nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
September 30, 2010
It's hard for me to imagine writing a review of Freckleface Strawberry, the new children's musical based on the series of books by Julianne Moore, without using the word "cute." It's a pretty apt descriptor for a lighthearted piece about a seven-year-old girl's search for acceptance in the face of mild schoolyard teasing, told through imaginative song and dance. While bullying can be a difficult discussion, as it would be easy for it to be too harsh a depiction for younger children, Freckleface Strawberry skirts the issue by keeping the ribbing soft and the resolution uncomplicated. It helps that charming and talented actors populate the brightly lit stage, particularly Hayley Podschun as Strawberry, Jessica Bishop as Ballet Girl, and Mykal Kilgore as Harry, creating a living, breathing storybook that is almost perfect for children. This is further exaggerated by the set—designed by Beowulf Boritt—being a giant version of the book that the show is based on, which opens up to reveal the various settings.
I honestly don't have many nits to pick about this show. It's a children's show, after all, and a better one than many I've seen. There's a lot of humor, catchy music, and plenty more surprises to keep the audience entertained. A few things did strike me, however. First off, the extremely talented cast is entirely made up of adults playing seven-year-olds. While I've seen similar age inversions in pieces that I've really enjoyed, I couldn't help but wonder if the children in the audience wouldn't just see them as adults. I've heard that the earlier staging of the show utilized child actors, which I imagine creates its own number of logistical issues, but shows like 13 seemed to manage it. Obviously this could be a case of me considering the issue only because I had been aware of the previous incarnation, which most of the audience will not be aware of (excluding those of you reading this review), but it is something that I couldn't help but ponder. Another issue I noted was the use of special effects. There is a strobe light used at odd times in the show that doesn't really seem to add much to the scenes and at first I thought it was a particularly rude patron taking flash photography. Also, one scene uses a fog machine to cover the entrance of several characters, but the cloud billowed out and engulfed the front few rows of the audience. I'm willing to believe that someone just held the button on the machine for too long, but it certainly caused a lot of coughing in the room and obscured the scene for some time.
Like I said, this show is cute. The show is great fun for kids and there's plenty for the adults to enjoy as well. Further, what impresses me most is that Freckleface Strawberry cements New World Stages as a great venue for parents and children, adding yet another strong example of youth programming. I would encourage anyone, old, young, or young at heart, to check it out.