This version remains true to the original story, with Heidi the orphan being passed off from a grumpy aunt to a grumpier grandfather – a loner living high in the Swiss Alps. Heidi spends her days tending goats with her friend Peter and her nights studying the stars. She is happy living with grandfather “Alp.” Nonetheless, she has tomove – again – this time to Frankfurt, to be a companion for a disabled girl, Clara.
Just when you’re starting to wonder if anything good happens to Heidi, something does. She is allowed to return home to live with her grandfather, and he is so thrilled to have her back, he invites Clara for an extended visit, and opens his home to neighbors and friends.
Joan Cushing’s musical numbers carry the show. They provide necessary balance for the multitude of heavy themes: abandonment, abuse, jealousy, physical disabilities. Since much of the dialogue, especially in the first act, is packed with pathos, I found myself waiting for the next song to brighten things up.
My favorites were the two duets between Heidi (Tara Giordano) and Clara (Kate Guesman). Act I’s “Everything” is a lovely ballad and Act II’s up-tempo “With the Wind in My Hair” is full of energy and fun. Both have catchy lyrics and “With the Wind in My Hair,” in particular, is beautifully sung despite tricky choreography with a wheel chair. No wonder kids are on the edge of their seats wishing they could join the girls’ game on stage!
Also notable is Sandra Murphy’s performance as Frau Rottenmeier, whose strong voice is perfect in the song, “Weeds,” where she disdains the gifts of mountain flowers and stones Heidi brings to Clara. Later, Frau Rottenmeier’s slapstick-like meanness elicits hysterical laughter from the under 10 crowd.
The four goats deserve mention, as they show true character. Their clever head and body movements make you forget there is a person standing and manipulating them. These, along with “Chores song,” about milking, chopping wood, and churning butter, are a welcome mini-lesson on the life of European mountain-dwellers 100 years ago.
This musical version of Heidi is a great way for parents to introduce their kids to a classic character – a girl who, literally, keeps smiling in the face of adversity. With her infectious enthusiasm, Heidi’s ability to make the best of any situation is a lesson that shouldn’t be lost on any kid (or adult) who sees the show.
Note: Bring an extra sweater as the theater gets very cold.
Based on the book by Johanna Spyri
Book by Martha King De Silva
Directed by Janet Stanford
Music and Lyrics by Joan Cushing
Produced by Imagination Stage at Imagination Stage
Reviewed by Miriam Chernick