Miss Nelson Is Missing!, a hit children’s musical that made its world premiere at Imagination Stage in 2001, has returned to delight a new generation of children. This enchanting and entertaining production offers a wonderful family theatre opportunity for the holiday season.
Miss Nelson Is Missing! is based upon the popular children’s picture book about the misbehaving kids of room 207 at Horace B. Smedley Elementary. When their mild-mannered teacher Miss Nelson (Helen Hedman) goes absent, the kids plan to get away with even more mischief and less learning under a substitute teacher. Much to their horror, they wind up with the strictest and most terrifying substitute teacher ever, Viola Swamp (also played by Helen Hedman).
Viola Swamp resembles a wicked witch except she has a hyperactive ruler instead of a broom. She does not believe in frivolities. Instead, she loves to assign mountains of homework and warn the kids of the evil consequences of misbehavior. She helps convey this lesson with a visit to the Museum of Crime and Punishment (a funny new scene and song, “The Crime and Punishment Tango,” added for this production). Who knew that Al Capone went wrong when he flew paper airplanes?
Helen Hedman has lots of fun with the role of Viola Swamp. She is given two witty songs that allow her to torment the kids of room 207. She really enjoys the character, although she sells the songs better than she sings them. Ample comic support is provided by Matthew A. Anderson, who plays four different roles. His turns as Principal Blandsworth and Detective McSmogg (hired by the children to find Miss Nelson) are particularly amusing.
The real stars of this production, however, are the kids of 207 (Andrew Boza, Paul Chamberlain, Jamie Eaker, and Jade D. Wheeler). These young actors make a talented and energetic ensemble. Guided by director Kathryn Chase Bryer, they engage in wonderfully choreographed hi-jinks and adventures. They capture childlike behavior with just the right degree of exaggerated enthusiasm.
The kids of 207 gradually learn lessons which will please the parents in the audience. When Miss Nelson returns, she finds they have changed from “The Worst Kids of All” to a much better behaved group of children.
Every aspect of this production is top-notch. Director Bryer draws from the children’s theatre bag of tricks, such as having Detective McSmogg and the kids of 207 march through the audience. Meaghan Toohey’s set is a multi-colored and multi-level delight that transitions easily to each new setting. Brandon McWilliams outfits the actors in bright and varied costumes, and Musical Director Christopher Youstra makes the most of a lively score.
The children’s theatre world owes a great debt to Imagination Stage for commissioning this work from the talented Joan Cushing. While you may remember her long-running satirical political revue Mrs. Foggybottom and Friends, the Imagination Stage commission helped launch a new phase in her career as an adaptor of children’s books into musicals. Her background as a former elementary teacher and cabaret performer make her ideally suited to author entertaining works like Miss Nelson Is Missing!
If your child has every enjoyed live theatre, Miss Nelson Is Missing! is bound to be a hit, as evidenced by the rapt attention given the show by a recent sell-out audience. If your child has never experienced outstanding children’s theatre, Miss Nelson is Missing! is an ideal holiday treat.
Running Time: 1:20 (one intermission).
Where: The Lerner Theatre at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda, MD.
When: Until Jan. 4, 2009. Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 and 3:30 PM, with special matinees during Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas/New Year week.
Tickets: $10-21. Recommended for ages 4 and up. Call Imagination Stage at 301.280.1660 or order online.