that would have even made Dame Agatha proud.

Some of the musical parts of the script play more like an opera, as much of the dialogue is sung, rather than like many musicals, where the songs express inner feelings.  The whole cast is well-voiced in their chorus parts.  Campbell-Leslie is a seasoned pro from many years of major roles in musicals and it shows in her performance.  The highlight of the music was Takla’s (as Tina), rendition of “Understudy Buddy.”  She was very animated, in her expressions and has a powerful voice.  It was a show-stopper!  And she has talent that will blossom even more as time goes on, I predict.  Bravo!

Foote is always a pro in everything he does and it shows with his casting of the young people, especially, and his clever staging of the show, being magical, at times, itself.  As far as the script, I felt the supporting characters could have been fleshed out a bit more.  The talent was there in the actors but their parts seemed to have little definition or purpose other than to fill in chorus parts.  The roles of Cami, Steve, Anna and Corey need to have their own “voices,” too, as meaningful characters in the plot.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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