What fun to have sheer inventiveness morph from book (Kenneth Oppel) to stage (Monica Dufault) and leave young minds (as well as their young-at-heart minders) wide-eyed with happiness, joy and amazement.
This incredible journey, driven by the heroine’s passion for “big, better, best,” weighs anchor in a wee harbour before setting its sights on scaling the highest peak in the world.
The arduous trek is magically rendered by a skilful deployment of mates and ladders. All it takes to arrive safely is director Pablo Felices-Luna’s unerring sense of much show to back up the narrative’s tell and a trio of actors that are with him every step of the way.
Better still, the literal slights of hand (kicking off with a backpack which seems to have room for a Hummer) are almost completely devoid of any electronic gimmickry. Body parts, costuming and a carefully crafted set (with a “Yo-heave-ho” to Jackie Chau for first-class designing skills) are more than enough to render a fishing boat, steamship, train, rickshaw (with especially hilarious wheel work over the increasingly rocky terrain), water buffalo and gondola.
Frequently, engagingly these vehicles are fuelled by the crowd: with a “choo choo” here and a wind howl there, there’s just enough participation to hold everyone’s attention.
The villain of the piece comes in the furry form of Yeti (a.k.a. The Abominable Snowman) who is, understandably, grumpy when prematurely awoken only to be gastronomically placated thanks to a passion for pork scrunchions.
Driving the action is precocious Peg. From her pre-curtain meet-and-greet to one and all as they traverse the gangway until the final farewell (hopefully, there are other ways to shut down a script than a sudden pang of hunger—cross reference below), Jennifer Balen infused the role with commendable energy, physical dexterity (weaving in, on, out and around the ladders) and ideal tone.
As Mom, Nisha Ahuja proved to be a fine role model and deft “constructionist” (see manmade conveyances above) even though her Scottish accent lacked haggis-like ring. Dad (loved the cap) was brought to convincing life by Mark Crawford whose moan/groan interjection was nearly worth the price of admission alone (delightfully verging on the abyss bathroom humour).
Working together, either dodging rocks on the low seas or suiting up to create the Yeti , Ahuja and Crawford were nothing short of superb peas in the same pod. If vaudeville ever comes back ….
Especially welcome were the down-East jigs and reels that kept toes a tappin’ and the voyage constantly moving forward (kudos here to sound designer Lyon Smith).
Best of show for everyone (eight of the kids on the crowd couldn’t wait to play their part) was the creation of a nearly-devastating avalanche (saved by the igloo!!), scoring a visual knockout that is a worthy candidate for inclusion in the long-overdue Children’s Theatre Hall of Fame. JWR