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BWW Review: MISS NELSON IS MISSING - A Rambunctious Comedy That Kids Will Love

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Main Street Theater's Theater for Youth program's continued commitment to fully produced shows for children is alive and well in their current production of Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Harry Allard and James Marshall's MISS NELSON IS MISSING. The play is produced with the same standard for design and acting as any of their main stage shows, ensuring that Houston's children and the adults who bring them are treated to a quality theatrical production.

In MISS NELSON IS MISSING, Miss Nelson's rowdy and rambunctious class is eating her lunch. With the big test looming on the horizon, she is challenged by her principal to have all her students make an A on the test, so he can attend a pencil conference in Saskatchewan. The next day, Miss Nelson is absent, and the fear inducing, demanding, and just mean substitute Viola Swamp is left in charge of the class. After a couple of days of Miss Nelson missing from the classroom, her students report her as missing a local detective and go an adventure to find her and bring her back.

Jeffrey Hatcher's writing will entertain the little ones with ease. He understands what kids find funny, and utilizes it well in his script. However, where other picture book adaptations from Main Street Theater's Theater for Youth, like DUCK FOR PRESIDENT, easily entertained the adults as well, I found that Jeffrey Hatcher's script for MISS NELSON IS MISSING didn't speak to the older crowd as much.

Mark Adams direction is crisp and quick, ensuring that toddlers and grade-schoolers won't get bored. Each of the two acts runs about 30 minutes, and has enough action and laughs to entertain the children with ease. He directs the cast to be extremely effervescent and ebullient, which allows Viola Swamp's cruelty to read even harsher.

Starring as both Miss Nelson and Viola Swamp, Katie Harrison plays the disparate roles to perfection. As Miss Nelson she is the perky, do good teacher that has two objectives: 1.) Be the best teacher her children could ever hope to have, and 2.) Be the best teacher her administrators could ever hope to have. Her Viola Swamp assigns homework like Willy Wonka makes candy. She makes the children squirm and cringe in horror at how rigorously she expects them to work.

Nick Thomas' Raymond is the class's unexpected leader, using his brainpower and logical understanding of the world to solve the case before anyone else can. He begins the show as a completely detestable and cantankerous kid, telling Miss Nelson, "I hate you," every time he is called upon. Each time he squeals every member of the audience is reduced to childlike giggles. By the end of the show, he is the hero and an audience favorite.

As Phoebe, Jessica Knapp is deftly comical. She pretends to be ill and vomiting every time something doesn't go her way and when she wants to get out of work. This trait is played to humorous effect time and time again. Moreover, she is the first to support Nick Thomas' Raymond, making her an unlikely heroine in the show.

Chioke Coreathers' portrayal of Morris, who prefers to be called "The Mouse Man" and "Mouse," is comical and whimsical. He strives to be the leader of the class and is often supported by Brittny Bush's Lavita; however, he is forced to learn that being observant to clues is more important than being loud and boisterous.

Lauren Dolk plays Kimberly, who wants to be a super model, with a delightfully brat-like air. Kimberly is constantly concerned about how her actions may affect her career aspirations, and strives to be the best soon-to-be super model a young girl can be.

Lavita, played by Brittny Bush, is full of attitude and personality. She easily makes the children in the audience howl with laughter with her rule breaking and strong will.

Mark B. Robbins' George is a know-it-all who hilariously really doesn't know it all. He also competes to the leader of the class, but soon cedes power to Raymond.

Alan Hall does great jobs with his genial Principal Humleker and his bumbling Dectective McSmogg, who appears to be modeled off of Agatha Christie's famous Hercule Poirot. With both characters, Alan Hall overacts with a zeal and fervor that captures the heart of the children and the child in the heart of all of the adults too.

Set Design by Ryan McGettigan is inspired and executed pristinely. He uses a city backdrop with illuminated windows to place the play in an urban setting. His school set uses skewed angles to capture the imagination while providing an artistically realistic backdrop for the play's action. When the action takes place outside of the classroom, the set can be spun to further expand the urban appearance. Colors are vibrant and gorgeously used on the set, making it appear like a picture book brought to vibrant and sparkling life. Ryan McGettigan is a truly brilliant and very accomplished set designer. Houston is so lucky that he has chosen to work here.

Lighting Design by Eric L. Marsh uses color to effectively set location and time. Inside the classroom, lighting is typically a strong and illuminating white. He uses strong blues for dusk in the city and when the kids break into the school at night. His lighting for Detective McSmogg's office is evocative of film noir's harsh lighting, adding a fun element to that portion of the show. Also, the lightning flashes for each of Viola Swamp's devious deeds are inspired and fun.

Sound Design by Chris Bakos utilizes thunderclaps to accompany the lightning effect. The thunder crash is loud and startling, which makes those moments all the more fun.

Costume Design by Macy Perrone utilizes a fanciful and bright comic book like color palette. Purples, yellows, greens, reds, and oranges leap off the costuming that is immaculately catered to the characters' individual personalities. The only character wearing black is Viola Swamp, which makes her visage all the more imposing.

Main Street Theater's Theater for Youth's production of MISS NELSON IS MISSING is one that your children will love. If they are anything like my nieces, they'll leave the theatre clamoring to go back and see it again and again. The comedy is perfectly tailored for the tastes of children and is a truly fantastic theatrical experience that will leave them spellbound and exhilarated.

MISS NELSON IS MISSING runs through April 6, 2013 at Main Street Theater- Chelsea Market at 4617 Montrose Boulevard. For parents looking for fun things for their children to do during Spring Break, the company is offering public Spring Break weekday performances in addition to their usual weekend performances. For more information and tickets, visit http://mainstreettheater.com/youththeater/missnelson.html or call (713) 524 - 6706.

All photos by Kaitlyn Walker. Courtesy of Main Street Theater.


Viola Swamp (Katie Harrison)!


Viola Swamp (Katie Harrison) and her terrified students (Jessica Knapp and Chioke Coreathers)!


Viola Swamp (Katie Harrison) and her terrified students (Jessica Knapp and Chioke Coreathers)!


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