The opening song, “We Celebrate Life,” featuring all seven members of the cast, wonderfully captures the spirit of the small Italian town where Strega Nona (Tammy Roberts) works to cure the townspeople’s ailments. Things get interesting when she posts a sign for help and hires the bumbling Big Anthony (Chase Helton) – to the chagrin of another applicant, the baker’s daughter, Bambolona (Brittany Rose Baratz). Big Anthony is desperate to use Strega Nona’s magic for himself and, in the process, gets in heaps of trouble.
Written as a hybrid of several of dePaola’s stories, this adaptation has several competing main plots, but Tammy Roberts’s strong performance helps to unify them. Solidly supported by Chase Helton and Brittany Rose Baratz, this trio keeps us wondering what will happen next.
Chock full of fun, the song “Me!” gets the audience laughing with the line “Have you seen anyone as handsome as me?” Another standout, “Sticky Noodles,” is a major giggle-generator as the pasta overflows from the magic pot.
Still, I wish more had been made of this climactic scene, when pasta cooks uncontrollably, threatening to bury the town. In the book, dePaola’s illustrations depict a tsunami-like mass of pasta, so it was disappointing when clumps of noodles, (more like pesky flies than an impending disaster), were thrown over the wall and dropped from the ceiling.
The sets (Joe B. Musumeci Jr.) – from the Spanish tiles on the roofs, to the clever fountain-turned-magic-pasta-pot center stage – are exquisite, and the costumes (Heather Lockard) are perfectly evocative of the time.
Seeing the show made me wish I could travel to Italy for a bowl of pasta, but without Strega Nona’s magic to make it happen, I chose the next best thing: a hot dog at the Ballroom Café and a ride on the Glen Echo Carousel.
based on the book by Tomie dePaola
adapted for the stage by Thomas W. Olson
directed by Ray Cullom
music by Aaron Accurso
original lyrics by Roberta Carlson & Thomas W. Olson
produced by Adventure Theater at Adventure Theater
reviewed by Miriam Chernick
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