Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Mar 10, 2014
04:20 PM
Stage Write

Anything But 'Terrible' in CTM's Latest

Anything But 'Terrible' in CTM's Latest

PHOTO BY ADAM F. BROWN

It was a terrible, no good...well, you get the idea. Eli Kuzma is the star of CTM's latest musical production.

God knows we’ve all had one, one of those days where the car won’t start, the mud puddle wins and your soup and your lap have an unscheduled lunch meeting. When you’re an adult, you can sigh, maybe even laugh, and know that things will probably break differently tomorrow.  

For kids, however, days like that loom larger than a cranky and intimidating school librarian. And tomorrow? That’s, like, a bazillion miles away. For them, every mishap is magnified to the level of life and death. Author Judith Viorst understood that when she penned Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day way, way back in 1972. CTM’s performance of the more recent musical Viorst created from the book (through March 16 in the Overture Center Playhouse) reflects that vibe, too—it’s a fun, light time that any kid who’s ever wished for a little more control over their universe will appreciate.

Viorst’s book is only thirty-two pages long, and even though Alexander endures a mountain of mishaps and misfortunes in that space—and this musical encapsulates pretty much all of them—it’s not enough to cover ninety minutes, so obviously, some bonus touches, largely in the form of an additional ensemble of kids and a bunch of songs based on Viorst’s poems, fleshes out the proceedings. Sometime, it works really well, like the practice run for the school concert that gives each of the ensemble kids a chance to sing a silly and/or touching song. (Olivia de Waart’s Audrey is the standout here; man, that girl has strong pipes.) Other scenes feel like, well, unnecessary padding, in particular the flashy song-and-dance number in the shoe store before Alexander discovers that they’re all out of pairs with blue and red stripes.

As our long suffering boy hero, Eli Kuzma does a great job of playing to the crowd with a confident, can-you-even-believe-this? aplomb. His singing voice isn't quite as strong as his acting, but it’s not every fourth-grade actor who can convince a packed house to engage in some crowd participation. They don’t get a ton of stage time, but Lucas Hemming and Josh Busher also shine as Alexander’s semi-sadistic older siblings.

Director Terry Kerr obviously knows her audience: She wisely keeps the props and actors gliding on, off and around the stage at an almost constant clip, so there’s always something new and interesting to look at or listen to—like actors dressed as kangaroos and koala bears, and the oversized OkiDoki 2000 copier, just waiting for Alexander to break it--and the action never once feels static. It’s also a clever move to have some of the ensemble kids stand in as stage props—let’s just say there’s some awesome bathroom-sink cosplay going on in this production.

Alexander’s not yet old enough to understand that some of his own behavior and bad choices are setting him up for trouble. Not finding a prize at the bottom of your breakfast cereal can be chalked up to the cruel whiles of fate, but trying to pass off an invisible castle as your art assignment? Come on, man. Then again, that’s the point. The parents in the audience will appreciate the perspective and wisdom a few decades of experience will bring on the subject of tomorrow being another day. Just as they’ll appreciate the value of being the comfortable constants for their own Alexanders and Alexandras.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is at the Overture Center Playhouse until March 16. For more information, visit ctmtheater.org

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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