There’s something really magical about watching theatre with children. Their wonder, joy, and unabashed reactions are so honest. It’s especially fun when they are also dressed up for the show. This weekend, the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati continued their 100-year tradition of providing high quality performance for the whole family with the premiere of “Casper: The Friendly Musical” at the Taft Theatre. This Halloween-themed show is a wonderful way to get kids in the mood for the fall season.
This is the world premiere of the newly adapted for
children’s theatre version Casper The Friendly Musical by Stephen Cole and
Matthew Weber. Based on the many incarnations of the “Casper: The Friendly
Ghost” comic and cartoon (including the 1995 movie which I grew up watching),
this musical is only a little over an hour long and provides lots of moments to
connect with the children and the young at heart in the audience. All of the
familiar elements of the Casper story are included: the old falling down house,
the ghost uncles, the missing deed to said falling down house, the many people
who would like to own the deed to the house, and of course the little ghost who
just wants to make friends. In this version of the Casper story, Magdalena (who
was Casper’s family maid before Casper’s parents died) has a reality television
show that is hosting a contest for kids on Halloween night at Casper’s haunted
house. The rules of the contest are simple: the kid that finds the deed in the
house before midnight will receive a prize of a million dollars. Of course,
this house is haunted by Casper and his three uncles, and Casper is very
excited to have guests. Over the course of the evening, the children (who have
a variety of motivations for finding the money that are not very friendly) make
friends with Casper and discover the true meaning of friendship.
The production design is excellent and luscious. Jennifer Rhodus’s scenic design and Matthew P. Benjamin’s light design work together seamlessly to bring us into Casper’s house. Jeff Shearer’s costume design wows–from Magdalena’s show stopping dresses to the make up and costumes for the ghosts that are particularly marvelous. The ensemble sings wonderfully, and keeps the show moving along. Eric Byrd’s choreography is fun and silly, and sure to please the younger members of the audience. Of particular note is a tap dance number performed by the ghost Uncles Stinky (played with panache by A. James Jones), Stretch (a tall and likable Sam Johnson), and Fatso (a plucky Joey Logan); through the ingenious use of black-light the ghost feet tap without bodies and all sorts of fun visual puns are created.
From leads through ensemble, “Casper” sings well together.
Marissa Poole’s villainious Magdalena is a ton of fun. Weber and Cole wrote a
longer version of this musical in 2001 for the Pittsburgh CLO company that
starred Chita Rivera in the role of Magdalena, but Poole makes the role her own
here. The young artist’s company hold their own, with Jack Theodore Kruse’s
Casper and Evan Blust’s Donald creating earnest moments of friendship in their
scenes and singing. Mackenzie Ruff’s Bettina stood out in particular for her
gorgeous vocals and acting chops, I expect we’ll see more of her on the
Cincinnati area stages soon.
From the moment you walk into the theatre and are offered a
variety of snacks and drinks for sale and photo opportunities, to when you sit
down and have trivia and audience rules to learn, the Children’s Theatre has
clearly been thoughtfully engaging how to make a great experience for kids and
families at the theatre. “Casper: The Friendly Musical” is a great first (or
second or third) show to bring your ages 4+ kids to go see, and I hear it’s
even better when you come in costume (but you certainly don’t have to). Casper
is playing at the Taft Theatre through October 20th for Public
Performances, and tickets are available here.
Here’s to another 100 years of wonderful theatre for young audiences with The
Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati.