Zach Theatre's production pleases and would be as pleasing to return to as Margaret Wise Brown's book
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., March 22, 2013
Goodnight MoonZach Theatre Kleberg Stage, 1421 W. Riverside, 476-0541
Through March 22
Running time: 1 hr., 10 min.
Heaven knows, Margaret Wise Brown made bedtime easier for countless numbers of us. The plain fact of the matter is, children often aren't ready to settle down and sleep just because the clock says it's that time. But with her little litany of nocturnal leave-takings, Brown provided a way to ease children into a calm and restful place, to let go of their world bit by bit, a piece at a time, by bidding each person, pet, or object around them a personal, quiet "goodnight."
In adapting Brown's book to the stage, playwright-composer Chad Henry starts from that place of restlessness in the child at bedtime. He essentially creates an hourlong prequel to Goodnight Moon, with our young bunny too full of energy to crawl under the covers and having a series of encounters with all the objects and creatures inhabiting the great green room: the telephone, the lamp, the red balloon, the young mouse, the two kittens, the three bears in the painting over his bed, the picture of the cow jumping over the moon, and, of course, the moon. Constantly trying to wrangle the bunny back to bed is the book's quiet old lady whispering "hush" – here identified as our hero's mother, which allows Henry to fold into his musical another of Brown's bedtime classics, The Runaway Bunny. The liveliness of the action, much of it flavored with broad comedy, might seem in opposition to the soothing spirit of the original, but it's actually just a playful setup to the delivery of the book's text – the storm before the calm of bedtime that probably mirrors what takes place before most readings of Goodnight Moon in bedrooms across the globe.
Zach Theatre's production puts us right at home in the great green room. Stephanie Busing's set is a deeply satisfying re-creation of Clement Hurd's familiar illustrations, and it truly comes alive through the puppets created by Taylor Harrison and practical effects that make the cow crash into the moon and the bunny's bed buffet its inhabitant and strip its sheets by itself. In his striped pajamas and rabbit-eared cap, Frank Nappi makes the set his personal playground, jumping, dashing, and dancing around it with the unfettered vivacity of a kindergartner. He's a spirited handful for Jill Blackwood's mother bunny, whose genteel exasperation is as amusing as her affection for her child in The Runaway Bunny segment is touching. And when she steps into ensemble numbers with Amy Downing and Jerome Schoolar, the three seasoned theatre pros elevate the quality of the show far above the stereotype of children's theatre. Indeed, director Nat Miller and his creative team have crafted a production with a care and polish that exceeds many shows created for adult consumption. This Goodnight Moon pleases, and would be as pleasing to return to as Margaret Wise Brown's book.