As the lights drop, Jack (KT Tedrick) enters in a flurry. Chicken Licken (Allyson Connor) and her fellow chicks are scrambling about screaming that the sky is falling, and Jack has to step in, pointing out that the show hasn’t even begun yet. For an uncomfortable moment, the audience tenses up with the internal question of whether the young actors for the Anchorage Theatre of Youth (ATY) have had some sort of error… but no. As the sky opens up and the numbers for the table of contents fall down laughter can’t help but ensue. The slapstick and clearly delivered quips keeps those laughs flowing, a perfect break from the grey roads outside while still maintaining the joy of Anchorage’s recent blue skies.
During it’s one-weekend run, the Anchorage Theatre of Youth’s production of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by John Glore delivered a fun romp through modified children’s stories while making it their own. Based on the 1992 book written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith the same name, Stinky Cheese Man pokes fun at various stories by offering absurdist takes on them. The Princess and the Bowling Ball explains how the headstrong princess plots her way to the crown through method acting, and Little Red Running Shorts tells the simple tale of Red escaping the wolf – end of story.
Hosted at Anchorage Community Theatre (ACT), ATY’s production was a playful interpretation that held true to the original book while providing diverse musical numbers delivered by a cast ranging from 1st to 12th grade. Directing such a diverse cast left director Hannah Muennich with the challenge of reaching out to diverse experience in the actors as well. She taught these kids that “no matter what happens with each show always end with excellence.” They did just that, including a variety of stand-out performances that pushed the show from simple and playful to the excellence Muennich had requested.
As with any youth production, choreography occasionally slipped, but the dance instruction of Iris Tullar was still decently delivered. Both the acting and the footwork was especially well done in the story of The Really Ugly Duckling, as well as the closing number. Played by Olivia Randall, the Ugly Duckling was pushed from bully to bully maintaining a simultaneously confident, sweet, and awkward demeanor. Any actress who can maintain the barrage of hateful language coming at her in practice after practice while still holding a confident inner fire to come back with power in later scenes and stories made her the stand-out performer of the night. Her close competitor was Lulu Hedman, whose playfully ignorant and surprisingly scary performance of the Giant made her worth every laugh she received.
“We are committed to providing them with an experience they will remember the rest of their lives,” shares Max Aronson, Executive Director of ATY. Their often sold-out shows are a reflection of the hard work the students of ATY give to their studies, but also of the passion their adult volunteers pour into the program. There is a rich lineup of classes to help actors both experienced and otherwise between the ages 8-13 to help them stretch their legs in theatre. Coming up on the next 2 Saturdays on an introduction to acting, improvisation skills, and movement. Even if kids don’t plan on acting on stage, these skills can come in handy throughout life at large, and be a great way to make new friends.
When ATY was first founded in 1983, part of the goal was to help find a “path out of difficulties for youth trapped in destructive life patterns.” This vision on theatre makes their upcoming theatre camps all the more important. Glee Camp (May 30-June 3), Summer Conservatory (June 5-24), Puppet Camp (June 26-30), and Opera Camp (June 26-30) all let young actors stretch their wings in different ways, and also provide a training ground for the artists of the future. It is clear that the work of ATY has helped a variety of youth soar, as manifested in The Stinky Cheese Man.
Whether it is the composure of The Janitor (Aaron Conner) whenever they interact with the emotionally complex Tedrick, or the opportunity that The Stinky Cheese Man (Paige Fitzpatrick) offers the Little Old Woman (Ava Kopp) and Little Old Man (Olivia Randall) to rise to the occasion, this team of actors delivered the laughs it promised. With Cinderella (Kennedy Alexander) singing beautifully, and the entire cast singing the opening and closing numbers with surreal fun, it was easy to enjoy The Stinky Cheese Man. But be forewarned if you ever watch it. It has a song at the end that will become a brain worm that will help you “poop your troubles away.”
Information on upcoming classes. auditions, and productions can be found at AnchorageTheatreOfYouth.org.
PHOTO CREDIT PENDING