You know you're at a kids' show when the simple word "poop" can result in a room full of giggles.
During the Chicago Children's Theatre production of Harold and the Purple Crayon, there was just one poop joke - which understandably got a lot of laughs. But beyond that one potty joke, the sophisticated show managed to secure the attention of nearly every child in the room with music, dance and storytelling alone. No potty humor needed here.
The show follows the classic Crockett Johnson book pretty closely, but while the book may be too complicated for those little ones who can't quite grasp the concept of an imagination, the production makes make-believe time perfectly reasonable and normal.
It starts with 4-year-old Harold (played by Nate Lewellyn) in bed with massive blank boards - soon to become his imagination boards - behind him. As he grasps his large purple crayon and jots down some pictures on his oversized notepad, his inscriptions magically appear behind the bed, allowing easy access for the pint-sized audience to follow along on his journey.
That journey takes us through the ocean, outer space and even a crayon-eating robot-land before landing Harold back in his bed with his parents by his side.
The story is told nearly entirely through song, with a live two-person band accompanying Harold and the other two storytellers (played by Alex Goodrich and Bethany Thomas). There are quick costume changes from dragons to robots to a helmet-salesman, and lots of set changes to keep the little ones from getting restless during the 50-minute show.
But there was little chance of that. It took about two minutes for Harold to capture the full attention of everyone in the room. And with the exception of the pie-eating scene (why can't I have a piece of that pie, mommy? Um, because it's fake, honey.), Harold never lost their attention.
Unlike many children's productions, this one wasn't bad for parents, either. It takes you into a magical universe, complete with Broadway-worthy singers, who use their imagination to create their own beautiful worlds. Who doesn't dream of that?
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
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