Move over, Saturday morning cartoons! Rosie and her hoi poloi crew are shaking up the Rice Auditorium with Heritage Players this summer! From the celebrated mind of Maurice Sendak comes the fantastical musical Really Rosie. With Books and Lyrics by Sendak, and Music by Carole King, the story of Rosie, Chicken Soup, Alligator and other illustrated icons of the imagination roar to life for young audiences in the Catonsville area. Directed by Stuart C. Kazanow, with Musical Direction by Robin Trenner and Stephen Deininger, this exciting childhood flashback entertains the modern day child and children at heart for a full hour of theatrical merriment that explores the depths of youthful imagination.
Stuart C. Kazanow, accompanied by Andrea Bush and Ryan Geiger, create a beautifully simplistic set modeled loosely on the sketches found within the Sendak book. The rudimentary sketches pays tribute to a time of children’s tales before the iGadget and the internet. With versatile turntables that easily transition from the Brooklyn stoop to the dreary cellar, Kazanow and team keep the pretend-factor readily alive in their scenic design work. Lighting Designer Joel Selzer deserves a nod as well for getting the flashing blinking lights going in the walls for the big finale number, as well as having focused spotlights every time Rosie or another character needs to light up in a feature number. There’s even some atmospheric mood lighting— like the red that shows itself when one of the characters decides to become a vampire!
With Stephen Deininger conducting the live orchestra at this performance, the audience is given a taste of that all too-familiar hokey but time-honored music that feels like the late 70’s and early 80’s Saturday morning cartoons. This rings true for all of the musical numbers but especially for the overture. With a small contingency of musicians, the pit is well balanced against the equally small cast, never overbearing or overtaking the vocal levels of the singers.
Robin Trenner wears a secondary hat in the production department, sharing the title of Costume Designer with Raika Boia. Trenner and Boia keep the title character looking magnificent in her snazzy purple sneakers, vivacious yellow hat, fancy feather boa, and radiant red dress. Alligator’s costume is something impressive as well, the lime green headpiece with shiny white pointy teeth really filling in the gaps between what the eyes see and what the mind processes. Trenner and Boia infuse a playful and childish element to the costumes, which really ensures that the audience sees these grown adult performers as they children that they are portraying.
Choreographer Angela Stein is charged with the arduous task of driving the tempo through her movements and routines. Stein masterfully keeps the children feeling wild and free with simple routines that reflect the juvenile attitudes and energies of the characters without feeling or looking silly. The big finale, “Chicken Soup with Rice” is the most involved choreographic number in the piece and engages all six on-stage performers in a show-stopping set that is fantastical and bursting with energy.
Each of the characters is given their moment to radiate in Rosie’s spotlight, whether it’s Chicken Soup (Maggie Lynn Walker) who only gets a moment to really be seen and heard near the end of the performance, or the really disagreeable Johnny (James Ruth) who spends most of the show being teased for being such a loner. Walker, though experienced briefly, takes the levels of desperation to please to new heights in the final scene just before the big finale, based on the character’s namesake.
Ruth, who finds the perfect nasally sound to hone in on his character’s dorkiness, is a little spastic but really funny to watch. His solo, “One Was Johnny” is an entertaining number that counts to ten while simultaneously showcasing the importance of enjoying personal time alone. Quite the opposite of Pierre (Jim Gerhardt), who is ornery and mean-spirited, Ruth displays timid outbursts of discontentment and wholeheartedly embodies the subtle darkness that Sendak has crafted into the characters.
Gerhardt, with his ridiculous raspberry-blowing, delivers stinky indifference with the most priceless and obnoxious facial expressions and body language that matches. He doesn’t care and he makes that clear with his glum realism and bitter outlook, which serves as the perfect counterpart to Rosie’s runaway imagination and overly theatrical presentation of herself. Watch him closely during his solo “Pierre” because his overall embodiment of the character is to die for.
Kathy (Adeline K. Sutter) is the mean-spirited girl in the gang, with a nasty tongue and a fighting spirit that winds itself up through her entire body. The complete opposite of the sweet and eager Alligator (Raika Boia), Sutter lets this character’s issues manifest on the surface, which makes her big solo “The Awful Truth” really intense. Boia, who is far less brash and brazen, finds a sweet and fantastical way of enjoying “Alligators All Around,” really working the nuances of the number as the children sing and dance all around her.
It takes personality, a lot of personality, to pull of Rosie and boy oh boy does Heather Harris have it for this title role. Packing a walloping punch of that great big personality enchanted with panache, pizzazz, and powerful pipes, Harris lives the dream of Rosie to the stars and beyond. With melodramatic tendencies that put even the biggest of Broadway Divas to shame, numbers like “The Ballad of Chicken Soup” becomes unbearably hysterical. Her voice is a blast of self-assured stardom, especially during “Really Rosie.” A magical delight whether she’s hamming it up for the producer or screaming at her friends for attention, Harris lives up to the title of the musical and she honestly is Really Rosie.
For the full experience, children and their adults are encouraged to arrive early and stay after the show to partake in the coloring station and costume closet, where youngsters are given a chance to dress like the stars in Rosie’s glorious cavalcade. There’s even an autograph session with the stars immediately following the show so be sure to stick around and save your program.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes with no intermission
Really Rosie plays through August 16, 2015 at Heritage Players in the Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Campus— 55 Wade Avenue in Catonsville, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.