Review: Why the fun kids’ musical from Geffen Playhouse made this mom cry (in a good way)
A few minutes into the first song in the Geffen Playhouse’s new virtual musical for kids, “The Door You Never Saw Before,” I found myself weeping while the children sitting with me in the dining room stared in embarrassed horror, double-checking that I was not on the Zoom screen we shared with about a dozen other elementary school-age participants.
The song, performed by the irrepressible Gabrielle Maiden, is about the year we have all just lived through — about being stuck inside, about not seeing friends or engaging in regular activities.
“You’re inside your house, and you’re stuck,” sings Maiden, who plays a character called Your Voice and who tells those in the audience that she is the voice in their heads. “Days turned to weeks, to months, to a year.”
I could totally relate to that, and being someone who cries during diaper commercials and the occasional prescription medication ad, the song hit me squarely in the emotional solar plexus.
The kids with whom I was watching — my 5-year-old daughter, Henri; my 7-year-old nephew, Ridley; and my 10-year-old niece, Cleo — displayed a psychological fortitude seemingly out of my reach as they bounced along to the music, eager for what the show had in store.
They had been mailed an “adventure suitcase,” which arrived at the house about a week before our scheduled performance. These types of packages have become a hallmark of the Geffen’s pandemic slate of interactive online programming, offered through the last year under the Geffen Stayhouse banner.
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In the days leading up to the show, this small brown box with a plastic handle became the object of much speculation among the cousins. What could possibly be in it? Would there be candy? If so, would it be enough to share? A note accompanying the box strictly forbade it being opened until the performance.
The contents of the box, which I will not reveal here because that would spoil the fun, pair with plot points in the show, helping to guide the young audience members through the action via props, activities and puzzles.
“The Door You Never Saw Before,” directed by Katie Lindsay, with book, music and lyrics by Matt Schatz, is dubbed a “choosical musical” because it’s organized around breakout rooms that spirit the show’s participants down different paths toward a jubilant conclusion.
The action unfolds in the Harmonious Land of Harmonicania, where a heinous villain called the Stench has taken over the city with an outsize flatulence that has cleared out most of its inhabitants. Participant children are enlisted to help Maiden find the mayor to give him a special medal that will help him defeat the Stench, played with turgid bombast by Michael Faulkner.
Along the way, children choose which door to open or not open, and whether to visit the overpass or underpass, the lost and found or the library. Faulkner and a third actor, the funny and engaging Shyla Lefner, appear in various costumes playing a variety of characters whose songs gently tap into deep emotions children may have dealt with during an isolating year.
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There is an innocent tenderness to the show, which stresses that even the most difficult obstacles can be overcome with creativity, gumption and teamwork. The message seemed to resonate with Henri, Ridley and Cleo, even though they lost all collaborative resourcefulness when it came time to take turns with the contents of the adventure suitcase. (This parent recommends you order a separate suitcase for every child participant in your family.)
And be sure to bring a box of tissues to the show. The kids likely won’t need it, but you just might.
'The Door You Never Saw Before: A Choosical Musical'
Where: Geffen Stayhouse virtual theater via Zoom
When: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through June 27
Tickets: $55 to $85 per household (subject to change); additional adventure suitcases are $25 each. Recommended for ages 6 to 9
Info: (310) 208-2028 or www.geffenplayhouse.org
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (no intermission)
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