Theater

Dragons Love Tacos- Oregon Children’s Theatre

If you are like us, the book Dragons Love Tacos has been read many, many times in your household. So we were quite excited to see it come to life on Oregon Children’s Theatre’s stage this past weekend!

For those not familiar with the story, a boy is home alone while his mother steps out for a moment and dragons arrive and set forth with planning a taco party- because dragons love tacos! It is critically important to make sure all toppings are mild as spicy foods lead to unfortunate tummy symptoms in dragons. When they fail to read the fine print on the jar of mild salsa which states that it now contains spicy jalapenos, chaos and destruction ensue. Luckily, they all work together to put everything back together before mom gets home. Phew!

We were lucky to be able to participate in a back stage tour before the show started. Chicken and Nugget have done this before and love it, while it was a new experience for Nugget’s friend that we brought along with us. All three of them asked questions and had fun seeing the costumes and set up close.

As we settled in to get ready for the show to start, you could hear the excitement in the audience. This is a story many kids are familiar with, especially the pre-school and kindergarten crowd, and children in this age range filled the auditorium.

The story is facilitated by a VERY energetic narrator, who arrives through the family’s television as part of a 24 part documentary about dragons. The book does not include character dialog, and the play is consistent with this. While the boy in the story has a couple of lines at the very end, the narrator otherwise provides the only talking during the show.

The costumes were really the star of this production. They are colorful, oversized structures that cover the full body of the actors while still allowing the actors to move freely. The red and yellow dragons in particular got pleased gasps from the audience as they were introduced on stage. The fire caused by the dragon’s tummy trouble was also a cool moment technically on stage.

As is typical of shows targeted toward the youngest theatre goers, the audience remained rather noisy throughout the show. While the production attempted to embrace this by creating moments for audience participation by encouraging the shouting out of answers to questions, I always have to remind myself to be understanding of the lack of typical theater behavior. Take a chill pill, mom.

There is some fun music in the show, and Nugget and his friend were dancing in their seats on more than one occasion. I caught each of them smiling and giggling at various points in the show. There is some Spanish used at the beginning of the show, and as all three kiddos go to a Spanish immersion school, they were all excited to hear this.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, although not necessarily my favorite. Chicken summed it up perfectly by saying “I’m glad we went but I don’t need to see it again,” To which Nugget promptly replied “What are you talking about? I would go again. Mom, can we go again?”

So…..

What it’s not: a favorite of mine or Chicken’s, a quiet audience experience, a typical play in terms of division of dialogue

What it is: enjoyable, familiar and exciting to young audiences, fantastic costumes, fun to see a family favorite brought to life

Would we recommend it? I wouldn’t NOT recommend it. While it wasn’t a favorite, it’s well done and the littles around us seemed to get a kick out of it.

Theater, Volunteering

Volunteering at Northwest Children’s Theater

If you follow this blog at all, you know that we tend to go to a lot of theater.  One of the really cool things about Northwest Children’s Theater in particular is the multiple ways children can get involved with the theater experience- from attending plays, taking classes, Girl Scout workshops, going to theater camp, or even volunteering. We have taken advantage of most of those opportunities, but we recently gave volunteering a shot for the very first time!

Children as young as 4 are allowed to be assistant ushers or program passers (as long as an adult is with them).  Nugget has been itching to do this for a while.  There have been times we have arrived early and he has asked for jobs to do.  The staff there is so amazing, and they have given him extremely important responsibilities like making sure the bathroom lights are on and that there is toilet paper in the boys bathroom.  He took these tasks quite seriously.

This fall, we decided to do it the real way.  I signed the three of us up to be usher’s for the season opener play, How I Became a Pirate. We were told to arrive an hour prior to show time. After your first time, you are asked to arrived 40 minutes prior to the start. After some quick paperwork for the grown-ups, we were assigned our duties.

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Nugget and I were designated as program passers. Nugget’s face about broke from his excited smile. He grabbed some familiar faces (like I said, we go there a lot), to role play his job and took it all very seriously. He was a fantastic program passer.

Chicken got to be a stage guard, which meant she sat on the steps leading up onto the stage to keep curious kiddos off the stage. She was very excited. I was busy with Nugget, but apparently she tracked down the mom of a kiddo who was adamant about getting on stage. Don’t mess with my kid!

