Charmed (again) by Childsplay

Dear Mr. Springsteen:

I regret to inform you that in the event of a midlife crisis, I no longer plan to buy a cool blue T-top so I can follow you and the E Street Band around the country. Someone else has stolen my heart.

They have a singing cat and a clown-nosed hunter and a witty wolf that looks like Harry Potter’s Snape or The Nutcracker’s Herr Drosselmeyer all jumbled up with Lady Gaga. You still look great in a pair of blue jeans, but my tastes have changed.

Once you’ve gazed upon a green-gowned grandpa who talks a tad like the younger George Bush, or a ducky sporting a green velour jumper, there’s just no going back. Please tell me you understand—and that you’ll put in a good word for Childsplay with those folks who do the Kennedy Center Honors.

I think you’re both national treasures.

Love, Lynn

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing Childsplay’s current production of “Peter and the Wolf,” being performed at Tempe Center for the Arts through March 13th, I’m pleased to share a bit about the show—which features some of the finest acting I’ve seen just about anywhere.

This is especially nifty considering that most kids go to Childsplay shows with their grown-ups, and we like being inspired and entertained every bit as much as the wee ones. Everything about “Peter and the Wolf” is charming—the music, the sets, the costumes, the storytelling.

Saturday morning’s audience, there for the Target Storybook Preview, was enthusiastic from the get-go. The moment the show opened, with a perky puppet that morphed into an earnest and innocent Peter, the room was peppered with giggles from the preschool through elementary age crowd.

The set, designed by Jeff Lemire, is a simple layering of green rolling hills with trees on each side and a low stone wall running the length of the stage. It’s punctuated by a gate Peter often leaves ajar (much to the dismay of his grandfather, who fears the goats and sheep will wander into their garden).

Peter and his peeps often refer to the vegetables they enjoy in everything from soup to dessert. Nutrition-conscious parents will appreciate the hearty endorsement of all things carrots to cabbage. Even tuna salad gets a thumbs-up.

We have Austin playwright Allison Gregory to thank for this innovative piece of theater—adapted from the story by Sergei Prokofiev. Lyrics are by Gregory and Seattle composer Hummie Mann, who also wrote the music, putting a whimsical spin on Prokofiev’s musical masterpiece.

Coincidentally, my oldest daughter Jennifer has just wandered into the kitchen (also known as “blogging central”) to inquire about what’s for dinner. “Chili,” I tell her, “if you can give me an hour to finish my review.” We chat a bit about “Peter and the Wolf,” and she asks me a question: “Is the duck the oboe?”

She’s remembering the classic Prokofiev piece which assigns each animal a different musical instrument, and hoping she chose the right four letter word in a recently completed crossword puzzle. (Our brood so enjoys playing with words.)

But this production has a new twist—a creative compilation of jazz, blues, swing, gospel and Latin music that has the audience clapping along to the beat. Double the fun by heading to the Phoenix Symphony’s performance of “Peter & the Wolf” after you’ve seen Childsplay’s really-cool rendition.

Childsplay’s production is directed by founder and artistic director David Saar, who knows firsthand the depth and delight a shining and sensitive little boy can bring to the world. Saar and his wife Sonja Faeroy Saar are parents to Benjamin, who died of AIDS-related complications at the tender age of eight after a tainted blood transfusion given to treat his hemophilia.

I thought of Benjamin each time a character in the play said something that implied kids are somehow less astute or insightful than their grown-ups, like the hunter telling Peter: “Oh, you’re just a child. You don’t know about such things.” The Saars, like Childsplay’s littlest audience members, know just how far this is from the truth.

I was reminded of Sonja Faeroy Saar, a Tempe-based fiber artist with Norwegian roots, as colorfully-clad characters began to pour onto the stage–because the fabrics are simply delightful and married in the most marvelous ways.

The costumes, designed by Connie Furr-Soloman, are nothing short of spectacular works of art—quacking, quivering, snarling and darling pieces of art. I’d love to see these costumes on exhibit one day (hint, hint).

The whole shebang is just downright yummy, like someone took a rainbow of ice cream flavors and mixed them into a kaleidoscope with a giant jarful of striped multi-colored candy sticks.

You may have surmised by now that I could wax poetic over “Peter and the Wolf” long into the night. Instead, I think, I’ll tend to my pot of chili and save related Childsplay musings for another day.

Look for a follow-up post featuring insights from a fellow mom who sat next to me during the show and information about the many ways Childsplay can enrich the lives of those you love.

–Lynn

Note: This post marks my 100th day of blogging. If you’ve read something along the way that’s been especially intriguing or inspiring (or just plain helpful), I’d love to hear about it. Watch for a future post sharing reflections on the beauty of blogging. As always, I thank you ever so much for reading and invite your suggestions about topics to cover during our next 100 days together…

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