As a fan of Richard Scarry’s wonderful kids’ books, I had two concerns going in: How could his colorful, intricately detailed world translate to the stage? And how would my two 8-year-old companions take to a play based on a book they’d left behind in a Potter-induced frenzy several years ago?
I should have had more faith. After all, besides an all-star cast, this production boasts direction by SCT’s immensely talented creative director Linda Hartzell and a script by Kevin Kling, of NPR’s “All Things Considered” fame. The combined talent and vision – and obvious enthusiasm – that went into this production is on display from the first few colorful, high-energy seconds of the show.
Busytown is, in fact, very busy; Seargent Murphy zips across the stage on his (real!) motorcycle; critters of all shapes and sizes criss-cross and greet each other as they go about their business. Little electric prop cars – including Lowly Worm in his apple car and the iconic donut car – go scooting about; a colorful, whimsical bedlam that delights the kids in the crowd, no less the adults.
Matt Wolfe is a charming Huckle Cat, all dimples and overalls and little-kid wonder and wisdom. He takes us on a tour of his town, including an ingenious construction site where a little house is assembled on stage. Blacksmith Fox and Jason the Mason’s balletic pas de deux - with electric screwdrivers - had my boys eating out of their hands.
Regular children’s theater goers will delight in the familiar cast, including Lisa Estridge, of the powerful voice and spot-on facial expressions. My kids were excited – as I was – to see Khanh Doan and Don Darryl Rivera together on-stage again after their outrageously entertaining turn as High School Musical’s bad sibs, Sharpei and Ryan. Auston James, Allen Galli and MJ Sieber round out the cast – a kind-of kids’ theater dream team if ever there was one.
The action never flags; the musical numbers are tight and clever, and Mark Rabe’s piano work is solidly impressive. The humor is plentiful, unexpected, and at times even irreverent. There are plenty of jokes just for adults, including a running bit about being over thirty, and a few impersonations you have to be over thirty to get. Ingenious touches abound, including props that provide lots of little visual surprises.
The audience was engaged and appreciative, and seemed to get more so as the play progressed. At one point, Rivera, in one of his roles as Huckle’s Grandma, comes out on stage in drag, hitting the exact right tone (“Sorry I’m late. I was hungry and there was a watermelon truck!”). He – like the whole cast – was clearly having a blast.
“That was funnier than funny!” one of my second-grade companions said as we left, and I had to agree. Busytown is one of the best things I’ve seen on stage in a while, and supports my frequent assertion that Seattle Children’s Theater produces some of the finest theater being done in Seattle.
Busytown runs through June 15. Tickets range from $17-33; recommended for ages 4 and older. Seattle Children’s Theater, 201 Thomas St., Seattle; 206-441-3322; www.sct.org.