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As we waited for patrons to arrive, we were asked to help fill in missing numbers that they tape to the back of seats to make them easier to find. As this involved the use of a packaging tape dispenser, both kiddos were totally on board.

We were told that once our duties were done, we could sit anywhere there were open seats. As the show we were at didn’t happen to be overly crowded, we would up with a pretty good view! It did take us a moment to get into audience mode after coming straight from our ‘job,’ but we settled in quickly and thoroughly enjoyed the show!

Apart from the benefit of being allowed to see the show without purchasing a ticket, we were also heach given a token for a free concession to use at the next show we come to.

Northwest Children’s Theater also started a passport program this season. You earn stamps in your passport for doing different things related to attending the theater, and volunteering is one of them. There are prizes as you acquire stamps. First stamp- check! In order to acquire additional stamps, you can do things like take public transportation to a show, dress up for a show, take a class, etc. Next time you are there, take a minute to check it out!
 

What it is: fun, developmentally appropriate assigned jobs, a way to ease the financial burden of going to shows, a way for kids to feel involved and helpful

What it’s not: for kids who are painfully shy

You can sign up to volunteer here:  https://nwcts.org/usher-a-show/

You can buy tickets here:  https://nwcts.secure.force.com/ticket

Theater

Beauty and the Beast in Concert- Beaverton Civic Theatre

Chicken and Nugget LOVE Beauty and the Beast.  We have seen the animated version, the live action version, the incredible production at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the local Pixie Dust Productions Christmas show.  Even after all of this, Nugget still periodically asks when the show “is coming back to town.”  After nearly a year-and-a-half of surviving on the movie versions alone, he was finally in luck.

Beaverton Civic Theatre is doing an “in concert” adaptation.  I didn’t know what this meant at first, but it basically means they do the script and the songs without the props, staging, or other production elements.  The entire cast was dress in all black, used only simple movement, and otherwise relied entirely on their voices and acting.  When I tried to explain this to Chicken ahead of time, she said “I don’t need choreography.  I just need real acting.”  Diva.

The show was very well cast and it is one of the strongest shows we have seen at Beaverton Civic theater.  Because it is such a familiar story to so many, it is easy for your imagination to fill in the set around them.  The actors were very strong and there were some beautiful voices.  It was clear that the cast was having fun.  I think Nugget missed the glitz and glam that come along with fancy costumes and elaborate staging, but he still smiled and laughed.  Chicken and I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was very well done.  They did a lot with very little, and the end result was impressive.

It is the full-length version, meaning it is close to 2.5 hours long with an intermission, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to take your little.  Very young children may also miss the familiar costumes and sets, but older children will likely love it.

So…

What it’s not- fancy staging and costumes, short

What it is- very well done, talented local cast, a great community theater to support, very reasonably priced ($10), a well acted rendition of a classic Disney favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

Theater

School of Rock the Musical

I love the movie School of Rock, but have never gotten around to showing it to my kids.  When I saw this on the schedule for Portland’s current Broadway Across America schedule, I figured it was a bit over the kiddos’ heads and figured it would be a good date night for me and the husband.  Then, of course, Chicken saw the ads and decided she had to see it.  When I asked her why she was so interested, she said “Mom.  It’s kids in a band.  Come on!  That’s awesome!”

So, being that the Easter Bunny who visits our family happens to be very supportive of the arts, tickets magically showed up in her Easter basket to a resounding “yes!!!” when the envelope was opened.

This weekend the day finally arrived.  I remained skeptical of our Easter Bunny’s judgement, but off we went.  To be quite honest, my expectations were pretty low.  It’s a fun movie, but could it really be translated to quality theater? I doubted it.

But it was so fun!  The story line was extremely close to the movie, and even though it’s been a while since I’ve watched the movie, some of the lines seemed very, very familiar.  If you haven’t seen the movie, a wanna-be rock star, Dewey Finn, pretends to be a teacher and takes over a class at an elite prep school.  Once he figures out the kids have musical talent, he scraps all academics and begins preparing them for a Battle of the Bands competition.  Over the course of the show, they all help each other grow and the kids feel more understood by their parents.  Awwwww.  The songs from the movie are in the play, as well as some additional songs.  I often don’t love songs that get added for the plays, but in this case I enjoyed them all.

The kids in the play were INCREDIBLY talented.  Like, above and beyond talented.  The kids were great singers and amazing musicians.  And the girl the played Tomika- holy cow!  That girl is going places!  The adult playing Dewey had played the role on the West End, and he was fantastic.  He did a good job keeping the character very consistent with the movie without it feeling like a copy of Jack Black.

The set was very dynamic with very frequent changes, moving us from the school, to an apartment, to a bar, to a music competition.  It’s all done quickly and seamlessly.  The transition from play to “concert” is fun, too.  The music and cast were so fantastic, it often did feel like a real concert.  You could feel the energy in the audience as they cheered a clapped along.

There is some swearing in the show, and there is rudeness from both adults and kids.  Nothing that I would say is worse than what is in the movie.

Overall the show was a hit with all of us.  Chicken walked out saying “I love that play!  I want to see it again.”  She’s been singing the songs and asking to watch the movie.

Clearly our Easter Bunny is a genius.  Can’t wait to see what she brings next year!

So…

What it’s not: completely clean language (there’s a handful of profane words sprinkled throughout), perfect adult role models,

What it is: an incredibly talented cast, high energy, great music, fun, probably best for at least upper elementary school students and older, fast paced, loud, full of laugh-out-loud moments

The Portland showing wraps up at the Keller this weekend.  If you can fit it in to your holiday weekend, you can grab tickets here:  https://portland.broadway.com/

 

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Theater

Jason and the Argonauts- Oregon Children’s Theatre

 

When I first read about Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Jason and the Argonauts play, I had reservations.  Serious ones.  When it came time to renew our subscription, I read the brief summary provided which indicated that two adult men were going to use action figures and paper boats to reenact the classic tale.  Immediately, visions of creepy guys who make you want to run a background check  playing with G.I Joes on YouTube popped into my mind.  I debated whether this was one we really needed to see.  But, Oregon Children’s Theatre has never let us down and I as I have nothing but faith in their judgement and production capabilities, I put our theater fate in their hands and bought the tickets.

This weekend, it was time to find out what we had gotten ourselves into.  When I attempted to explain the play to the kiddos, Chicken simply raised her eyebrows, gave me a skeptical look, and carried on with her business.  Apparently not my best sales pitch.  Nugget, however, was immediately on board.  “You mean they’re going to play with Star Wars toys?  Cool!!”  Not quite, I told him, but all he cared about was that he was going to see someone play with toys.  Whatever floats your boat, buddy.

We left early enough to stop and have a treat at the Starbucks near theater.  If you read this blog, you will notice a theme here.  Things always go better when mom is caffeinated. Then we headed over to check out the pre-show activities.

This time, the activity was folding paper into a boat.  At least that was the intent.  There were laminated instruction sheet with visual instructions. Apparently we fail in the visual spatial skills department and couldn’t figure it out, so we scrapped that plan and made some more than adequate paper envelopes and airplanes.  We were sufficiently pleased with ourselves.

We then settled into our seats, occupying our time with the word searches found in the program, and I continued questioning my decision to come.  The lights went down, I took a deep breath, and the show began.  And about 30 seconds in we were hooked.

This show is as far from a creepy YouTube video as you can get.  The main characters, Josh and Andy, guide us through our journey, moving flawlessly between the variety of characters they play.  As Josh and Andy, they are charming, endearing, hilarious, and I walked away kind of wanting to invite them for a play date.  They take turns playing Jason, Hercules, argonauts, princesses, kings, old men, and a range of other characters and each character is distinct due to their impressive talent.  The action figures are used to perfection, mirroring the movements of the actors and vice versa.  The toys add humor, interest, and really function as supporting cast members.

Any time the play becomes a bit intense, possibly scary for littles, or goes down the path of the classic tale long enough that the younger patrons become a bit wiggly, humor is inserted at the perfect time to re-engage even the youngest viewers.   The show was so well done, you could feel the mood shifting in the auditorium as the actors moved between characters and the tone changed.  You rarely have a perfectly silent auditorium at a children’s theater, when children honor the silent pauses that hold emotion created by the actors, but this happened several times and audience members were captivated by what was happening on stage.  A noteworthy feat.

