Review: Chicago Children’s Theatre’s “The Hundred Dresses”

Hilarious and touching – plus pretty dresses!

 Hundred-Dresses

 

Chicago Children’s Theatre presents:

The Hundred Dresses

by G. Riley Mills and Ralph Covert
directed by Sean Graney
extended through November 22nd (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Hundred-Dresses-3 The Hundred Dresses is a pretty show: pretty music, pretty voices, pretty staging, and of course, pretty dresses. The 100 Dresses is also a children’s show. If you don’t get designated nap time or a half hour after lunch to play kickball, then you are probably not the target audience for Chicago Children’s Theatre. Luckily, however, The 100 Dresses is a great show; a musical that speaks to the hearts of anyone that has ever needed a friend.

Wanda Petronski (Lauren Patten) has just immigrated from Poland with her father, and she isn’t the same as the other girls. She speaks with a funny accent, wears the same blue dress to school everyday, and queen bee Peggy (Natalie Berg) just plain doesn’t like her. Caught in the middle is Peggy’s best friend Maddie (Leslie Ann Sheppard), who thinks Wanda is actually kind of nice. The girls start teasing Wanda, and when Wanda tells them that she actually has 100 dresses in her closet at home, the conflict escalates. When the bullying becomes too much, Jan (Kurt Ehrmann), Wanda’s father, pulls her out of the school and everyone involved learns a good lesson about the pain that bullying and teasing causes.

Hundred-Dresses-2 G. Riley Mills and Ralph Covert‘s script is straightforward but filled with hilarious jokes and inspirational moments, perfect for the children in the house. Meanwhile, the cast and director Sean Graney have found the serious reality behind the bright dresses and colorful schoolhouse, giving the musical a weight that makes it more than fluff theater that kills an hour of the babysitter’s time. When Peggy talks about how easy it is to get a job or spend hundreds on a dress, the people in the audience that are laughing are the teachers and the parents, not the kids. Adult characters like Jan Petrovski and Miss Mason (Nadirah Bost) are used to ground the world in a mature reality that is probably more hundred-dresses-4 engaging to an older audience. When Miss Mason learns about Wanda’s dead mother, Bost reacts with sympathy and tenderness that travels throughout the theater, warming the viewers to the Patrovski’s plight from the very beginning of the play.

The playwright duo brings the same mix of comedy and warmth to their music and lyrics, and the songs are catchy while still carrying great emotional gravity. “The Hundred Dresses,”  Wanda’s heartbreaking solo where she reminisces about her life in Poland and how girls would dance in the dresses their mothers made, is exquisitely handled by Patten, finding the perfect balance between the joys and pains of youth that captures the tragedy of Wanda’s loss. While the script keeps a fairly light feel throughout, the music has a maturity and fullness that is captivating. When Wanda is absent for many days in a row, Maddie sings “Wanda Petrovski is Missing,” a rollercoaster of a ballad that requires a great belt, amazing diction, and razor sharp acting skills. Luckily, Sheppard is more than up for the task, and Maddie is a lovable protagonist that is easy to relate to.

 

All the actors that make up Wanda’s class of six have great chemistry with one another, and group numbers like “Penny Paddywack” are electric. The company’s voices all blend beautifully, and the melancholy “Passing of Autumn” is a wonderful showcase of their talents. Geoff Rice is adorable as class underdog Jack, whether he is stressing about winning the art contest or helping Maddie makes the right decisions, and Elana Ernst and Tyler Ravelson provide great comic relief two of Wanda’s goofy classmates; Ernst as hilariously airheaded diva Cecile and Ravelson as costumed class clown Willie. 

And the dresses? Costume designer Jacqueline Firkins‘ creations are gorgeous.

Rating: ««««

 

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Stages 2009 – Calling all Musical Theatre devotees!!!

THEATRE BUILDING CHICAGO PRESENTS

STAGES 2009

 

the 16TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF NEW MUSICALS IN PROGRESS
Presented by Theatre Building Chicago
AUGUST 21-23, 2009

Especially for musical theatre junkies (and their friends) – Theatre Building Chicago presents STAGES 2009, a festival of 5 new musicals in progress, a new topical revue and 2 panel discussions Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 21-23, 2009.

The three-day musical extravaganza performs each new work twice in concert readings and studio presentations. Now in its 16th season, STAGES focuses on the development of new works of musical theatre.  The new works, in staged-reading format, include:

» SONGS IN THE KEY OF TODAY

  A new topical review of songs written specifically for STAGES. Works include numbers by Martin Charnin, George Stiles & Anthony Drew, Wally Harper and Sherman Yellen, Owen Kalt and Elizabeth Doyle and many other writers. Friday 7:30pm, Sunday 4pm (a pre-show reception at 6:30pm will be held before Friday’s performance)

» GIRL DETECTIVE

  Murder is hard. Adolescence is harder. Casey Ames, a teenager
transplanted from New York City to a small town in Pennsylvania, is
obsessed with becoming a detective. This musical explores the full
spectrum of teenage angst.  (Saturday 1pm, Sunday 4pm)

» HUNGER

  This American drama reveals the true history of intrepid settlers
who head west to fulfill their dreams but encounter a nightmare
of challenges that test their faith, spirit and their very souls.

» ON THE BRINK

  When an aging grandfather is confronted by Death in the form of Mr. Brink, he thwarts Mr. Brink’s plans by trapping him up a tree. With Mr. Brink unable to do his duty, no one can die. Mr. Brink works through the grandfather’s family and friends to try and convince the old man to free him and to restore the natural order.

» OPENING DAY

  A troubled Vietnam vet living with his sister is visited by an army buddy who dredges up the memories of a mutual comrade lost in a battle they both survived. This moving drama explores the themes of guilt, forgiveness, love and how we survive our own personal histories. (Saturday 1pm, Sunday 4pm)

» SONG POEMS WANTED! THE MUSICAL

  Song poems are the vanity publishing side of the music  recording industry. The musical features dozens of actual song poems (such as Aliens Stole My Dog) and tells the stories of a song poem composer and the everyday people who submit
their poetry for “consideration”. (Saturday 4pm, Sunday 7pm)

Panel discussions (available to all ticket-holders)

Writing Theatre for Young Audiences – Saturday August 22nd 10:00 AM
Learn what elements make imaginative and engaging theatre for children. What are the special considerations and specific responsibilities in writing material for young audiences? Writers and producers who specialize in this audience share their experiences, trade secrets and vision for the craft.

Understanding Intellectual Property Rights – Sunday August 23 – 10:00 AM
Experts in the field will speak on the intricacies and legal  issues regarding adaptations, obtaining rights, paying for  the underlying rights and what is a reasonable fee. What is public domain?  Privacy laws regarding what you can and cannot use regarding real people and events in new works.

STAGES 2009 tickets are now on sale at the box office: 773-327-5252
and Ticketmaster 1-800-982-2787 (www.ticketmaster. com)

For more info, including personnel and performer’s names, ticket pricing, performance location, transportation, and interview possibilities for the press, click on “Read more”

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