In Mr. McGee and the Biting Flea, now playing at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in Minneapolis, imagination takes center stage in a delightful adaptation of Pamela Allen’s stories for young children. The New Zealand author’s simple stories are presented without a lot of glitz and glam (in contrast to CTC’s big-budget production of Cinderella), and the result is a fun, endearing production.
The show is a collaboration between CTC and Patch Theatre, from Australia. The Australian cast had some issues with their visas, and opening night was postponed, according to a Star Tribune article, but local actors have stepped up to the plate and pull off a charming show. Autumn Ness, Reed Sigmund, and Max Wojtanowicz return to the CTC stage following their portrayals of the wicked stepmother and step-sisters in Cinderella, and all three of them weave the story together with playful energy. The three performers get to showcase their excellent singing ability as well, sometimes performing a capella in beautifully arranged music composed by Timothy Sexton.
Dean Hills’s marvelous design opens up a world of possibility for the stories to come alive. Crates, boxes, and ladders transform into castles, lakes, and farmhouses simply by the actors’ manipulation. It is a breath of fresh air to see that simple props can be just as magical as elaborate ones.
|mr. mcgee and the biting flea, presented through february 21 at the children’s theatre. for tickets ($15-$40) and information, see childrenstheatre.org.|
The study guide provided on CTC’s Web site contains a note from David Brown, artistic director of Patch Theater Company. He writes that “each story has its own visual language.” Indeed, it’s delightful to watch the innovative ways that the six stories are told. In the first story about Mr. McGee, the character is portrayed as a balloon that flies high up into a tree. In another story, “Brown Bread and Honey,” the story is told through pastry cut-outs. My favorite moment involved rubber duckies swimming along the river (created by a ladder) to the Archibald fountain.
The reaction of the children sitting around me was mixed. While they exuberantly engaged in the audience-participation moments, I did hear a few yawns during the show as well. As an educational show, though, I would highly recommend this production, which highlights how fun imagination can be, and how with enough creativity anything is possible.