A Toe-Tapping Spook-tacular Opening for the 100th Season of The Childrenâ€™s Theatre of Cincinnati
Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of “Casper: The Friendly Musical”: Cincinnati Children’s Theatre
Thereâ€™s something really magical about watching theatre with children. Their wonder, joy, and unabashed reactions are so honest. Itâ€™s especially fun when they are also dressed up for the show. This weekend, the Childrenâ€™s Theatre of Cincinnati continued their 100-year tradition of providing high quality performance for the whole family with the premiere of â€œCasper: The Friendly Musicalâ€ 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 childrenâ€™s theatre version Casper The Friendly Musical by Stephen Cole and Matthew Weber. Based on the many incarnations of the â€œCasper: The Friendly Ghostâ€ 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 Casperâ€™s family maid before Casperâ€™s parents died) has a reality television show that is hosting a contest for kids on Halloween night at Casperâ€™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 Rhodusâ€™s scenic design and Matthew P. Benjaminâ€™s light design work together seamlessly to bring us into Casperâ€™s house. Jeff Shearerâ€™s costume design wows–from Magdalenaâ€™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 Byrdâ€™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, â€œCasperâ€ sings well together. Marissa Pooleâ€™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 artistâ€™s company hold their own, with Jack Theodore Kruseâ€™s Casper and Evan Blustâ€™s Donald creating earnest moments of friendship in their scenes and singing. Mackenzie Ruffâ€™s Bettina stood out in particular for her gorgeous vocals and acting chops, I expect weâ€™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 Childrenâ€™s Theatre has clearly been thoughtfully engaging how to make a great experience for kids and families at the theatre. â€œCasper: The Friendly Musicalâ€ is a great first (or second or third) show to bring your ages 4+ kids to go see, and I hear itâ€™s even better when you come in costume (but you certainly donâ€™t have to). Casper is playing at the Taft Theatre through October 20th for Public Performances, and tickets are available here. Hereâ€™s to another 100 years of wonderful theatre for young audiences with The Childrenâ€™s Theatre of Cincinnati.