BWW Reviews: A.D. Player's THUMBELINA Excites and Exhilarates Younger Audiences
Houston's A.D. Players, while always producing theatre that is safe for the whole family, produces a full season of Children's shows that many Houstonians may not know about. Their most recent offering is the World Premiere of the musical THUMBELINA, adapted from the story by Hans Christian Andersen with a Book and Lyrics by Will Ledesma and Music by Braden Hunt.
The musical version of THUMBELINA follows the story of the tiny, thumb-sized heroine from the moment her birth flower goes missing from Flower Valley to her triumphant return to her true home. Along the way, Thumbelina is kidnapped by Mama Frog, befriended by a maybug that's completely different from his peers, befriended by an encouraging and inspirational butterfly, a house guest to a charming mouse, and almost married off to a bumbling mole. As she journeys from creature to creature over the course of a year, the Prince of Flower Valley relentlessly pursues her, so he can bring her back to her rightful home.
Stephen Hurst's direction ensures that the show captures and holds the attention of its intended audience, young children. The action is bright and bubbly. No character is so sinister that they will frighten young audiences, but it is made clear that Mama Frog is more foe than friend. Likewise, Mouse's insistence that Thumbelina marries Mole is tangibly off-putting, but will not upset or worry younger viewers. From beginning to end, Stephen Hurt's cast sparkles with a joy that radiates through the audience and earns many laughs from the children and a decent handful from the adults as well. Moreover, older audiences (especially those in 4th grade and up), will appreciate how Stephen Hurt brings to life the positive message of being true to yourself and being happy about being who you are that William Ledesma has worked into the Book. Just like Maybug says, differences are our true blessings. In light of all the bullying in our society, this is never a bad message for children to encounter and embrace.
Kelsey Cratty does a great job portraying Thumbelina. She is accessible for every member of the audience, regardless of age. Her arc and journey about self-discovery and self-understanding is completely believable in the fairy tale context and wholly relevant. She sings and acts with a sincerity that warms the heart.
Sarah Cooksey does triple duty in the show, and brings interesting and vivacious life to each of her characters, playing Mother, Mouse, and being a member of the Maybug Ensemble. Her most memorable and shining performance is as Mouse, the character she inhabits the longest on stage.
Playing both the Prince and a member of the Maybug Ensemble, Jesse Merrill does a fantastic job being both heroic and humorous. He makes the young audience understand and believe the lengths he goes to in his search for Thumbelina.
L. Louise Jackson portrays the despicable Mama Frog and the loveable Butterfly with grace and pizzazz. She has the strongest voice in the cast and uses it for full effect. She sweeps the audience up with her dynamic portrayals and blows them away with her lush voice.
Craig Griffin also does triple duty in performance, playing Assistant #2, Maybug, and Mole in the show. He shines as both Maybug and Mole, bringing different aspects to life in each character. His Maybug upholds that being different is a blessing, but sadly submits to his peers and bullies Thumbelina. This showcases a devastating, but true, scenario that many children and adults encounter in life and illustrates the show's most tangibly real and relevant moment. On the other hand, his Mole is hilarious in his bumbling and blinded misdirection.
As a member of the Maybug Ensemble and Assistant #1, Linford Herschberger is entertaining and fun on stage. His deep bass instrument rounds out and grounds the sound in the songs that he gets to sing in as well.
Music Composition and Musical Direction by Braden Hunt ensures that the score is heard and enjoyed by the audience. The songs are fun and showcase talent for capturing different styles, especially as undertones of jazz and folk weave their way through the numbers. Likewise, while the cast as a whole does not belt, the use of belt by L. Louise Jackson is perfectly controlled and wonderfully affective in the performance. All of this makes the music fun and surprisingly memorable. Moreover, all of this is perfectly manipulated through Mark A. Lewis's Sound Design.
Scenic Design by Robin Gillock is simple but amazingly effective. The use of white screens and colored lights, designed by Mark A. Lewis, does a fantastic job showcasing setting. Also, it works beautifully for allowing Thumbelina, as a tiny human girl, to interact with Mother. They are on stage at the same time, but both acting in a way and using the set and lights to illustrate that Thumbelina is actually on the table. This effect works and is masterfully utilized.
Donna Southern Schmidt's Costume Design is simply perfect. Every piece is beautifully designed and constructed. The use of different period's fashions to indicate character is only bested by her use of color coordination for the characters. Simply put, the costuming is superb and worth the price of admission all on its own.
Katharine Hatcher's Property Design is excellent as well. It is perhaps best on display in the design of the Prince's rapier, which looks like something that a tiny person in a valley of flowers could construct and use.
A.D. Player's World Premiere of THUMBELINA is a show that will excite and exhilarate the younger audiences and even provides fun for the adults that bring them. For me, the best part of the evening was seeing the kids glow and react to the adventure happening on stage. This production is truly magical and something that the children of the Houston area will really enjoy.
A.D. Player's World Premiere of Will Ledesma and Braden Hunt's musical THUMBELINA runs until February 2, 2013 at the Grace Theater, 2710 W. Alabama, Houston, Texas. For more information and tickets please visit http://adplayers.org or call (713) 526 - 2721.
Photos by Bara Photography, courtesy of A.D. Players
L. Louise Jackson as Mama Frog and Kelsey Cratty as Thumbelina
Craig Griffin as Mole and Kelsey Cratty as Thumbelina
Jesse Merrill as the Prince, Kelsey Cratty as Thumbelina, and Craig Griffin as the Mole