Nugget was delighted each time Spiderman made an appearance (no, he’s not in the original version), Chicken lost it when a modified version of the theme song from Titanic was sung, Nugget cheered during the sword fights, and they both sat open mouthed when a wind machine was used to blow up an inflatable tail that was attached one of the actors in order to turn him into a monster.

The lighting is beautiful and enhanced a simple but creatively functional set.  What initially appears to be a simple wooden cart transforms into a giant paper boat, a king’s throne, and later comes apart to become two pieces of set.  A wooden box functions as a toy box, prop holder, seat, and ship anchor.

I think the recommended age of 7 and up is about right.  Nugget didn’t really follow the complete story line (his summary was “it’s two guys looking for a really cool coat”), but he laughed and can’t stop talking about how funny it was.  Chicken tends to be a pretty serious theater goer and isn’t known for having strong reactions during the actual shows, although she usually has plenty to say afterwards.  This time, I heard her laugh out loud over and over again, sometimes even throwing her head back.  It was really fun to see.  She leaned over more than once to whisper “this is so good!”  Nugget clapped enthusiastically at the end, and he is definitely not one to applaud if he does not mean it.  Then he couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough to go meet the cast.

Possibly due to having only two cast members and/or the smaller audience size (it’s held in the Winningstad which has a lower seating capacity), the actors took time to chat with each child longer than I have found is typical there.  They asked each child about their favorite part, and provided a response to the child’s answer.  They were nice when Nugget asked them each to sign his program in three specific spots (the cover, their picture, and the word search), and briefly talked Timbers with him when they noticed his Timbers gear.  One even tried to prove that his beard was real when Nugget asked why he didn’t have a beard in the advertising materials.

Overall, this was definitely our favorite show of the season so far and is for sure in the top three that we have seen there.  If you are going to take your kiddo to one show this season, take them to this one.

So…

What it is: hilarious, smart, engaging, an incredibly talented cast, a perfect length for younger viewers (about 70 minutes) but probably best for those 6 or 7 and up, creative, sassy, suspenseful, silly, a simple but effective set, a play you should definitely go see

What it’s not: a fully accessible storyline for very young children (they will likely still find it funny, though)

Do we recommend it?  A million percent yes!  Go!  Go now!

The show is running until May 19th.  Grab your tickets here:  https://www.octc.org

If you can’t make this show (but you really must try), Diary of a Worm, a Spider, and a Fly is up next.  Next season will begin in the fall, and they will be doing Dragons Love Tacos!  We are so excited!

 

Spring and Summer Activities, Theater

Aladdin- the Broadway Musical- updated April 8, 2019

Aladdin is coming to town!!  Yay!!  Aladdin the Broadway musical is on a national tour for at least the second you in a row.  If your kiddos are fans of the movie, it is a must see.

The show was in Seattle last year, and we took a day trip up there just in case it wasn’t going to make it to our area.  And this year we will be seeing it here as well!

The musical follows the story of the Disney movie pretty closely.  All your favorite songs are included, complete with bright, glittering sets.  Aladdin is a bit more angsty, and has a couple solos about how he hopes his parents are proud of him.  Um, he’s a thief.  But a sweet and adorable thief.

And Disney must not have been able to find incredibly well trained animals who they could guarantee wouldn’t “let it go” on the middle of the stage.  Abu is turned into two of Aladdin’s human friends who provide quite a bit of levity.  Raja becomes Jasmine’s girlfriends, and honestly I didn’t feel like they added much.  Iago also becomes a man- although somehow Nugget walked away with the impression he was Jafar’s wife.  His mind must have taken some interesting detours.

We saw the show when Adam Jacobs was in the title role- he originated Aladdin on Broadway.  It was pretty cool to see the original actor and recognize the voice from the soundtrack we had been listening to.  He is no longer playing Aladdin, but I’m sure the new actor will be fantastic, too.

The costumes in this show are gorgeous and colorful.  There is so much to look at and be amazed by.  The cave of wonders is very well done, and the stage is covered in golden treasure.  The dancing is fantastic and the whole show is so high energy.  It’s kind of like a multicolored singing glitter bomb going off on stage for 2 plus hours.  In a good way.

