I am at a disadvantage right away because I am not familiar with the Arthur character or his story line…but I am just going to go ahead and describe what I experienced at First Stage’s World Premiere performance of Arthur and Friends Make A Musical at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater. So if I write something that makes you go, DUH! Well just say DUH and give me the benefit of the doubt!
As many of you know, First Stage always uses two casts during the run of their plays. So you may see either the Lakewood or the Elwood cast when you attend. The photos that I have included here were provided by First Stage and are from scenes with either cast.
So initially, we meet Arthur and his sister D.W.. They set up the theme for the action to follow and introduce us to the sibling dynamic: a rather cautious and reserved Arthur and a very competitive and self-aware D.W. But as we soon find out, Arthur is about to be thrown into the spotlight and we are all going to enjoy it.
And there are two dynamic groups at work! Arthur’s family; mom and dad and D.W. of course, who are all represented in the play and baby Kate and dog Pal. Kate and Pal are referred to several times throughout but never appear on stage…and Pal becomes something of a focus in our story!
And the other group is of course Arthur’s Third Grade Class led by Mr. Ratburn and includes four other students who all seem to like Arthur and rally round him! But of course the students represent typical third graders…although maybe a bit precocious. One young lady is socially conscious, another enamored of fashion and style, and of course we have the class brain!
One of the things that seemed to be of particular interest to the children in the audience and actually left them in awe a bit, was the set. Because we essentially have just two locations, a clever turntable spins center stage to provide the backdrop and setting for either the classroom or the family kitchen. I heard more than a few wows or questions about how do they do that, as the stage rotated several times as the story progressed. And actually, I kinda wonder, how DO they do that?
But, now, on to the story! Mr. Ratburn sets up the ‘conflict’ of the story when he announces that the class will present a show for the entire town of Elwood. Each student is to prepare a speech or song or story to explain how Elwood ROCKS! And of course this causes Arthur to worry and overthink the assignment. And with song, dance, and dialogue we watch Arthur work through his thought process and interact with this fellow students and family..and he watches how they handle the task and support his efforts. And everyone supports Arthur’s efforts.
There are some very serious topics here on family and friends and culture and society. But the stories are told as a very delightful musical. But sometimes the songs and stories verge toward the silly but are absolutely as cute as can be. And we get to watch Arthur resolve is personal doubts and issues and present a very honest and personal narrative as part of the show.
But this is a play for youngsters! So there is a very rewarding number of humorous points that the kids just loved where they laughed out loud. And there a few that maybe only the parents got. But my favorite was during the song that Francine sings as part of the grand show. It’s about a woman spy that she discovered and researched from the American Revolution…and she suggests that we all sing about this brave woman instead of our founding fathers like, you know, Alexander Hamilton! LOL! I loved that part.
AND THEN, we have the big musical climax, when Elwood Rocks and Lakewood School Rocks!
This is an original piece by John Maclay who wrote the text and lyrics, and Brett Ryback (who also is the musical director) who wrote the music and lyrics. So this is a local effort. And Khalia Davis did a marvelous job at bringing together a talented and energetic cast and getting them through a fairly complicated and lengthy play. What an outstanding job and what an amazing start to the First Stage 2022/23 season.
This is certainly a good play for anyone but of course the main content is aimed at children five and up. But everyone who attends will have a wonderful time.
So, Arthur and Friends Make A Musical! runs at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center until November 6, 2022. Tickets can be ordered HERE! And there are family packages available.
Extra Credit Reading? The Playbill is HERE! Cast and Crew listing HERE! And of most interest, info on the young performers is HERE!
P.S. Kudos to the person who decorated the guitars in the grand finale. Clearly modeled after namesake Gibson guitars! LOL!