REVIEW- Bah HumBug – Stage Kids California

I won’t go into the Scrooge like details of why this Holiday season does nothing for me personally, except to say that to a certain degree I identify a bit with poor Ebenezer. Perhaps because I can’t have a tree of my own due to ridiculously mischievous 3-legged cats, or because my amazing family usually congregates from all over the globe in summer and not winter, or because I find snow and cold to be completely contradictory to my flip-flop wearing Native Californian lifestyle, but whatever the reason, I’m totally okay without this time of year. While loathe is too strong a word, I really am quite tired of the repetition disguised as holiday tradition. It is NOT, my thing. That being said, Stage Kids California have a pretty cute, fun and well-crafted production of Bah, Humbug! playing through this Sunday only.

Bah, Humbug!  is a musical version of A Christmas Carol and is performed by local children almost entirely all under  the age of 14. Even if you don’t have children of your own, do yourself a favor and every now and then, go see a children’s production. Whether with some friend’s kids, or nieces and nephews, or like me, just by your lonesome, sit in an audience with kids and take about 10 years off your age in less than 90 minutes. Find the joy in the excitement and zeal of a young audience and proud family members.

I do try to see several shows a year with only kids in the cast as a good test for what the next generation of theater is going to look like as well as how audiences are being groomed to behave. I look for 4 main things at a children’s show all of which this production possessed in spades!

1) Are the kids having fun? This is so key. The success of a kid’s production is measured on the process more than the end product for me and I like to count the smiles on stage. Do the kids get to be kids or are they being molded into a little adult box. While the kids with excruciating anxiety/nerves, total boredom and those that have been forced into an extra-curricular activity they don’t find fun can certainly be spotted a mile away, I am happy to report that this cast was full of genuine smiles and joy. Not any of the kids were phoning it in which his impressive even in “adult” productions.

2) Are kids in the audience enjoying it? If we are fostering love for theater, excitement over storytelling, engaging children in the arts, inspiring them to create, empowering them to say I want to and CAN do THAT too, then the show is a winner. If the show captures and ignites imagination, there is success far beyond a star or jewel rating. This was clear by the focus, silence and by the laughter and applause of Thursday’s audience. The chattering and talking about the show at intermission and afterwards speaks volumes about the program and the production.

3) Are the adults enjoying it? Aside from the proud parents, siblings and grandparents in the audience (and admittedly there may not be that many more) is the show and the production appealing to the adults? Like Sesame Street always added in that layer of satire and contemporary adult references to keep the big kids engaged too, the more there is for the adults, the smarter the production. The adults are the ones paying for the tickets and getting those coats and shoes on the kids and getting them to the theater so let’s make it a great experience for them and not a chore or obligation, right? I always say, if you want to grow your audience, make sure there is something in it for the adults. This show was full of very cute kids, with some great lines that were very entertaining coming out of those cute kids mouths. The professional attention to the stage craft and technical, while still on a very community level, was great to see. While the musical accompaniment was canned and synthesized, and the story nothing unpredictable, the choreography was together, the voices pleasant and the acting very respectable. There were for me several laugh out loud moments.

4) It’s always a bonus (as a director) to see kids with real talent in the early stages of their “career”. An early grasp of balance (enthusiasm but not overacting) and comic timing, great vocal pipes, fantastic stage presence, and that x factor are without a doubt a great bonus to seeing a show, adult or kid performed. While more important to have fun and take in all the lessons (consciously or subconsciously) that drama teaches us, it’s still exciting to see kids that are “good,” love being on stage and really light up at that first audience laugh or round of applause. Without knowing a thing about their family life or academic “standing” I still really enjoy watching a kid discover what is sure to be a lifelong passion and a hugely important part of shaping their character. Theater changes lives of the participants for sure, but an audience member watching a kid as that spark is first recognized can be a really fabulous and moving experience for them too.

Stage Kids California is just 3 years old and one of just a handful of organizations that are dedicated entirely to CHILDREN’S theater in the area. They clearly are attracting kids who are enjoying what they are doing, taking care in teaching the craft of theatre and producing quality shows that are enjoyable for a diverse audience. While I don’t make a habit of doing “critical review” for children’s productions, I will say, if you find yourself with some time tonight, Saturday or Sunday, this is as good a choice as any for a family Holiday experience. Bah, Humbug! Plays through this Sunday only, December 2013, at the Historic Hoover Theater in San Jose.

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