OREM — “To travel the world,” read my son’s post-it note star wish, added to the star wish wall as we exited the theater at the SCERA Center for the Arts. Directed by Julie Nevin and billed at the SCERA as a theatre for young audiences production, The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley tells the story of Stanley Lambchop (Shawn M. Mortensen). This main character from Jeff Brown’s 1960’s book series makes a wish to “travel the world doing amazing things,” and ends up flat! When he realizes he is able to go anywhere for just the price of a postage stamp, Stanley mails himself to California to visit a friend and meets a talent agent who suggests he visit the Mona Lisa. After saving the paintings in The Louvre, Stanley is invited to star in a movie in Honolulu. With the promise of travel and fame on the horizon, Stanley decides that all he really wants is to go home.
From any angle I could choose to consider this production, I would ultimately end up giving it due praise. Remove the “theatre for young audiences” label, and I would happily ramble on about the theatrical elements that made it successful. (Don’t worry, I will get there.) But despite all the great moments on stage, my best moments of the evening included watching my seven-year-old son enjoy the show. He was engaged the moment we entered the theater, sat on the edge of his seat during the entire performance, and happily chattered about the show during much of our drive home. Instead of highlighting what made this show great for me, I’d like to take a guess at what made it great for him.
1. The Pre-Show: When we entered the theater, there was already action on the stage! A cast member was dressed as a film director, and he was conducting a screen test involving a young girl from the audience. The sounds of laughter seemed to be coming from children and parents alike as the young performer was dressed in an outlandish costume and given director’s suggestions of how to act out “Little Bo Peep.” We sang “Frère Jacques” in a two-part round and learned a hula (which included disco steps) during the interactive pre-show. My son enjoyed the chances to be involved. And as a parent I enjoyed not having to be the one who entertained him until the curtain rose.
2. The Technical Effects: Nat Reed (technical director/set design), Elizabeth Griffiths (lighting design), and Sheri Stakebake (props master) all deserved to be part of the final bows because their contributions made this show come to life. Each scene was set in front of huge half-globe which stood in front of the backdrop and tracked Flat Stanley’s current location. Various items including the Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood sign, and a large postage-stamp shaped picture frame were added to each scene as Stanley traveled. The lighting was noticeably different in each location and often included effects timed to the music. My son was particularly enthused by the use of a disco ball. He wondered aloud at the inner workings of a talking bulletin board, and he still can’t quite figure out how Stanley sat in what appeared to be a flat tree. He asked if we could go take a tour of the theater to see how the fly system works, and he came home with a small hoard of confetti from the exciting manner in which Flat Stanley’s envelopes opened. These impressive effects excited him and made him unwilling to miss a single moment.
3. The Age-Appropriate Acting: Both Mortensen and Andrew Walsh (Arthur) played the roles of children, and each did so in a way that brought my son right into their shared bedroom. He mentioned that Mortensen as Stanley reminded him of his little brother, which I thought was the best compliment an adult tasked with playing a child could receive. Their imaginative duet “I Wish I Were” was one of my favorite moments of the show, packed with the authentic energy of two young boys. Each of the actors played his or her role with over-the-top energy with delivery and pacing that matched popular children’s television shows. I particularly enjoyed Samantha Frisby in each of the roles she played (Mrs. Cartero/Hollywood Assistant/Mona Lisa/Bakini Wahini) because her infectious energy seemed so genuine.
4. The Star Wish Wall: Before the production started, we were invited to check out the “Star Wish” wall and post a wish for ourselves or for a cast member. We decided to wait until after the production (since neither of us knew what a “star wish” was). My son jotted down his “star wish,” thanked a few actors, and we headed out the door. After a few quiet moments he said, “Mom, that show had a moral.” I prompted him to continue. “Well, you were supposed to learn that you need to be careful when you wish for things, because they might not turn out to be quite what you thought they would be.” Yes, there are many standards by which one can assess the success of a production. But by this standard, I would say, “Mission accomplished.”
But there was much more to the show than what a seven-year-old might consciously catch. The music composition team of David Weinstein, Jonathan K. Waller, Timothy Allen McDonald, and Stephen Gabriel delivered catchy tunes with enough harmony to keep my musical side appeased. The music direction of Andrew Walsh helped produce well-executed harmonies between Mr. Lambchop (Mark Pulham) and Mrs. Lambchop (Cathy Frisby) which helped create tender moments between Stanley’s parents. Each of the production numbers featured full harmonies, which was particularly impressive considering the small cast of eight.
Costumes, designed by Kelsey Seaver, contributed much to this production. Seaver handled large issues, such as how to make a live actor appear flat, in a way that allowed me to suspend belief long enough to get lost in the show. But it was the details, such as Mrs. Cartero’s striped socks, that kept me visually entertained. And with four actors required to play a combined total of 13 characters, Seaver’s costume design allowed for quick and effective transitions.
Mortensen also worked as choreographer for this production, and he was able to highlight the dance talents of Samantha Frisby, Mikayla Smith (Hollywood Assistant/Samantha/Sneak Thief), and Marshall Madsen (Bulletin Board/Hollywood Agent/O. Jay D’art/Herb Wavecrest) in “Talent” and “Surfin’ the Mail.” I only wish I had been able to see more of this all out choreography in other moments of the show.
By all traditional standards, this show did everything a show should do. But as a theater for young audiences production, it did so much more. If you are in the Orem area, let your children experience the all around fun of The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley! At only one hour in length, it’s a hit for even the very young.