Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Swooning over ‘Goodnight Moon’ at Adventure Theatre

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Bunny’s bedroom comes alive in the musical adaptation of ‘‘Goodnight Moon” beginning Thursday at Glen Echo Park’s Adventure Theatre.
Even tough-guy dads can become all soft and sentimental when thinking about the picture book ‘‘Goodnight Moon.” And who can blame them? What with Bunny saying ‘‘good night” to everything including his ‘‘mush” or the Old Lady whispering ‘‘hush,” this book, written some 60 years ago by Margaret Wise Brown, is still a sweet dreams classic.

It may have taken decades, but a musical adaptation has arrived on the scene. In this version, opening Thursday and running through June 1 at Glen Echo Park’s Adventure Theatre, Bunny isn’t going to sleep anytime soon. Playwright and lyricist Chad Henry retained the book’s ‘‘good night” refrains when scripting it three years ago, but the musical Bunny’s imagination goes into overdrive. Once the lights dim and the play begins, paintings, a clock and even the red balloon floating above Bunny’s bed come alive.

‘‘Everything but the toy box does something,” remarks Mary Hall Surface, the play’s director. ‘‘It’s an extravaganza.”

She’s not kidding. Numerous cows jump over umpteen moons, a firetruck zooms out from under the bed, a very large plate runs away with a smiling silver spoon and a mischievous mouse keeps Bunny bouncing off the walls. Speaking of wall coverings, Art Director Tony Cisek reproduced the vivid green walls, the orange trim and flowing green and gold drapes created by the book’s illustrator Clement Hurd. The stage is a life-sized replica of the book, including the paintings with their brightly colored scalloped frames and even the mittens hanging to dry near the roaring fireplace. Many youngsters will wish for this wonderful room. And once the musical begins, many parents will identify with the Old Lady’s failed attempts to get Bunny to sleep.

‘‘I say ‘Hush’ so many times in different ways,” says Judy Simmons, who plays the Old Lady.

A cadre of puppets, actors and animated objects sing and dance in this ‘‘musical theater experience,” says Jennifer Timberlake, who plays a Kitten. With a three-piece band performing ragtime, jazz and lullabies, no one will fall asleep during the hour-long production. For those familiar with Brown’s other books, the playwright even gives a nod to what some parents deem her best book ‘‘Runaway Bunny,” with cast members singing the entire story.

For the actors, this job brought a new challenge. Along with the usual dancing, singing and acting, they learned to work complicated puppets created by members of the Puppet Co. Playhouse, who also perform in Glen Echo Park.

With each puppet’s multiple moving parts, ‘‘it took about a month to learn how to use the arms and make Mouse run,” says Cyana Cook, who also plays a rodent.

‘‘I’m going to miss them [the puppets],” says Danny Tippet, who plays a kitten. ‘‘It’s amazing how you build an attachment to the puppet. During rehearsals, I find myself cradling the kitten puppet.”

Adventure Theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt decided to take on the ‘‘world’s favorite bedtime story,” figuring that most parents read the book to their children.

This can be a good thing, yet with the story and illustrations so familiar, it posed a challenge for Surface. She carefully considered how to ‘‘create the magic that this adaptation demands and then make the complex show work with its layering, singing, dancing and puppets.”

Surface calls the story a ‘‘road map for a child to feel safe when the sun goes down. It is an essential need for children. But it also resonates for all of us.”

A week before opening night, the excitement is palpable during rehearsals. Bobbitt notes that more than half the tickets have already sold. Now that Adventure Theatre is in its new space, ticket sales are at an all time high.

Of course, this doesn’t matter to the scores of children who will come see if Bunny ever falls asleep.

‘‘Goodnight Moon,” the musical adaptation by Chad Henry, will be performed through June 1 at Adventure Theatre, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd. Shows begin at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and at 7 p.m. Fridays, May 16, 23 & 30 (PJ Party. Weekday field trip shows are at 10 a.m. May 15 and 16, and at 12:30 p.m. May 20-22, 27-29. A sign language-Call 301-634-2270 or visit www.adventuretheatre.org.