Who knew that Arthur the aardvark could sing and dance? And do it so well?
The beloved, bespectacled children’s book character has been brought to life on stage in an entertaining and delightful musical in its world premiere at the First Stage Children’s Theatre.
Arthur and his friends are making a musical! is based on the books and characters created by Marc Brown with book and lyrics by John Maclay and music and lyrics by Brett Ryback, who is also the musical director. And even though Arthur has been around since 1976, he’s still in 3rd grade and dealing with all the problems a 3rd grader faces at his age. This time around, it’s about writing and performing in her school’s big show for the whole town of Lakewood. And the intellectual Arthur must choose between a big, showy musical number or something simpler and heartfelt, more true to his book-smart nature.
The inherent fun in this production is watching all the different ideas her friends and family come up with: her younger sister, DW (Gia Love Deacon) is obsessed with aliens; Muffy (Silver Anderson) is interested in social issues; Francine (Alice Rivera) is passionate about haute couture. friend Buster (Ryon Davis) loves a mystery; and good friend Brain (Charlie Cornell) is well, smart.
And then there is Arthur. Opening night saw the Elwood Cast of child actors who did a great job and, in particular, Vivian Madson as Arthur. Madson really brought Arthur to life with equal parts intellectual, indecisive, self-reflective, and sensitive. When he sings about his dog, Pal, and how much easier life would be “if I had my dog’s life,” we know he really means it. It’s already complicated enough to have to make choices, even in 3rd grade.
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The cast of adult actors does just as well; Arthur’s mother (SaraLynn Evenson); Arthur’s father (Zach Thomas Woods who relishes the added role of mythical detective Ulysses Baggypants) and in particular, James Carrington as the pupils’ excitable, exuberant and very funny teacher, Mr. Ratburn.
Arthur and his friends are indeed making a musical. And when Arthur finally takes the stage, his performance – and his message – are worth remembering for all of us, young and old.
Arthur and his friends are making a musical! through Nov. 6 at the Todd Wehr Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Riverwalk Entrance. Recommended for families with youngsters 5 years and older. Duration: 75 minutes (plus an intermission of more than 10 minutes). For more information, call the box office: 414-267-2961 or visit: firststage.org