nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington Bowie
December 18, 2011
I think it’s kind of universal that for kids, the very attribute that makes one stand out from the crowd, that gets one noticed, that makes one unique, is the one that makes them most self-conscious. Prodigious math ability, virtuoso ballet skills, or in Strawberry’s case, bright red hair and some serious freckles.
Strawberry is seven. She can ride a bike. She lost a tooth. She’s just like everybody else except for one thing. Strawberry has freckles. Lots of them. The kids call her Freckleface. They say she looks like a giraffe. They wonder what’s going to happen if all those freckles all melt together into one big freckle. No matter what she does Strawberry can’t get rid of those freckles and they make her feel down in the dumps. At ballet class, she makes friends with a girl who hasn’t really had any friends before. She’s been too busy trying to be perfect. Strawberry and she strike up a friendship and neither feels as lonely. While cleaning up her room Strawberry finds a mask. That mask will take care of her freckles and then Strawberry can be anything she wants. She wears it to school the next day, but all the kids are just scared of this new stranger. They start to wonder where Strawberry went. They sure do miss her so they set out to find her, searching high and low until Strawberry is revealed. Turns out that her friends really do like her, freckles and all. In fact her friend had a suspicion that it was her all along. Strawberry grows up and falls in love with a man who doesn’t even notice her freckles. Just how great she is.
This adaptation of the children’s books into a musical is very imaginative and my kid enjoyed it tremendously. One of my favorite things about the book is the vibrant illustrations and the design of the production matches up. The cast across the board is wonderful and stupendously energetic. The music is catchy and incorporates a broad range of styles.
I want to like this story so much. It has the very very best of intentions—feel good about that thing that makes you so you. Where it falters for me, especially as the parent of a kid with her own sort of “freckles” is that Strawberry never really comes to love her freckles. The takeaway ultimately feels to me like Strawberry makes it through, despite the imperfection that is her freckles, rather than embracing them as something that makes her unique and drawing self confidence from them. And that always leaves me feeling kind of meh.
The advantage that this production has is that by including an ensemble, rather than the single focus on Strawberry that one gets in the book, we get the perspectives of other kids. Each one of the kids admires that quality about the others which they feel self-conscious about. The basketball star wishes he could do his homework as easily as the smart kid. The boy-crazy girl wishes she was as smart as the smart girl. The kids actually see that, as much as they feel self conscious about something, another kid is dying to have that same attribute. And for little kids (or at least mine), actually seeing that thought process happen in front of them helps understand that that feeling is pretty widespread. And it broadens that into traits, not necessarily the way one looks. It is also helpful to see that though kids may tease, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. And it is helpful to have that complexity played out for the “we got in a fight—she’s not my friend anymore” set. The length of a play rather than a picture book also really gives the opportunity to drive the “be yourself” message home and it’s not just Strawberry, but all of the kids make that discovery.
The experience at mmac is very kid friendly. The expectations for the kids are set out from the beginning though the production leaves space for wiggles (though my kid was rapt—we had none for this show). Several actors autograph programs at the end of the show.
This show was among my daughters favorites—“better than the Nutcracker” she says. So without doubt, they have hit their audience.