The Journey to the Center of the Arts concludes with an enchanting children’s production
Magic flitters in the air like so many colorful butterflies on stage at the Lear Theater. A barefoot girl with sparkling eyes hands me a program.
“Are you in the play?” I ask.
“Yes, I’m a winter dancer and a butterfly,” she says, smiling.
This production of Tommelise, Hans Christian Anderson tale about the troubling adventures of a small girl, culminates the summer’s Journey to the Center of the Arts program for young people.
The feel of the high-ceilinged Lear Theater adds to the enchanted aura. A lovely set crafted by the kids includes plenty of creative foliage and intriguing insects. Rippling colored lights land along the ceiling in the shape of a honeycomb.
The play opens in Mother’s Garden, where flowers dance and a woman pleads to have a child of her own, a child to love and care for.
“But I don’t know how to get one,” Mother (Victoria Fulmer) says.
The audience chuckles.
Fortunately for Mother, a Magic Woman hears the request and grants Mother’s wish. The leaves of a plant on center stage unfold and tiny Tommelise (Amelia Flack) emerges.
But Mother’s joy is short-lived as Tommelise gets abducted by fantastical female frogs (Alexander Biber and Michsyl Montalbo) who leap across the stage singing, “Ribbet, ribbet. Cha-cha-cha.” The frogs are intent on Tommelise as a bride for Junior Frog (Harley Coats).
Suddenly the world has become a much more sinister place for the girl born of magic. Tommelise escapes from the frogs, who left her on lily pad “until her skin gets green and slimy like ours.”
In turn, our heroine is entertained by a school of fish clad cutely in goggles and blue cellophane and threatened by a mess of Stag Beetles—including a talented Elvis-impersonating beetle played by Dannyn Smith, an eighth grader.
Elvis Beetle decides not to pursue a relationship with Tommelise on the advice of his agent: “This will destroy your career. She has no antennae, no wings, no pinchers …”
Tommelise is rescued from a winter storm by demanding Mrs. Field Mouse (Emily Koestner), who introduces Tommelise to Mr. “You Can Call Him Bob” Mole (Adam Coletti).
“Now that we’re all friends, it’s time for you two to get married!” Mrs. Field Mouse declares. But young Tommelise finds herself drawn to the wild freedom of Swallow (Brandon Adams).
Beside adults working the sound and lights, the entire production seems free of pesky, interfering grown-ups of the sort who sit in the front row, prompting, cajoling and generally cramping kids’ styles. This keeps the acting, dancing and dialogue fresh, simple and delightful. Hooray for folks who know how to turn kids on to theater—like director Mary Bennett, set designer Diane Dunn, music director Joyce Vetter, choreographer Terri Vann and Lady Hull, who designed the fluid, eye-catching costumes.
In the program, the young actresses and actors tell a bit about what the Journey meant to them.
“I learned that art is beautiful and takes time, and that art is free,” says Alfonso Alvarez, a third-grader who played Mister Snow and a fish.
“I like being a flower,” says third-grader Bridgette Durante, who also played a winter dancer, “because you get to go down the aisle … and see lots of people.”
In the end, the creatures gather to celebrate Tommelise’s choice to go with Swallow to the Beautiful Land, rather than marry Bob Mole and forsake the sun for the rest of her life.
The kids danced—skittering spiders alongside flowers and beetles—singing, “Rise up. Be free.”
May the cast of Tommelise remember that joyous moment if ever their worlds should become less than completely magical.