We’ve all had some level in our lives when worry of failure grips us and tells us we’re insufficient. As adults, it’s popularly known as “imposter syndrome.” And it may well drive us to do all method of loopy, determined issues.
For rising third-grader Henry, the protagonist within the Alliance Theatre’s subtle world premiere musical adaptation of the celebrated youngsters’s e book The Unimaginable E book Consuming Boy, it drives him to begin voraciously devouring the printed phrase — actually.
The third grade, Henry croons in an early ballad, goes to be a catastrophe as a result of he doesn’t get pleasure from books: “I wanna be the man who’s good at studying, however I’m solely good at consuming.” However behind the attention rolls and shrugged shoulders is a deep insecurity — that possibly he’s not clever and succesful sufficient to succeed, particularly in a classroom crammed with bookworms.
All that begins to vary when Henry takes a web page from his canine’s playbook and begins, effectively, consuming pages himself. Amazingly, he discovers that he immediately absorbs the data therein, elevating him — quickly, not less than, till the unnatural munching inevitably wreaks havoc — to the standing of child genius.
At a 45-minute run time, half of what a normal play would require in consideration span, Boy makes environment friendly use of a captivating and intelligent premise and expeditiously ushers us via a full (if slight) character arc. The result’s an easy-to-understand story that by no means veers into patronizing territory. Virtually everybody onstage, in different phrases, manages to keep away from the considerably grating tendency to speak too usually within the extra stereotypical “youngsters’s theater voice.”
Based mostly on the e book of the identical title by celebrated Australian-born, Eire-raised and now Brooklyn-based youngsters’s writer Oliver Jeffers, the present was tailored by playwright and screenwriter Madhuri Shekar, who already has a longtime historical past in Atlanta. She gained the 2014 Alliance/Kendeda Nationwide Graduate Playwriting Competitors and now has had 4 performs produced on the Alliance stage. The brand new musical, which runs via August 14, additionally boasts some intelligent, pun-plump lyrics by Christian Albright and funky, disco-infused tunes by Christian Magby — each Atlanta natives.
Holding his personal with a wholly grownup forged, 11-year-old lead actor Alexander Chen, as Henry, is a lucky discover. Chen boasts some spectacular pipes, but essentially the most compelling high quality of his efficiency is the palpable pleasure he exudes at performing, which is endearing and infectious. His face lights up at any time when he hits that hard-to-reach excessive observe or nails the extra difficult dance transfer, which works effectively for a story all about embracing the instances once we should try the issues that scare us most.
Within the all-around stellar grownup ensemble, standouts are Rhyn McLemore, who most not too long ago turned in a devastating efficiency as Norma McCorvey (the real-life “Jane Roe”) in Horizon Theatre’s well timed manufacturing of Roe, and powerhouse vocalist Brad Raymond, who punctuates every joke with precision and distinguishes a mess of shortly rotating characters with participating specificity.
Scenic designer Kat Conley‘s nimble set transforms from sport present to surreal fantasy sequence to classroom to physician’s workplace. It additionally appears like a pop-up e book come to life, with writing, equations and different scribblings swirling round every scene. Aspect observe: Kudos to props grasp Suzanne Cooper Morris who made the real-looking e book pages that Henry eats onstage all through the present edible — her stagecraft recipe is super skinny rice paper.
Additionally spectacular is the choreography by Danielle Swatzie, particularly in a single nightmarish scene wherein the books themselves combat again. Within the standout track, “Henry on the Menu,” a sinister-looking gang of large rectangular volumes with actors’ faces glowering from their heart take to process the boy who’s been decimating the library one web page at a time. One wonders at first how somebody even approaches setting motion to one thing like that, however, by gum, it occurs — with binding-busting gyrations and lunges ahead aplenty.
After which there’s the deft course by True Colours Theatre Firm Creative Director Jamil Jude, who has injected some immensely artistic and storybook-like touches into the motion. Jude is aware of easy methods to mine the scenes for humor in a manner that each will get why musicals might be elegant and why they’re inherently type of ridiculous, too.
Like, as an illustration, when the varsity janitor punctuates the crescendo of an enormous ensemble quantity by generously spritzing air freshener like he’s in Les Mis waving a French flag. Or when Henry projectile vomits from consuming too many books, and it comes out as confetti (actually placing a brand new spin on the idea of a “gag”).
Normally, it’s unfair to evaluate a play primarily aimed toward elementary college children by the identical requirements as, say, Henrik Ibsen. But this manufacturing’s appearing, course and set design all function at a excessive skilled normal.
Whereas it may not essentially present essentially the most difficult night out for adults on their very own (in any case, the showtime on Saturday night time is the nonetheless daylight-infused 6 p.m.), it’s definitely gratifying and considerate sufficient for adults accompanying their kiddos. In spite of everything, if Pixar has repeatedly illustrated, there’s loads for grown-ups to be present in broadly welcoming tales.
Just like the meta subtext of the present, the ethical is that we should not underestimate tales with footage just because they’re accessible — however as an alternative embrace the numerous other ways we digest the world round us.
There’s additionally a message inside the present concerning the significance of adults making an effort to fulfill children the place they’re at — one thing that’s develop into extra of a luxurious of higher funded, much less strapped-for-resources faculties with smaller lecture rooms and fewer trainer burnout. After all, this present is just not tasked with tackling these issues, nor ought to it’s. As a substitute, it gives the imaginative and prescient of a world the place adults listening to children and offering a studying surroundings greatest suited to their wants is likely to be doable.
Be sure you try the corresponding Excessive Museum of Artwork exhibit, 15 Years of Picturing Books, which boasts extra of the colourful and distinct imaginings from Jeffers’ head. It’s a world we should always all aspire to stay in.
Alexis Hauk is a member of the American Theatre Critics Affiliation. She has written and edited for quite a few newspapers, alt-weeklies, commerce publications and nationwide magazines together with Time, the Atlantic, Psychological Floss, Uproxx and Washingtonian