Childsplay recently opened its 35th season with “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” by Kevin Kling, a whimsical work based on books by Kevin Henkes.
It’s directed by Childsplay’s founding artistic director David Saar. But don’t tell Lilly. She’s “Queen of Everything.” Lilly is perfectly good-natured until a baby brother named Julius falls from the sky. Soon tantrums lead to time in the “uncooperative chair” as Lilly loses that ‘I’m so special’ feeling.
But it’s restored after a bit of quality time with grandma, who buys Lilly a purse unlike any other. Lilly discovers that her purple plastic purse makes music when she opens it, which is perfectly wonderful unless you’re sitting in a classroom with a teacher who takes the same “hush, hush” and “not now” tone as your parents. After Lilly writes a not-so-nice note to her teacher, things get a bit complicated.
You’ll love the way this story, recommended for ages four and up, weaves themes of family, friendship and forgiveness into a medley of music, mice and misadventures.
“Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” features a cast of eight, including Yolanda London as Lilly, Dwayne Hartford as Dad and Debra K. Stevens at Mom. D. Scott Withers plays Lilly’s teacher, Mr. Slinger — who has a nifty trick for helping students deal with larger-than-life emotions. Jon Gentry and Nathan Dobson play best friends Wilson and Chester.
If your children have ever attended classes, camps or workshops with Childsplay artists, they’ll recognize these actors, who masterfully cultivate in children a love of storytelling that reflects the joy each actor exudes on stage.
Childsplay sets, costumes, choreography and such are always a delight, as evidenced by their many wins at this year’s Arizoni Awards. But it’s the music for “Lilly” — mostly jazz with a fun splattering of opera — that I enjoyed most in this production. “Lilly” gives opera, too often labeled “stuffy,” a serious kick of spunk.
Like all Childsplay productions, there’s much to learn from “Lilly” — for kids and grown-ups alike. Lobby activities extend important lessons in lighthearted ways, and Childsplay offers souvenirs for sale to help the memories linger.
Before heading to my car after Sunday’s 1 pm performance, I stopped a pair of moms to ask about taking pictures of their daughters. Both were gracious — and one even mentioned being an RAK subscriber. The girls, both six years old, were rockin’ their “Lilly” gear — the truest testament to an afternoon well spent at the theater.
Note: “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” runs through Oct 16 at Tempe Center for the Arts. Visit www.childsplayaz.org to learn more. Additional cast and creative team members include Michelle Cunneen (Female), Kate Haas (Garland), Katie McFadzen (assistant director), Molly Lajoie (choreographer), Carey Wong (scenic designer), Connie Furr-Soloman (costume designer), Rick Paulsen (lighting designer), Anthony Runfola (sound and projection designer) and Samantha Monson (stage manager).
Coming up: The Arizona adventures of “Dora the Explorer”