Weehawken’s Polar Express
Over the next two weeks, a pair of popular works for children – one derived from a book, the other, from a comic strip – will be seen on the local stage. Weehawken Arts is giving The Polar Express the musical ballet treatment at the Montrose Pavilion. The play is based on the 1985 Caldecott Medal-winning book of the same title, by writer/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. It’s about a train ride to the North Pole one Christmas Eve, and the little boy who climbs on board.
Allsburg, it is fair to say, is best known for his striking illustrations, not necessarily his storylines. The most magical lines of dialogue in TPE are the last three in the book.
At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.
TPE had been praised for its “calm, relaxing” storyline, and that was before Hollywood got hold of it, turned it into a film with a voiceover by Tom Hanks, and, some critics say, slowed the train ride down even more. Indeed, a snark fest broke out on the website Broadway World a few years back when one writer wondered: what would The Polar Express look like adapted for the stage? “Puppet elfs? That’s horrible,” one reader shot back. Quipped another: “No. The end.”
“I think this could work,” a more sagacious-sounding voice from out of the Internet ether opined, “but they would have to redevelop the whole plot (check) and think of some good new material (check) and would need a good production team (check) and the only theatre that could host something like this would be the Radio City Music Hall” (oh well, you can’t have everything).
It turns out choreographer Natasha Pyeatte, who has re-imagined TPF for the Montrose stage, has done nearly all of that. Pyeatte’s a highly imaginative choreographer, and she had a leg up, having worked on a stage production of TPE years ago. She knew what she liked, and what she did not, and with the help of her friend, the writer DeGrey Phillips, “We totally re-did it.” Meaning: a stop at a toy show with dancing dolls and robots along the train ride. “Carnival music, and clowns.” Tap-dancing trees at the North Pole. The train blows smoke on stage, and “there’ll be lots of glitter, because I love glitter.” And lots of 40s music, “very swingy.” She laughed her trademark trill. The production is many dozens of dancers strong; they range in age from 2 to 18. As in all Pyeatte-led performances, the older dancers will get their star turns and help guide the little ones. It is not TPE, strictly speaking, and that probably is a good thing. “We made it ours,” Pyeatte said. “We made it Weehawken.”
The Polar Express will be performed Friday, Dec. 13 (at 7 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 14 (at 2 p.m.). Tickets are available at Mouse’s Chocolates in Ouray, Cimarron Books in Ridgway, Tiffany, Etc. in Montrose, online at weehawkenarts.org and at the box office.
In Telluride: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
The musical comedy based on characters written by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was first performed Off Broadway in 1967. The book of the show was attributed to John Gordon, a “collective pseudonym,” it turned out, for Clark Gesner, who wrote the play’s music and lyrics, and all the rest of the play’s cast and production staff, every one of whom had a hand in a collaborative effort to produce the script. It’s gone one to become one of the top ten most-performed musicals in American high schools (I was the accompanist in my high school’s production.)
Director Jen Julia oversees the middle-schoolers’ production of Charlie Brown at the Sheridan Opera House this weekend. The production marks the 15th year of the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Young People’s Theater, and Julia has been aboard since the inception.
She’s been at the helm of this Charlie before, and one of the kids she directed, Lyndia Peralta (who played the part of Lucy), grew up, went on to earn a BFA in dance from C.U., and has returned as Julia’s colleague, serving as choreographer. Julia often writes her own musicals and, true to form, she has re-imagined this one (and considerably expanded the original cast, which called for just six characters) by immersing herself in the Schultzian world and adding the bird Woodstock – Snoopy’s mechanic – as well as other familiar faces from the Peanuts gang to the mix on stage. Up next for Julia, another original take on a highly popular musical revival: You’re the One That I Want – The High School Grease Experience. It opens in late January. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown shows Dec. 6-8 nightly at 6 p.m. The SAYPT will offer an immersive experience for kids interested in theater on Saturday, which will include playing games on stage with Julia, making crafts and exploring the Opera House. The fee is $100 per child (includes ticket price and a pizza dinner). Call 970/728-6363, ext. 2 to reserve a spot.
Art Show in Ridgway
‘Tis the season for art shows of all stripes: the Telluride Holiday Arts Bazaar is this weekend, as is the Ten Friends Arts and Crafts show at the Ute Museum in Montrose. Halfway between is one in Ridgway – the Holiday Art and Gift Sale – now celebrating its 10th anniversary.
The Ridgway show started in the home of one of a small group of friends, said co-founder (and painter) Ilene Greene. “We’re all artists around here,” she said. “Someone knew someone, and it grew from there.” And grew, to the point that the artists needed a new, larger venue in which to show off their wares, and now the show is being held at the Ridgway Community Center. This year, a total of 17 local artists will display their works in numerous media, including photography, painting, ceramics and more. Holiday cards will be on sale. There will be treats to eat and drink. “One day, boom, it’s done,” Greene said. “Everybody waits for it. People keeping asking us when it will be.” The answer is: this Saturday, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.