Kids' Theatre Puts a Chicken to Sleep

Feb. 13, 2017
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It was a pleasantly warm weekend’s trip out to Elm Grove this past weekend for the Sunset Playhouse’s most recent bug in a rug Children’s Theatre show. The series opens theatrical shows to even the youngest theatergoers. This past weekend’s show was a brief musical adaptation of Paulette Bogan's Goodnight, Lulu.The story of a terrified, little chicken who must be calmed into going to bed for the night makes a nice, little musical matinee.

One half hour before the show, the snug, little studio theatre/reception space at the Sunset opened its doors for kids and parents to settle-in for the show. The set’s there: a small bit of scenery suggesting a farm. Parents and kids bring blankets. The arrive in pajamas with quilts and plush toys other snugglinesses. There are tidy, little crafts for the kids that are specific for the show. For Goodnight Lulu there were little pig and chicken hats that the kids could make. My daughter was disappointed that they weren’t themed for Valentine’s Day, but she was more than happy to use crayons to make little valentine’s hearts all over her chicken hat while a roomful of other kids colored and pasted and so on in the half hour prior to the show.

Jason Powell’s playfully original kids’ music animates the story bought to the stage by Sunset Educational Director Erica Navin. Christopher Elst warmed the audience as a friendly farmer engaging the kids in helping create the atmosphere of an old-fashioned farm by singing and making animal sounds. Elst is a friendly, approachable giant next to all of the kids who are brought to stage to aid at various points in a Sunset Children’s production.

After warm-up and introduction, Andrea Moser and Liz Mistele entered in red sneakers, appropriately-colored tights and feathery aprons--just enough costuming to establish their identity as chickens without obscuring their ability to engage the audience as perfectly human characters. As Momma, Andrea Moser was suitably maternal in a fun, affable stage presence as she talked to her little chickadee, played by Mistele. Liz Mistele lived-up to her strengths in children’s theatre. Mistele’s impressively expressive face renders very big emotion in a very natural way. In the course of the show, she made the great journey from being totally resistant to the idea of sleep to one of playful acceptance with a grace that was quite easy to follow for every kid in the audience without ever coming across as being painfully exaggerated the way so much children’s fare so often does.

It’s great to see Sunset Playhouse continuing a tradition of bringing local adaptations to the stage. With people like Powell and Navin working in and around greater Milwaukee, there’s no reason why we can’t have a firmly-established community for locally-based theater. 

Kids are heavily marketed to by big multi-media corporations. For one solid hour, both of my kids were happy to hang out with entertainment on a stage that was removed from the homogenous ubiquity of larger media cartoons and movies and videos. My youngest daughter left her movie merchandise toys in the car and went out to hang out with a couple of actors playing a couple of chickens. I like to think that there’s a purer link to art that the kids are going to feel from locally-staged theater.

Sunset Playhouse’s stage adaptation of Goodnight Lulu ran for one weekend only. The next children’s theater production at Sunset is a Hansel & Gretel/Goldilocks crossover show called Hansel & Goldie. It runs May 10 - 13 on 800 Elm Grove Road. For more information, visit Sunset Playhouse online.

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