The Magic Pot: Three Tales from China opened at SteppingStone Theatre this past weekend. It is one of the most entertaining children’s shows that I have seen in the past few years. Dan Staufer wrote the script, music and lyrics. SteppingStone commissioned and produced the show in collaboration with New York City’s TADA! Youth Theatre. The melodies are wonderful, and the cast members are irrepressible.
|the magic pot: three tales from china, playing through may 23 at steppingstone theatre. for tickets ($7) and information, see ordway.org.|
The musical tells the story of Mei Lin, a young Chinese girl. The Chinese emperor is looking for a new prime minister. To find one, he issues a challenge to the children of the country to find out what represents the greatest power in the world. The children break into different camps: some for might, some for beauty and some for technology. All seek to entice Mei Lin to join their group, but she does not think any group has the right answer. Although Mei Lin does not know the answer herself, she goes with the others to see the Emperor. Along the way she visits her uncle who tells her how the Emperor answered a similar challenge when he was a boy. His challenge was supposedly one about growing flowers, but it turned into something much more and he ultimately became emperor. (The emperor’s rise to power was so entertaining that, at times, I almost forgot about Mei Lin’s story.) Also, on the way, Mei Lin has a dream that she has become Emperor but everyone around her, including her grown children, betray her.
The production provides a deft weaving of three Chinese stories through which elders pass down wisdom to the next generation. Andrea Heilman’s set design is simple, but works well to suggest both a Chinese countryside and the Emperor’s palace. With the task of providing for a large cast, Alicia C. Vegell’s costumes effectively suggest both peasant and imperial status among the characters.
Although there is little doubt that Mei Lin will win the competition given her earnest desire to find the right answer, the final competition provides the most entertaining musical number, with the competing factions marching around on stage. Although the performers are not professional actors, the cast is so enthusiastic and obviously having such a great time that the audience, both children and adults, can easily overlook any imperfections.