Get ready for a slamming battle of the bands at Adventure Theatre MTC when Big Nate goes up against Goody Girl Gina, and his own beloved Jenny all while staying out of detention. Bursting with energy and fun music, great lyrics and true to life comic strip characters, Big Nate, based on the familiar comic strip, is a rocking fresh bundle of raucous fun.
The show opens with Nate in a makeshift bed figuring out his day which immediately unfolds with the flick of his covers. Before long, other actors enter, holding cutouts of the familiar head drawings of their characters in front of their faces effectively introducing each one’s traits and characteristics.
Even the comic strip’s cat and Spitzy, the challenged cone-collared dog, appear as simple rod puppet cardboard cut outs with side manipulations. Homages to the comic abound with more familiar looking cutout heads for teachers in the lounge drinking coffee and yakking away.
Nate Wright, played winningly by Sam Ludwig, is an energetic dynamo, eager and willing to offer a snide observation at every turn. As far as Nate is concerned, P.S. 38 is practical joke heaven, and Nate’s ultimate calling is class clown cut-up.
And oh, how he takes his job seriously – racking up summonses to the principal’s office, hearing the familiar rip of the pad as yet another antic gets written up. It’s not like he tries to misbehave intentionally, it’s just how he’s wired. That is until he’s slammed with the reality that anyone receiving 25 detentions is automatically disqualified from the band competition.
Merciful heavens, with 22 on the record, how can he be “good” for a whole week so he and his buds can qualify?
And what a competition it is. Where else can families participate as judges to determine the winner by way of wild applause? The entire show is a spirited time as we experience the joyous antics of Big Nate.
The memorable songs are handiwork of Jason Loewith, who wrote the book and the multi-talented Christopher Youstra, who did everything else—lyrics, orchestration, music director and composer. If there was ever a time to catch the handiwork of this mega-talent in a dynamic combo, this is it. Director Michael Baron keeps the pace going at energetic strides, and the actors dance up a storm with popping fresh choreography by Kate Arnold Wernick.
One song is a simple litany of things that ultra-goody two-shoes Gina likes. She sings the simple version, then it’s reprised and orchestrated as part of the band competition. The repetition helps us appreciate what it takes to ratchet up the production values for a finished product providing a peek at the creative process. In the final performance, the ladies are joined by Artur the foreign student who ditched his beret for a rainbow colored beanie. Yes, real guys can like lollipops and rainbows, too! It’s a keeper.
The other “band” is a collection of full-size cut out characters that the actors stand behind and sing with fun results. Then of course, Nate and his “Enslave the Mollusk” band rock the house with a dynamic performance with Nate banging the drums like his life depends on it.
The versatile script develops the characters with care and attention. Nate’s friends, played by the charismatic David Little and equally charming Joshua Dick, show a true bond in caring for each other and trusting Nate enough to go the distance, despite the Herculean odds that he simply will not be able to keep himself from messing up. They all know and accept him, just as they appreciate and care for their own idiosyncrasies, offering subtle messages of self assurance, self-acceptance and loyalty.
Closes June 2, 2013
Adventure Theatre MTC
Glen Echo Park
7300 MacArthur Blvd
Glen Echo, MD
1 hour, 15 minutes with no intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Other perfectly cast actors in multiple roles include Angela Miller as well-behaved nemesis Gina, Shayna Blass is his angelic Jenny, and Ayanna Hardy plays the dreaded teacher Mrs. Godfrey, who maneuvers her well-endowed derriere up and down the aisles like a well –conditioned Mack truck. As Nate’s Dad, Tim Rogan delivers a fine “In My Day” routine complete with props of an old dial telephone and other adorable reflections of an earlier time that seems like yesterday to many of us.
Creative set design by Misha Kachman depicts a colorful classroom on one side of the revolving wall while Nate’s room, complete with drum set for his band, is on the other. Perfectly executed sound and light cues, designed by Kenny Neal and Jason Arnold reflect a class gone wild, and chalkboard projections by J.J. Kaczynski showing the comic text and head thumping “thwats” stoke even more chuckles.
This world premiere of Big Nate is yet another example of how Producing Artistic Director Michael J. Bobbitt has thrust family theater into an ultra-fun level of sophisticated entertainment for all. Yes, it’s all that, and more.
Big Nate . Based on the comic strip and books by Lincoln Peirce . Book by Jason Loewith . Lyrics by Christopher Youstra and Jason Loewith . Music by Christopher Youstra . Featuring Sam Ludwig, Angela Miller, Shayna Blass, Tim Rogan, Joshua Dick, David Little, Philip Da Costa, Erica Clare, Alex Alferov, Jay Garrick. Choreography: Kate Arnold Wernick, Set Design: Misha Kachman, Costume Design: Chelsey Schuller, Props: Andrea “Dre” Moore, Lighting: Jason Arnold, Sound Design: Kenny Neal, Projections Desig: JJ Kaczynski, Stage Manager: Tre Wheeler . Directed by Michael Baron . Produced by Adventure Theatre MTC . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.