Chip Sherman and Zoe Papadakis in SCT's 2019 production of Corduroy. Credit: Angela Sterling.
Kids, think about that special toy you so desperately want. Parents, think about the endless messes you clean up. And everyone, remember the time you lost something, whether it was that last piece of the puzzle or your dang house keys (which you still can’t find!).
This all to say that there’s something in the classic story of “Corduroy” that anyone in the audience can relate to, whether you are 4 or 64.
“Corduroy” adapts Don Freeman’s iconic 1968 children’s book of the same title for the stage. It’s a story that you’ve probably read over and over again, one that you loved as a kid and you now read to your kid. (Fun fact: “Corduroy” was Freeman’s nickname for his son Roy.)
In case it’s been awhile, here’s the gist of the story: A girl named Lisa spots a stuffed bear for sale in a department store, but his green overalls are missing a button. Lisa begs her mom to let her buy the bear; Corduroy, said bear, who is just as enamored of Lisa as she is of him, hopes to complete himself by searching for his missing button throughout the store after hours, leaving a trail of destruction everywhere he goes. The story ends on a high note — spoiler alert! — with Lisa and Corduroy finding each other after a huge adventure.
It’s a heart-warming story of friendship, of having someone to love who will love you back. But there’s an underlying message to “Corduroy” that’s perfectly timed for the holiday season. “You have to learn we have to work hard and smart to get the things we want,” Lisa’s mom tells her.
We see two parallel worlds — Corduroy’s and Lisa’s — in this play. Both characters have good intentions, but those intentions tend to result in very bad outcomes.
In the book, Corduroy’s after-hours mischief is limited to the furniture section of the department store. The play broadens Corduroy’s quest store-wide, as he cuts a destructive departmental swath through appliances, toiletries, menswear, paint, pets, sporting goods… Wherever Corduroy goes, chaos ensues.
The play, set to a gymnastic, jazzy score, incorporates heaps of physical humor. Chip Sherman, the actor who plays Corduroy, puts on a heck of an acrobatic performance. He moonwalks, somersaults backwards, flosses, cartwheels and dangles from a teetering mountain of toilet paper, all while dressed in a toasty, fuzzy suit, green overalls and a beanie. Corduroy’s vocabulary is limited to “button” and “friend,” but Sherman’s antics and exaggerated gestures speak volumes, keeping both kids and adults in stitches.
Corduroy keeps eluding the night watchman, and he leaves the audience members scratching their heads, too. The actor who plays Corduroy often disappears and magically reappears as the plush version of the bear — the two are never seen at the same time. During the post-performance Q&A, the actors revealed that the switch happens via sneaky trapdoors and secret compartments.
The play also expands Lisa’s world, which we don’t see in Freeman’s books. (The author/illustrator does get a shout-out on stage: The department store is named Freemans.) We learn a bit more about the little girl who has to persuade her mom to let her buy this bear. Like Corduroy, Lisa tries so hard, but she’s a walking disaster. When she appears onstage carrying a stack of trash cans, audience members reflexively groaned, “Oh boy. Oh no.” One thing Lisa’s got going for her, though, is her perseverance, which eventually wins over her mom.
Corduroy and Lisa’s stories are a series of messes and mishaps. On stage, it’s physical comedy that gets us laughing (thank goodness I’m not the one who has to clean it up). Corduroy’s hijinks in the toiletries department ends with toilet paper, Q-tips, sponges and shaving cream strewn across the stage — perfect time for an intermission! A little girl seated near us watched the stage crew mop up that mess, and her grownup made it a teachable moment: “That’s how you learn. You make mistakes. You try harder.”
Rob Burgess steals the show in his role as the bumbling night watchman. The dynamic of his relationship with that “damaged plush bear” is well-known in the children’s genre; think the Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau, or the Roadrunner v. Wile E. Coyote. At the end of this “nefarious night of terror,” his pomposity is gone: He’s covered with paint, his pants are ripped, his nerves are completely shot.
My family has seen a good handful of Seattle Children’s Theatre productions over the years, and this was our first time we saw child actors on stage. The kids’ roles are double-cast; we saw the first opening night with half the cast, which was followed by a second opening with the other half. As Artistic Director Courtney Sale pointed out in her welcome, the cast ranges from “age 9… and up.” The only way for “Corduroy” to make sense visually is to have a child play Lisa’s role, and Evangeline OpongParry, age 9, did a great job.
The play adds two clown characters who help set scenes by constantly flip-flopping between Corduroy and Lisa’s worlds. Kalia Estes, 14, and Zoe Papadakis, 13, mime and dance with big smiles and infectious energy.
Parents should know
The very bear Lisa always wanted, the same plush bear you see on stage, is available in the lobby for $25. The only question is, are you going to make your kids earn it?
If you go…
When: “Corduroy” is on stage now through Dec. 29, 2019. Sensory-friendly, relaxed performance: Sunday, Dec. 1, 11 a.m.; ASL-interpreted and audio-described performance: Saturday, Dec. 14, 11 a.m.
Where: Seattle Children's Theatre is located at 201 Thomas St., Seattle, on the west side of Seattle Center. Look out for closed streets and restricted parking due to Key Arena construction.
Tickets: $15–$45; buy tickets online or at the box office.
Pricing update: New this season, seating is reserved by price tiers rather than general admission: premium ($40 child, $45 adult), standard ($30 child, $35 adult) and value ($15 child, $20 adult). Select “value” from the dropdown menu on the ticket page to find the cheaper tickets. There are a limited number available for each performance.
Age recommendation: SCT recommends this show for kids ages 3 and older.
Run time: One hour and 25 minutes, with one intermission.
Show resources: SCT’s audience guide provides a detailed synopsis of the play, as well as “Corduroy” discussion ideas and games for kids.