A WINNING ‘WINNIE’ : Broadway on Tour Scores With the Milne Classic
The wish list on the refrigerator is so long that the kids are sticking Post-its on the small appliances, and now Grandma wants to schlep the whole gang to one of those sugary Christmas shows. Just how much holiday cheer can one parent take?
Broadway on Tour, a children’s theater company based in north Orange County, offers a remedy from the season’s stress with J.K. Kilbourn’s musical adaptation of A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh,” a well-wrought children’s show that manages to combine cute kids and an upbeat holiday message without sending grown-ups into diabetic shock. It continues at the Vineyard Christian Church in Anaheim on weekend afternoons through Dec. 22.
Directed by company founder Dan Halkyard with a cast between the ages of 7 and 14, this “Pooh” remains true to the warmth and simplicity of Milne’s classic characters. There’s Pooh, of course, the slightly dim but ever-optimistic bear; Rabbit, a snappish control junkie; and Eeyore the donkey, a self-described “four-legged disaster” with a gloomy outlook but a heart of gold. With the help of their human Christopher Robin, they and their pals in the Hundred Acre Wood spin a tale of good deeds and camaraderie that just may jump-start your Christmas spirit.
It’s Christmas Eve and poor Eeyore is in the dumps because he’s lost his tail. So Piglet, Pooh and the gang organize a search for the missing appendage. By the end of the one-hour show, Eeyore is reunited with his tail and in the process has scored some nifty gifts (who doesn’t need a burst balloon and a “useful pot for putting things in”?) as well as a lesson in the value of friendship.
Broadway on Tour recently moved from a cramped dance studio in Placentia to its larger facility at the church, and it’s a welcome change. Halkyard and scenic designer Jeanine Eastham have used the increased space wisely, allowing the audience to cozy up to the action on three sides without skimping on stage space or theatrical touches. Despite those unexplained crashes in an adjoining room and a few glitches in the prerecorded score, the look and sound of a recent Saturday performance were surprisingly polished.
Many members of the “Pooh” cast are enrolled in the Broadway on Tour theater training program, and overall performance skills range from good to pretty darned impressive. Fourteen-year-old Dennis Anderson is such a delightfully miserable Eeyore that you may have to restrain your kids from giving him a cheering-up hug themselves (Laurie Holden’s cuddly costumes don’t hurt, either), and his clumsy soft-shoe in “Ole Grey Donkey” is one of the high points of the show.
Thirteen-year-old Cheryl Graves is a relentlessly cheery Piglet, and possesses one of the cast’s strongest singing voices, shown to best advantage in her duet with Anderson, “Just the Two of Us.” (Some of the show’s other musical numbers were less successful.)
Scott Merritt, 9, and Nathan Slezak, 14, are a tad sweet as Pooh and Christopher Robin, but 11-year-old Matthew Slezak’s sour Rabbit cuts the sugar nicely. (Slezak has come a long way since his somewhat weak-kneed performances in the company’s last production, “Hansel and Gretel.”)
Newcomer Josh Cuevas, 11, does an admirable job as the loquacious Owl despite a slippery mortarboard and pince-nez, and Megan Barton, 7, whose part is basically limited to lots of energetic bounces and giggles, is a lovable Roo. (Speaking of bouncing, parents of preschoolers will welcome a mid-play squirm and stretch break, led with motherly care by 14-year-old Deanna Durazzo as Kanga.)
Founded in 1988, Broadway on Tour marks the completion of its first public season with “Winnie-the-Pooh.” Participation in the shows is open to any Orange County child age 7 to 17, and parents are encouraged to take part, whether by painting scenery or taking tickets. The company’s repertoire focuses on the “lesser-seen classics of children’s literature,” says Halkyard, who is considering such titles as “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Velveteen Rabbit” for 1992.
Broadway on Tour has presented a number of free performances for homeless children; Halkyard plans to expand the outreach programs through the new association with the Vineyard. Plans also are in the works for an elementary school tour next fall.
What: “Winnie-the-Pooh,” presented by Broadway on Tour.
When: Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Dec. 22.
Where: The Vineyard Christian Church, 5340 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim.
Whereabouts: Take the Riverside Freeway to the Imperial Highway exit and turn left. Turn left again on La Palma. The show takes place in the large building behind the white tent.
Where to call: (714) 692-8102.