The Mountain at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church was buzzin’ with Moms and Dads, and sisters and brothers, and grandparents clapping along and singing along with BungleBug, HoneyBea, and DragonFly, all dressed in Elena Stark’s bright and colorful costumes. Not only did the kids perform on stage, but some of their parents and siblings joined in the aisles with their bees antennae, to sing along with their kids and brothers and sisters, as they traveled back in time to learn about three American historical figures – young Thomas Jefferson, reporter Nellie Bly, and clock-maker Benjamin Banneker.
I knew I was in for a great time when I walked into the show and heard musical director James Bazen rocking the house with his blazing clarinet to Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” alongside pianist Nicholas Mack, percussionist Charles “Freddie” Frazier, bass player Dana Wilentz, and drummer Norman Reynolds, JR. And all through the show, these musicians gave the score lots of zip and heart.
The show had the audience participating right from the get-go, by asking them to sing along to the lyrics of the show’s lesson-filled songs, “I’m Goin to Write A Book”, “He Did it Right”, “Fast Around The World”, “Banneker Rap”, “Bunglebug Theme Song”, and “You Can Make A Difference”. All the lyrics were posted on a large screen, called “The Magic Buggy Board” (They were also in the colorful program). All the songs were easy for all ages to sing, and were funny and silly. They taught about the importance of being creative, writing and learning about American history, and how everyone in his/her own way can make a difference. It was Mister Rogers à la winged, buzzing, flying beas, and bugs.
All the kids were excited to learn a new word – Ziganinny!, which means “great and fantastic”. The word was used a lot in the show, and the kids and adults were glad to shout it out over and over again.
In 55 minutes, which flew by so fast in bee-like fashion, the kids and adults learned things they didn’t know that Thomas Jefferson built his own home – Monticello, that Nellie Bly, played by a proud and fearless Meg Greene traveled around in the world in 72 days, and that Benjamin Banneker wrote his own almanac. Through a “review session”, called “Did you know?” and “Now you know”, the new facts learned about these three American historical figures were repeated like a quiz. They also learned how important it was to write a story, to share feelings and to have an “IIIDDDEEEAAA!”. Cleverly, there was a “BungleBug Songfest” at the end of the show to review the songs and lessons learned.
The entire cast was wonderful, but four performances deserve special kudos – 10 year-old 5th grader Cristen Hall, who played Morgan, the young storyteller and writer, was simply astounding. She sang beautifully and acted like a veteran of the stage, and gave an endearing performance. Alistair Faghani played the perfect foil as the teasing Treavor, and was fully confident as the young Thomas Jefferson. Blake Grobe was the audience favorite as he buzzed and danced around the stage – with energy to spare – as the hyper BungleBug, and Gavin Whitt, who at first appears humble and quiet as Benjamin Banneker, then breaks out in the funny “Banneker Rap”.
Director Peggy Jones kept things humming and buzzing along. Peggy knows how to get the best performances out of her young cast members, because she spent 14 years training and directing young actors at Tapestry Theatre, in Alexandria, VA.
It was a Ziganinny! Zip Zap Sunshine Day at The Bea and The Bug!
The Bea & The Bug, Writing Stories, Wowser Bowser!
Created and Produced by Gale Nemec
Music and Lyrics by Gale Nemec, Duncan Hood, and Matthew Johnson
Book by Duncan Hood, Matthew Johnson, and Jim Lefter
Directed by Peggy Jones
Musical Direction by James Bazed
Reviewed by Joel Markowitz