The kids both loved it. Although Nugget was very concerned that we saw so much of Jasmine’s belly button.  He didn’t feel like that was appropriate.  Or the kissing.  Chicken reveled in following him around saying “belly button, belly button, kiss, kiss, kiss” for several week.  Actually, she still does it sometimes and he still curls up into the fetal position.  So there’s that.  But he was entranced by the flying carpet.  He knows there should be ropes holding it up, but since we couldn’t see them he is sure there must be some actual magic involved.  Chicken still occasionally bursts into “High Adventure”- one of the new songs that was one of our favorite parts of the play.

I wouldn’t say this is one of the meatier or best acted Broadway tours.  But it sure is fun.  If you are looking for an afternoon of color, dance, humor, and Disney joy, this show is definitely for you.  Run and get your tickets now!

If you are interested in going to Aladdin while it is in town this March and April, you can find them at https://portland.broadway.com/

And yes- Frozen is coming!  Eek!

 

UPDATE:  We saw this show in Portland for the second time on April 6, 2019.  It was even better than last time!  Even accounting for the fact that we didn’t have to drive three hours each way, we enjoyed the show even more.  Three actors are now portraying Genie, and we lucked out by seeing Major Attaway in the role, who has previously played Genie on Broadway.  He was out of this world!  We also preferred this year’s Aladdin and Jasmine- they had better chemistry and Jasmine was just a touch sassier in a way we loved.  I think Aladdin’s three friends were perhaps a bit stronger last year, but these actors were also fantastic.

We had slightly better seats this time and it really made a difference in how much we noticed the sparkle that is all over the stage and costumes, as well as all the small details that are part of the set.  Chicken and Nugget both giggled more this time and overall we had a fantastic time.

So, my assertion still stands- if Aladdin comes on tour to your area and you have little fans at home, it it totally worth a family date night!

Theater

The Starlings Present Dinosaurs! (Northwest Children’s Theater)

This weekend I braced myself and took the kids downtown to see puppets teach us about dinosaurs.  It wouldn’t be fair to say I was dreading it, but I wasn’t as excited as I often am about shows.  So I bribed myself with meeting some of our favorite people there and planning lunch afterwards.  That’s allowed, right?

So, the Starlings.  NWCT got a grant to study puppetry and develop a “flock” of bird puppets.  They have now starred in 3 shows- Sleeping Beauty (we didn’t see that one), Amelia Earhart, and now Dinosaurs.  The two Starlings shows we have seen were written by NWCT with original songs and choreography.  They focus on teaching kids about a topic in fun and creative ways.

One thing I do love about the Starlings shows is the level of interaction with the audience.  They bring the puppets (in character) into the lobby before the show and interact with the kids.  They also go into the seating area before the show and take pictures with kids, talk to kids, and generally wreak havoc.  And I will say that all of that is really fun.  It creates a high energy, fun atmosphere and gets the kids ready to go.  The kids love getting to touch the puppets and talk to the birds as if they were real.  Nugget, of course, had to take another path.  He told one that it wasn’t a real bird because it was too colorful and birds are black. Clearly we need to go somewhere tropical!  He recognized a puppeteer as the person who had played his favorite pirate, and spent quite a bit of time calling him Smee and trying to get the person to admit he wasn’t really a bird.

The show itself is fast moving, creative, silly, and educational.  A couple of the songs are pretty catchy.  And there are tap dancing t-rexes, so there’s that.  The show teaches how dinosaurs are named and then gives the audience a chance to name their own dinosaurs.  They even come into the audience and let some kiddos announce their dinosaur names.  My littles eat that stuff up. The Starlings shows tend to target a younger audience, and the 75 minute run time is just about right for the age range that tends to go.

The good: it’s a short, fun, fast paced, interactive, colorful show

The not great: the shows always seem a bit chaotic to me.  But I think it’s a reflection of the inner workings of the little kid brain- which is who they are trying to entertain

 

Do we recommend it?  They are not my favorite shows and I find them a bit overwhelming.  But Chicken and Nugget cannot get enough and the kids in the audience seem enthralled as well.  And since it is a children’s theater, I would say they hit their mark.

Tickets can be found at:  https://nwcts.org/